By GABRIEL FITO
OUTSPAN PNG Ltd, one of PNG’s largest cocoa exporters, has started sustainability training programmes for farmer groups on the various aspects of quality and the issue of pests and diseases in East Sepik province.
The company, in partnership with the PNG Cocoa Board and the Department of Primary Industry, last week completed a two-day programme educating more than 200 cocoa farmers in Maprik and Dreikikir on the deadly pest cocoa pod borer and the techniques to contain its spread.
Outspan Wewak branch manager M Basavaraj said the company was recently invited by Public Enterprises Minister Arthur Somare to set up operations in Wewak to bring parity in price and provide technical assistance to farmers to enable a sustained growth.
He said East Sepik province had been one of the fastest cocoa growing provinces in PNG in the past five years and therefore, Mr Somare’s view was to make Sepik a cash crop-driven economy to enable the population to sustain their daily livelihoods.
Mr Basavaraj said cocoa was chosen as the cash crop which could give the desired results and there was an overdrive on distribution of fermentaries across the province along with free seedlings and other materials.
East Sepik, from being a fringe player producing 4,000 odd mts in 2004, grew to 12,000 mts due to efforts from all around.
He said the recent training in the two strong cocoa growing districts, Maprik and Dreikikir, saw 100 and 120 farmers attend respectively.
The programme was run to spread the awareness of the cocoa pod borer which created havoc in East New Britain province and also teach various techniques like integrated pest and disease management which can be followed to contain it.