By CYRIL GARE
THE Cocoa Board of PNG (CBPNG) is working tirelessly meet the Government’s production target of 310,000 tonnes by 2030.
Currently, the national volume stands at 44,000 metric tonnes, bagging around K300 million for the national purse in export earnings.
But cocoa has great potential of becoming a billion kina industry by 2030, according to CEO Boto Gaupu.
“Cocoa is now a K300 million industry. We’d like to see it into a billion kina industry. Together we can do it. With sowing of seeds now, we’ll get there,” Gaupu said.
With the Government’s K50 million price support facility for the agriculture and livestock sectors of which cocoa receives K10 million, Gaupu was pleased that cocoa farmers will now receive high returns on their products, encouraging more production and anticipates positive outcomes on foreign exchange.
Cocoa Board’s own freight subsidy project had saved a progressive K116 million between 2014 and 2019 (this has gone up) which otherwise would have perished with the neglected dried bean bags stocked in remote areas in PNG.
Of the K116 million, K87 million went straight into the pockets of rural cocoa farmers.
In Lae last weekend, Francis Irasua, Cocoa Board’s freight subsidy project co-ordinator shared his experiences: “Freight subsidy should be a long term 20-50 years investment by the Government for transportation and access to markets”.
“We (Cocoa Board) did not get freight subsidy in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, they said to give us K1 million but this is yet to eventuate.”
Irasua said despite the setback, Cocoa Board was still funding freight subsidy for cocoa in Morobe’s Garaina valley, Tewai-Siassi, Wasu, and Morobe patrol post.
“I have been here (in Morobe) for six months now. I haven’t been home (Kokopo). I haven’t seen my wife and kids. We have been very busy working night and day trying to meet deadlines in moving planting and farming materials to sites.”
His colleague, Abel Nepre shared similar sentiments. Abel was seconded by Cocoa Board to work with the mining company, Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV) which is “mining cocoa” while waiting for all clearance by State before commencing gold production.
Under a memorandum of agreement (MOA) in 2019 and reviewed in 2020 between Cocoa Board and WGJV, more than 20 nurseries have been established during this time across Huon Gulf, Wau-Bulolo including Garaina’s Waria valley, and Nawaeb districts in Morobe province – as part of the company’s agriculture development package for the landowners.
The 20 nurseries comprise 5 x 5,000 trees capacity, 5 x 10,000 trees capacity, and 10 x 20,000 trees capacity – a total of 375,000 trees in nurseries so far and more nurseries are in the pipeline.
Prior to the MOA, the company had already invested in cocoa production and on Aug 24, 2016 farmers from Wampan, Tsilitsili, Maralina, Uruf, and Mafanazo along the Watut river sold their first 56 dried bean bags to Paradise Foods in Lae and fetched more than K30,000 in premium price.
Nepre and Irasua who were initially involved in establishing cocoa nurseries in Waria valley said they were impressed and satisfied when Garaina made its first shipment of 111 dried bean bags fetching around K50,000 in 2020.
Nepre made an interesting observation of the seeds from Garaina. “It contains 110-120 seeds inside compared to cocoa from the coastal areas which holds 35-40 seeds in a pod.”
More than 12 fermentries have been supplied to farmers under the partnership programme between CBPNG and WGJV where the CBPNG provides the technical expertise and allowances for officers while the WGJV funds materials, fly in fly out (FIFO), logistics and fuel.
Cocoa in the highland valleys
Cocoa is grown in 14 of PNG’s 22 provinces. However, there is lot more interest and people are already planting, producing, processing and marketing cocoa in the non-traditional cocoa provinces in areas like Karamui in Chimbu which will host the 2021 Cocoa of Excellence Show in October, Nebilyer in Western highlands, Pugmi and Minz in Jiwaka, Bena Bena and Goroka in Eastern Highlands, Milne Bay, Tufi in Northern, Kerema in Gulf, Mekeo and Abau in Central.
Gaupu, the man who revived an ailing cocoa industry when first taking office in 2012 is ever confident of reaching this production target after creating successful mechanisms to drive this agenda among others was the adaptation and successful implementation of the an innovative district cocoa nursery project which started in 2014 – a partnership arrangement involving 15 districts and three provincial governments so far.
Initially six districts were involved. Following the success of this arrangement, nine other districts joined.
The 15 districts that have existing DCNP MOAs with Cocoa Board are Yangoru-Saussia, Maprik, Wewak, Aitape Lumi, Madang, Middle Ramu, Kokopo, Gazelle, Markham, Sohe, North Bougainville, Tewai-Siassi, Kavieng, South Bougainville and Pomio.
The three provincial administrations who have also signed the MOAs are West New Britain, Milne Bay and Gulf.
Gaupu said with an investment of K37.6 million under Public Investment Programme (PIP) funding in 2017, the Cocoa Board was able to create the DCNP and various other cocoa rehabilitation programs which in 2018 alone, some 1.5 million seedlings have been planted and by now millions more cocoa trees would have been planted.
With further assistance from its partners such as the World Bank’s Productive Partnership in Agriculture Project (PPAP), PHAMA (Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program), IFAD (International Food and Agriculture Development), and the EU (European Union), the Cocoa Board is confident to achieve its objectives going forward.
Five key areas
Under its Cocoa Development Plan (CDP) 2018-2022, five key areas have been identified to promote cocoa development and economic growth in line with the MTDS III and will require K300 million investment:
1. Nursery roll out program for distribution of quality planting materials in the country;
2. Rehabilitation of cocoa plantations and senile cocoa farms;
3. Cocoa quality improvement and enhancement;
4. Road infrastructure for market access; and
5. Institutional capacity building.
Gaupu has achieved quite lot during his tenure, especially in increased outputs and taking the crop to new areas that have not actively participated in cocoa production previously. In a nutshell, the following are some of the achievements under Boto Gaupu:
- Industry stakeholder consultations completed;
- More open and transparent dialogue with industry participants;
- Cocoa Board is now allocated recurrent funds for personnel emoluments;
- Board financial audit is up to date;
- CB is now receiving a lot of support from the GoPNG through PIP;
- A strategic plan drawn and launched Business plan with respect to strategic plan drawn;
- Board instituted;
- CB is now operational in more provinces than before with new offices opened in Kimbe, Popondetta, Aitape, Lae, and Pomio the latest;
- More funds are now remitted to inspection and quality control;
- As a result of a NEC Submission and Decision, tax on levies waived. This has now paved way for other agriculture boards to follow suit;
- The school cocoa curriculum launched;
- Combination drier kit model was commissioned and is now being distributed to farmer groups;
- Ratification to ICCO membership;
- In less than three years CB has planted well over 1.5 million cocoa trees and some 2 million more in the nurseries;\
- More than K100 million earned in export earnings due to freight subsidy projects;
- There is lot more interest and people are already planting, producing, processing and marketing cocoa in the non-traditional cocoa provinces in areas like Karamui, Nebilyer, Jiwaka, Goroka, Aitape, Milne Bay, Tufi, Kerema, and Abau;
- There is now renewed interest, optimism and confidence is not only because of increased price but because of resilience of cash income, there is good support and more importantly availability of service compare to before;
- National district nursery projects launched; 15 districts and three provincial governments have signed MOAs with CBPNG;
- First of three more regional nursery ‘seed banks’ launched and work progressing well at Haripmo in East Sepik; among others.
Cocoa is known as the “food of the Gods” in Mexico where it originates. Cocoa has been part of our early history since its introduction by the Germans in the 1900s alongside copra. Without the extractive industries then, cocoa and copra have been the backbone of our economy. By the time of Independence, smallholder production had already making inroads alongside large scale commercial plantations most of which were owned and operated by white planters and companies under colonial administration.
Today, this prized tree employs 2.5 million smallholder farmers comprising some 151,000 families who rely on cocoa for a living. Our cocoa supplies 1 per cent of the world market but ranks as “fine flavour” yet 10 per cent is disregarded as “smoke taint”.
- Cyril Gare is a freelance journalist