By MALUM NALU
AT N10 Block in Rai Coast, Madang, along the Ramu Highway, cocoa farmer Martin Giram is attending to his 40,000-seedling capacity nursery.
It’s a bright Saturday morning, July 31, 2021, when we stop at his nursery and garden on our way to Lae from Madang.
Giram wipes the sweat from his brow as he shows us around his nursery – built with the assistance of the PNG Cocoa Board (PNGCB) – which supplies seedlings to Madang, the highlands (the new frontier of cocoa), East Sepik, Morobe, Northern and even faraway Western.
His business is run under the PNGCB’s ‘Smart Business Partnership Programme’ which monitors and coordinates all nurseries in the province.
The catch-cry of the Marape Government is “Take Back PNG Through Agriculture” and the former Ok Tedi Mining Ltd (OTML) employee is living testimony of that.
Giram is from Bogia along the North Coast of Madang, a long way away from here, where he bought off a block of land with his finish pay from 15 years of service with OTML to venture into the cocoa business.
His story is proof that there is indeed money in the land, lots of it, for those who are prepared to work hard.
“When I left Ok Tedi, I thought about my living after employment,” Giram tells us.
“I had a long think about this and decided to go into cocoa.
“I decide to build a nursery here, apart from the other 16 nurseries in the province, with the assistance of PNG Cocoa Board officers.
“I now supply to as far as Madang District, projects around Madang Province, Usino-Bundi District, Maprik in East Sepik, Wahgi Valley in Jiwaka, Karamui in Chimbu, Popondetta in Northern and even Kiunga in Western.
“I could not have done this without the big assistance of the Cocoa Board.”
Giram estimates that he has supplied well over 100,000 seedlings to other parts of Madang and Papua New Guinea since he took to cocoa.
“This is now my means of earning an income to sustain my livelihood,” he adds.
“When I was at Ok Tedi, there was a training for us employees, on what we would do when we returned home.
“I decided at that time to go into agriculture, so when I returned home to Madang, went into cocoa and here I am.”
Giram says the beauty of cocoa is that it provides an all-year-round income to farmers.
“Cocoa is not like other crops, which bear in season, but is all-year round which means that you have a regular source of income,” he explains.
“With a nursery, you’re looking at good money.
“It’s just a matter of getting your hands dirty, working the land, money is there.
“The opportunities are there for those who are willing to do this.
“Like, for instance, I make money from my nursery while my wife also has a regular income from selling cocoa from our bud wood garden.”
PNG Cocoa Board CEO, Boto Gaupu, says it is now using service providers to Giram to deliver to farmers in rural areas.
“We don’t have the resources at our disposal to do all the necessary extension work, so we are partnering with farmers, and in this case (Giram), we are creating SMEs,” he says.
“We are partnering with people who are specialised in nurseries and make their living out of nurseries.
“The nurseries also source out budders, who are paid by farmers, to bud-graft their trees.
“So here the Government, through the Cocoa Board, is sourcing out the extension work – which is getting privatised.
“The industry belongs to the farmers so they have to take ownership of it.”
Gaupu says Madang remains one of the most-important cocoa provinces as it recovers from the Cocoa Pod Borer (CPB) infestation – which decimated the industry there.
“A lot of resources were put into Madang, especially Bogia, and it is slowly picking up,” he continues.
“Many people lost hope in the face of the CPB attack, thinking that the cocoa industry was gone, but thanks to the Government and people like Martin Giram, it is making a comeback.
“People need to go back to cocoa, to make a living, and that it what the Government is encouraging through agencies like Cocoa Board.
“Farmers are now going back to cocoa in Madang, and there is a lot of excitement, enthusiasm,
“I can say that cocoa is on the comeback in Madang.”
Gaupu says Madang, once one of the leading cocoa producers in PNG, produced only 2,000 tonnes last year but was now bouncing back.
The industry is set to be revived in rural Bogia following the signing of an agreement between the PNGCB and Bogia District Development Authority (DDA) on Friday, July 30.
This reaffirms the commitment by PM Marape to develop agriculture in Bogia and Madang.
The milestone agreement follows a K1.2 million commitment in June this year by PNGCB (K600,000) and Bogia DDA (K600,000) to develop cocoa in Bogia
Minister Simon presented K120,000 to the Bogia DDA on behalf of the Marape Government to start rolling out the nursery programme.
All this augurs well for the revival of the cocoa industry in Madang.
Back at Giram’s cocoa nursery, along the Ramu Highway, there already is much excitement.
“Production in Madang is slowing going up,” Gaupu says.
“This is indicated in the number of fermenteries, which has gone up from 600 to over 1000, which indicates increased cocoa activities.
“We are partnering with districts, provincial administrations and the private sector, and not only big players in the private sector, but also people like Martin Giram.”
With people like Martin Giram, cocoa in Madang, and the rest of PNG, looks to have a bright future.
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister