Cocoa gets into new territory

PNG cocoa and cocoa products on display during the second biennial Cocoa of Excellence Show in Lae, Morobe in July, 2019. The first show was held in Kokopo, ENBP in 2017. Pictures by CYRIL GARE.

Transporting cocoa seedlings for planting in Angoram, East Sepik. The mighty Sepik River provides for such a life in cocoa business. – Picture by SPERIAN KAPIA, one of Angoram’s leading farmers.

KNOWN as the “father of modern taxonomy” Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) may have thought less of a tropical food crop that he designated in 1753 as part of his work on naming species that Theobroma cacao would centuries later transform the face of humanity forever because of chocolate – the world’s favourite confectionery.
Also known as Carl von Linne, Linnaeus’ system of naming, ranking and classifying organisms is still in wide use today although with many changes.
Linnaeus may have been the first to designate the name Theobroma cacao but he was not the first to come in contact with this tropical tree. Rather it was Christopher Columbus in 1502, who on his fourth journey to the New World, when he first tasted chocolate – and found it to be too bitter and spicy.
Cacao, the simple bean native to South and Central America, is today a staple across the world, giving us such delicacies as milk chocolate, hot chocolate drinks, and chocolate chip cookies which global sales intake stands around USD$74 billion annually of which USD$20.1 comes from sales in the US alone.
Yet, as important as chocolate may be for us today – who could think of a Valentine’s Day without a box of chocolates, or an Easter without chocolate bunnies – for the Mayans of Belize, it took on an entire other form: It was the food of the gGods.
Theobroma cacao literally translates to ‘gods’ food’ in Greek.
Cocoa, which is prepared from the cacao bean, the fruit of the cacao tree, was first used much earlier. The Olmecs, the first highly developed culture of Central America, lived in present-day Mexico over 3,000 years ago. The hot, humid climate there was ideal for cultivating the sensitive cacao tree. The Mayas, who settled in the region a few centuries after the disappearance of the Olmecs, used cacao beans to prepare a bitter and highly spiced drink. This beverage was drunk and sacrificed in sacred rituals performed by their priests, kings and nobility.
But the Mayan civilisation also came to a mysterious end, and they were replaced by the Toltecs in approximately 900 AD, and then the Aztecs. These two cultures adopted the tradition of the holy beverage, which they named “xocoatl” (xoco = bitter; atl = water). For the Aztecs, this bitter, spicy drink was a source of wisdom and energy, an aphrodisiac (increase sexual desire) and a soothing balsam (perfume, medicine). The cacao bean also served as currency at the time and was offered to the gods as a sacrifice.
In 1528 -several years later after Columbus, the Spanish conquistador (knight conqueror) Hernando Cortés brought this “brown gold” and the recipe for the exotic drink to Spain.
The Spanish added sugar and other ingredients to the unique energising beverage – which they called chocolate – and it soon came to be considered a fashionable delicacy which was enjoyed at the Spanish court for nearly a century.
In 1615, when the Spanish Princess Anna married the French King Louis XIII, the drink was first tasted in France, and from there, it spread to the other royal courts and refined society of Europe. And until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the consumption of chocolate – still in the form of a hot drink – was a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
Then came the era of the chocolate pioneers in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Holland (Netherlands) and, of course, Switzerland, as well as other countries, who turned their ambitious visions and ingenious ideas into reality. It was their ability to discover techniques and recipes for producing a solid form of this popular beverage which, in time, made solid chocolate and available to everyone.
A great many pioneers have made important contributions to the modern history of chocolate, but the most earth-shaking of all innovations was probably the conching process, invented by Swiss chocolate-maker Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. Thanks to his procedure, the previously brittle, sandy and somewhat bitter material began to melt in the mouths of its chocolate lovers everywhere and was elevated to one of the world’s most sublime pleasures today.
From Mexico to PNG, Theobroma cacao is a ‘gift from God’. More than two million people comprising some 151,000 families today rely on this prized tree for a living. From export earnings, cocoa contributes to the national coffers around K300 million annually and is ‘spinning the wheel’ of many business spin offs in the value chain.
Introduced by Germans
Cocoa was first introduced by German settlers around 1900. Commercial production developed slowly despite a series of subsidies and concessions introduced by the Australian Government during the 1920s.
Low copra prices during the depression also encouraged plantation owners to diversify into cocoa production. The industry was severely affected by World War II, when about two thirds of PNG’s cocoa trees were destroyed.
Following the war, global demand for cocoa increased substantially and the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries promoted expansion of the industry. Copra plantation owners were encouraged to interplant cocoa with coconut, and soldier settlement cocoa estates (for Australian ex-servicemen) and smallholder blocks were established on the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain, around Lae in Morobe and around Popondetta in Northern.
These efforts resulted in a major expansion of the industry: The total area planted increased from about 3700 ha in 1951/52 to around 49,500 ha in 1965/66. Total production increased from 485 tonnes to around 15,500 tonnes over the same period. The expansion occurred mostly in the plantation sector, which accounted for about 95 per cent of all cocoa produced in the year 1965/66.
However, after 1965 smallholder cocoa production increased significantly and by 1979 had surpassed plantation production. This expansion in smallholder production was concentrated in East New Britain and Bougainville, and these two provinces have continued to dominate the smallholder sector.
Today, cocoa is grown in 14 of PNG’s 22 provinces with East Sepik, Bougainville, Madang, East New Britain, Morobe, West New Britain and New Ireland being the major producers.
Over the past five years, cocoa production averaged 43,867 tonnes with 90 per cent of these being produced by small holder farmers while 10 per cent was from the plantation sector. The production increase signifies a comeback for cocoa in PNG after the industry was decimated in March 2006 by the outbreak of the cocoa pod borer (CPB).
Cocoa exports had fallen from 52,579 tonnes in 2008 to 33,090 tonnes in 2015.
Globally, PNG accounts for only 1 per cent of the total production. However, PNG cocoa has earned a world reputation of being one of the finest in quality and rated as “90 per cent fine flavour” by the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO).
In the global front, future prospects for PNG cocoa are looking bright. ICCO says global consumption of cocoa is increasing by 17 per cent per annum. Much of the increase in volume is being driven by the emerging markets in Brazil, China and India. Between 2010 and 2015 consumption of chocolate in Brazil, China and India increased by 99, 132 and 245 per cent, respectively.
The ICCO further states that global demand is outstripping supply which will lead to a predicted shortfall in global cocoa supplies of 100,000 tonnes per annum by 2020. Industry sources in Western Europe say there is already a shortfall in the supply of highest quality “fine” cocoa, leading to higher prices for the best quality product.
The PNG Government has set a target for cocoa production to reach 310,000 tonnes by 2030 and the Cocoa Board of PNG under CEO Boto Gaupu is confidently working around the clock to meet this target.
Gaupu told a three-day National Planning Consultative Summit in Lae in March, 2018 that PNG’s total cocoa export earning was anticipated to hit the K1 billion (US$299 million) mark in five years (2018-2022).
This would represent a K800 million (US$239.2 million) increase from the current annual earning of K300 million (US$ 89.7 million).
“The strategy is to see production and export revenue triple; 32,000 tonnes of cocoa to be produced annually for the next five years, an additional K160 million revenue to be made based on a very conservative price of K5,000. The project aims to bring on stream 160,000 tonnes to generate K800 million additional to the current K300 million annually in export revenue. This means it will bring total revenue generated by cocoa to K1.2 billion annually, in addition it will create many spin off businesses,” Gaupu told the summit.
In order to achieve the billion kina target, the sector requires an investment of K300 million in its activity plans. These include nursery establishment and rollout – K45 million, plantation rehabilitation – K30 million, quality improvement programme – K15 million, and road infrastructure (17 roads identified) and market access – K200 million.
So far since taking office in 2012, some major achievements for Gaupu have been:

  • Markham cocoa and coffee producers cooperative first ever direct export to the Netherlands and K106,000 in export revenue paid directly to village farmers;
  • Blaise Vovore of the Vunamami Cocoa Cooperative in ENBP became the first farmer to receive a commercial loan from MiBank using his cocoa block as collateral under CBPNG’s Agriculture Value Chain (AVC) loan facility.
  • Successful amendments of the Cocoa Act 1981 and Cocoa Regulations 1982 paving way for NEC to approve new export management levy fees from K40 to K100 per tonne in its meeting of Feb 10, 2020;
  • More than K100 million earned in export earnings due to freight subsidy projects;
  • Ratification of PNG in ICCO membership;
  • Strategic plan and business plan drawn and launched;
  • SCMC approved the structure (2014);
  • National Government funding of CB’s personnel emoluments;
  • Board financial audit is up to date;
  • New board instituted;
  • CB has extended and operates new offices in Kimbe, Popondetta, Aitape, Lae, and Pomio the latest to meet increasing demand for cocoa planting. Already people are producing, processing and marketing cocoa in the non-traditional cocoa provinces in areas like Karamui in Chimbu, Jiwaka, Goroka in Eastern Highlands, Aitape, in West Sepik, Milne Bay, Tufi in Northern, Kerema in Gulf, Kuriva andAbau in Centra, and others;
  • District nursery projects launched; 15 districts and three provincial governments have signed MOAs with CBPNG;
  • More funds are now remitted to inspection and quality control;
  • Successful launching of two cocoa of excellence shows (2017 in Kokopo and 2019 in Morobe) to promote competition and improve cocoa quality among PNG farmers;
  • 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;
  • Successful subsuming of CCIL cocoa aspects of R&D to CBPNG;
  • School cocoa curriculum launched;
  • Combination drier kit model was commissioned and is now being distributed to farmer groups;
  • In less than three years CB has planted well over 1.5 million cocoa trees and some 2 million more are in nurseries; and
  • First of three more regional nursery seed banks launched and work progressing well at Haripmo in East Sepik. Work will start soon for the Southern regional nursery seed bank in Central.

Gaupu said: “A holistic approach in addressing and implementing its programmes is needed so CBPNG is partnering with stakeholders, government agencies, service providers and development partners which is and always will be the required way forward to drive the industry.
“I acknowledge some of these partners like Wafi Golpu, Mainland Holdings, 15 districts and MOA provinces, Department of National Planning, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, and development partners including the World Bank Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP), International Fund for Agriculture Development (Ifad), Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Programme (Phama), the European Union (EU) and others.”

  • Cyril Gare is a freelance writer.