Sepik’s almighty cocoa

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 16th December 2011

OUTSPAN PNG Limited, a leading cocoa exporter, is running several projects nation wide as part of its commitment to the sustainability and growth of cocoa industry.
Having worked with cocoa farmers for more than a decade, Outspan PNG Ltd now has become the second largest cocoa exporter in PNG with a country-wide presence and a strong global marketing network.
The company built its reputation over these years of service and today it is the preferred supplier of PNG cocoa beans for many of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers.
Outspan PNG Ltd began its operations in Wewak in 2008 and has since grown to be one of the largest buyers of cocoa beans in East Sepik.
Wewak branch manager Basavaraj Mashetty said the company has endeared itself to the farmers of the region by providing consistent good value and best industry services, including farmer training.
In East Sepik a nursery and a model farm have been set up at Gavien, near Angoram, to demonstrate good farming practices so smallholders could work more efficiently and increase productivity.
Outspan has also initiated several farmer training programmes over the years with support from the division of primary industry and Cocoa Board PNG to educate farmers in far flung areas on best farming practices and is proud to see results of these initiatives in the form of continued growth in production during the past three years.
“Our most recent initiative has been to work with communities in one of the most remote parts of the country, along the Sepik River.
“The first phase of this initiative involved improved market access for these farmers and to provide a ready market for their cocoa beans without having to make the long, expensive and at times dangerous trip to Wewak.
“Keeping that in mind, we have set up a buying point at the waterfront at Angoram and assisted the local communities in acquiring a boat to go and collect cocoa from the farmers’ doorsteps,” Mashetty said.
The second phase involved educating the farmers to build a sustainable cocoa based livelihood.
To this end, we conducted the first ever series of training sessions in the area, moving from LLG to LLG along the Sepik River over a period of one week.
The training programme on Nov 7 – 22, covered Marienburg LLG, Keram LLG and Yuat LLG. The sessions saw a positive response from several hundred farmers, many of them women.
The programme was conducted by Marcus Irami, field extension officer and Raphael Maimba, chairman of Angoram Cooperative Association and witnessed by representatives of DPI, Cocoa Board of PNG and managers of Outspan PNG Ltd.
The programmes were designed to be primarily interactive, focusing on improving cocoa quality, achieving better yields, better records and financial management.
It also included practical sessions on budding, pruning, building and maintaining nurseries and fermentation methods to achieve consistent quality.
The responses from the farmers were overwhelming with enthusiastic participation and a lot of questions from all present.
“We have never seen anyone come here to train us earlier,” one commented, while another appealed to the company to support them with harvesting tools so they can implement what they had learned.
“With the stupendous success of this initiative, we are now planning to conduct similar exercises in Wosera and Yangoru districts and elsewhere in the country.
“Our hope is to create a unique identity for good quality cocoa from East Sepik in the international market. We believe that day is not too far away and with the help of the co-operatives, farmers and dedicated effort of all working on our sustainable programs, we should be able to achieve this,” Mashetty said.