Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, September 17, 2014 – In the 1980s, Bougainville produced the most cocoa of any province in Papua New Guinea. Alongside copra, this was the backbone of a thriving rural economy, and it provided critical income for thousands of people.
But from 1989, Bougainville was to experience a devastating nine year conflict. The economic impacts were crippling. Industry was decimated; villagers were unable to access their land or markets – and production of cocoa and copra grounded to a halt.
After a limited revival, the cocoa industry has stagnated: aging trees mean poor yields, and cocoa pod borer (CPB) has ravaged remaining crops. Cocoa production in Bougainville fell by more than 41% from 2009, to reach its lowest level since the crisis.
Cocoa has declined as valuable skills and knowledge have been lost
The highland areas of Tinputz, on the east coast of Bougainville, are known for their fertile soils, and were once a hub for agriculture in Bougainville.
David Vaorete, from the village of Namatoa, has watched the community’s cocoa gardens turn to jungle. He says that the younger generation now lack the skills and knowledge to take cocoa production forward. During the conflict, many young people were killed in the fighting. Many more grew up away from their land.
“Looking at the new generation after the crisis, a lot of them did not know how to plant and cultivate the cocoa crops,” he explains. “So it was done by those who had already learned how to tend to cocoa - mostly elders in the community. The younger generation was not taught how.”
A new project is restoring skills, tackling CPB and helping revive interest in cocoa
Now, David is involved in implementing a new program, the Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP). Supported by the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the European Union, it engages farmer groups and the cocoa industry to help rejuvenate growers’ gardens. Several lead partners—including exporters; NGOs or grower cooperatives—have been recruited by the project to help farmers revive cocoa production.
As part of this project, David chairs the Namatoa village nursery, which is growing and distributing hundreds of new cocoa plants to participating farmers. These seedlings are hybrid clones, specially grown to be more resistant to CPB. The trees are shorter and easier to manage, and they are relatively quick to bear fruit. He is also working with schools to develop skills and interest among young people.
Farmers are further supported with training, crop diversification activities and tools provided by lead partners.
Where the new cocoa varieties have been planted, growers are already seeing a big difference in the amount of cocoa they can harvest, which is translating into higher incomes for their families. With good management, growers can eliminate as much as 98% of CPB infestation and bring it firmly under control.
Maristella Sira is a farmer in Tinputz and she has received training, seedlings and tools through a PPAP-initiated partnership with Monpi Cocoa Exports.
“I think we have produced over a 100 bags – we’ve seen an increase. With the additional income, I’ve been able to build a new house, buy a new water tank, a lawn mower and other household tools,” says Maristella.
For David, Maristella’s story is not surprising, and explains growing interest in cocoa among villagers. He sees cocoa as key to restoring economic vibrancy to Tinputz.
“I treat each cocoa clone like it is a gold bar,” he says. “I don’t want to see poverty among my people. That’s why I say cocoa is like gold to us.”