Papua New Guinea: Restoring the ‘Stream of Cocoa’ to Bougainville

September 17, 2014

  • The cocoa industry, which used to be among the backbone of rural economy, was grounded to a halt after a nine year conflict.
  • A project is helping to grow back cocoa production by providing better seedlings, training and tools.
  • Nearly a million cocoa trees have been rehabilitated or planted, to benefit thousands of smallholder cocoa farmers and their families.

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.”

" “I treat each cocoa clone like it is a gold bar. I don’t want to see poverty among my people. That’s why I say cocoa is like gold to us.” "

David Vaorete

Cocoa farmer

Expanding the project is producing results for small farmers

Earlier this year the World Bank Board approved an additional $30 million to expand PPAP, aimed to double coffee and cocoa production, and increase income for an estimated 60,000 smallholder farmers.  The European Union has recently contributed an additional EUR5 million, and IFAD will soon add $22 million of financing to further increase these benefits.

This year is the first that farmers are really seeing the impact of the project. In the cocoa sector alone, as of May 2014, nearly a million trees have been rehabilitated or planted, to benefit thousands of smallholder cocoa farmers and their families.

Rejuvenating the cocoa industry in Bougainville

For Papua New Guinea’s cocoa industry, this is merely the beginning. Like many others, David believes there is huge potential for Bougainville-origin chocolate on the global market.

It is a product which is granted coveted “fine flavor” status; the industry also stands to benefit from its proximity to Asian grinders in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia – countries which are now buying as much as 46% of PNG’s cocoa.

“The saying used to go about a ‘stream of cocoa’ flowing, back when it used to thrive. Now they can say, the ‘stream of cocoa’ is flowing again to Tinputz,” David assures. “And I must stress, it will be of the very best quality!”