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FEATURE STORY

Voice of Conflict: Timothy Koluvai's story from Papua New Guinea

October 3, 2016

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Ex-combatant Timothy Koluvai, now Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP) Senior Field Officer for the Konnou District, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, tends to the cocoa clones in his nursery. Despite participating in both the Bougainville and Konnou conflicts, Timothy was one of the first in the area to embrace and successfully farm cocoa. Now that peace has been restored to the area, and through the World Bank-funded PPAP program, many in the area are turning to cocoa to earn a living. Timothy mentors 966 farmers in the area, and plays a pivotal role in fostering peace between members of two previously warring groups through sharing of cocoa farming skills and knowledge.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

Timothy Koluvai once took up arms against ethnic rivals. Today he helps them learn to grow cocoa.

The transition in the life of the 52-year-old Koluvai shows how times have changed in his village deep in the jungle of southern Bougainville, the main island of Papua New Guinea’s Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

A successful cocoa farmer in his own right, Timothy also mentors 966 cocoa farmers in Konnou constituency through his role as Senior Project Officer for the World-Bank funded Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP).

He was recruited because of his achievements growing cocoa independently amid two major ethnic conflicts in the area — the Bougainville Crisis of 1989–99, and the Konnou Crisis of 2007-11.

Koluvai fought in the Bougainville Crisis for his Wisai community against rival Me’ekemui combatants. After the unrest ceased, he recognized that cocoa was one of the only ways he could rebuild and forge a secure future for himself and his family. He built his own nursery and taught himself to grow pest-resistant cocoa trees.

In recognition of his efforts, Koluvai was the first farmer to take part in the PPAP program, learning financial management skills and additional farming techniques that contributed to greater individual success and profits.

When the Konnou Crisis broke out, sparked by revenge killings tied to the Bougainville Crisis, Koluvai fought as a member of the Wisai Liberation Movement (WILMO).

 


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Timothy in a field that has been deforrested in order to plant cocoa trees. The World Bank does not permit participating farmers to clear land for cocoa. That doesn't stop others from doing so.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

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Cocoa farmers from Konnou District, Bougainville, Timothy and James Konnovai assess cocoa beans as they dry in a local fermentation house in the remote village of Oria.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

“The Konnou conflict, it was worse than the Bougainville conflict,” he said of the unrest that killed dozens from his village. “Plenty of brothers and family members died. We lost most of them from the village. I was really hurting.”

When fighting ended in 2011, he was recruited to be leading proponent of the PPAP program.

“My position is Senior Field Officer in Konnou,” Koluvai explained. “I look after 966 farmers. I’m a farmer, first and foremost. But now I go and help all the other farmers, those that don’t understand the program. I go and explain what it can bring to people. It’s helped me. The other farmers are looking to me as an example – they’re seeing my property and thinking they can achieve the same.”

In 2014, the outreach spread beyond his community to Mogoroi, the village of the Me’ekemui, his people’s former enemy. Koluvai was among the first Wisai to visit Mogoroi since the conflict, staying for 10 days to teach the isolated locals about cocoa and help them build a nursery for the clone cocoa trees.

“All the former fighters were there. They all came to the training,” he said of men he once took up arms against. “So I encouraged them, all the leaders, and said: ‘Cocoa is here, it’s something for us to work on. It’s been on the side [during the conflict], but you should come back to it. Cocoa will help us all.’”

Now, “I feel that this program, this cocoa project, has sealed it,” Koluvai said of the recent peace in Konnou. “We’re brothers now.”

The one-time combatant offered words of tolerance.

“We are human beings,” he said. “It’s hard to forgive someone who’s brought you pain, killed your brothers. It’s hard work. This is why it took such time. But you can’t be heavy. It will burden you. The best thing you can do is forgive and forget.”



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