By JUNIOR UKAHA
THERE are people in this world, who despite their own struggles, will still reach out to help others in need.
These people help us to look beyond our limitations to what we, as human beings, can achieve for ourselves and others if we set our hearts and minds to it.
One such person who is doing something for his community is Gana Kito of Sattleberg in the Kotec Local Level Government (LLG) in Finschhafen, Morobe.
Kito, 48, from Masanko village, decided to quit work in 2011 so that he could get his final monetary entitlements and build a cocoa-buying facility for his cash-strapped people.
The story behind Kito’s career move goes something like this. One day in 2006 he was travelling as a Beltek Chemicals sales executive along the Batas-Vanimo Highway in Sandaun when he espied a very lavish building along the way.
After enquiring after its ownership, locals said it belonged to a Finschafen man who had married a local woman.
Kito remembers vividly his feelings at that time.
“While I was happy that a wantok had built a nice house, I was sad as well,” he said.
“I remember thinking, why would a Finschhafen man not invest in his own village and decide to build a very expensive house in another place?” he said.
Kito’s encounter that day made a profound mark on him.
On his return to Lae, he resigned and returned to the village where he began holding discussions with some of the local leaders regarding projects they could create.
After a little more research he discovered that most of the farmers along the district’s coastline had cocoa plots but had abandoned them because the markets were too far away (in Lae) and costs were high and not worth the trouble for them.
He learned that there were some 10,000 plus cocoa farmers in Finschhafen, who on average, owned between 2,000 to 5,000 cocoa trees each.
Equipped with the information he collated, Kito approached major cocoa exporter Agmark Cocoa in Lae if he could be their agent in the district.
Agmark was happy to be in on the plan and advised him that he had to build a cocoa-buying shed that meets PNG Cocoa Board standard. He also had to buy only quality cocoa.
“I then realised that I was up to something big because the facility I will build will not only serve my people in Finschhafen but the entire Fisika (Finschhafen, Siassi and Kabwum) region including parts of Madang and West New Britain,” Kito said.
“I wrote to the former Governor Kelly Naru and his administration and asked if they could assist me under their SME programme to build a bigger shed,” he said.
The response was good and Kito received a sum of K40,000.
“Having the capital, I now needed a secure and suitable land to build the shed so I went and asked the Lutheran Church in Heldsbach if they could assist me,” he said.
“After listening to my proposition, the Kotec district president of the Lutheran church Jonathan Metu allocated an old assembly hall to me,” Kito said.
Kito registered a company called “Tears Cocoa” soon afterwards and began working on the shed.
Agmark sent its in-house carpenter to assist him with the construction of the shed and within the month of October the shed was completed and ready to be used.
On Oct 23, a government delegation consisting of Finschhafen administrator Bohage Bebinaso, Kotec LLG president Harry Umbingke, PNG Cocoa Board (Morobe) field officer Baundo Mogil and district DAL manager Westy Pau heard of what Kito was doing and went to see for themselves.
A large group of local cocoa farmers too accompanied the group.
The shed cost K25,000 to build and included a cocoa storage area, weighing scale and admin office.
The visitors were amazed at what they saw and the effort put into building the facility.
Farmer Dominic Zuhuc, 50, from Heldsbach was a relieved and delighted man that day.
He was one of the farmers who had spoken out about the hardships they faced.
“Before, Gana (Kito) built this shed he came and spoke with me about his plan,” Zuhuc said.
“I told him why not because he has seen our struggles himself,” he said.
Zuhuc said the facility is like a light in the darkness and once again gives hope for cocoa farmers to re-cultivate their cocoa plots.
According to Zuhuc, German missionaries and planters introduced and cultivated cocoa, copra and coffee to Finschhafen during the colonial era.
The missionaries left in the 1980s and the ownership of the cocoa and copra plots was transferred to the locals who sub-divided it among themselves and took custody.
“In the past when Lutheran Shipping was operating we were very happy because we easily sold our cocoa via its ships which were operating from Lae to Madang and back,” Zuhuc said.
“Back then we had money,” he said.
“But when Lutheran Shipping stopped operating a few years back we could not get our cocoa to the market,” he said.
The growers tried using smaller boats, but were charged K100 per bag and another K100 per passenger which was too much for small holder farmers.
“When we realised that we were paying a lot of money to get our cocoa to the market and that no help was coming from the government we just gave up cocoa altogether,” Zuhuc said.
“The Cocoa Pod Borer also made things worse for us when it blighted and ate all our cocoa pods.”
“A number of times we went to Gagidu and pointed out these issues to the agriculture officer but he did not do anything.”
Bebinaso and Umbingke were both impressed and appreciative of the initiative and pledged their support for the facility.
Bebinaso said the shed will put money back into the people’s pocket and there was no need for them to travel to Lae to sell their cocoa beans.
He urged young people in the district to start planting cocoa and not to wonder around aimlessly.
Bebinaso said that the administration was holding discussions with Bank South Pacific to bring banking services back to the district.
Kito said he believed in people becoming agent of change in their communities and he hoped with the market at the people’s doorsteps they can sell their cocoa and build high-covenant houses like the one their wantok built in West Sepik hundreds of kilometers to the north.