The Markham Valley in Papua New Guinea is considered by many Papua New Guineans as one of the most agriculturally fertile parts of the country.
Cocoa growers like Isaac Sam are being supported through the PNG Government’s Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project, which is funded by the World Bank, with outstanding results.
This work is now moving into a new phase, through a successor project that is expanding into other agricultural opportunities, including coconut, spices and small livestock.
Walking the two-hour journey from his village in Onga-Wafa, in Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s Markham Valley, to a depot in the town of Mudzing with a heavy bag of dry cocoa beans is a long and risky journey for cocoa farmer, Isaac Sam. Each time he makes this journey, Sam has to negotiate the wild and unpredictable Markham River, keeping his beans dry and preventing everything – himself included – from being swept away by the strong currents.
Despite the two hour-long wet season walk along slippery paths, Isaac maintains he loves being a cocoa farmer; having previously lived in the city of Lae some 160 kilometers away, where Isaac says he was unhappy; that he missed living in his village.
“I used to work in the city before moving back to the village to farm cocoa. I wasn’t happy there because my income wasn’t enough to support my family but here, we are doing well and farming cocoa has really helped my family to create other income streams in the village.”
Isaac’s home of Markham Valley is well acknowledged by many Papua New Guineans as both particularly picturesque, and also a fertile place – ripe for agricultural opportunities and farming. Isaac says he sees the same potential.
“My vision is to continue developing my cocoa blocks so that one day I can pass these blocks down to my children,” says Isaac, who plans to upgrade his fermentary (cocoa drying room) and buy roofing iron to improve his house.
Isaac has been supported through the World Bank-funded Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP), – through a community cooperative which initially provided him with 200 clone seedlings, which he has now increased to 600 trees. He says being involved in PPAP has already given him a lot. “I can provide for my children’s needs and we can conveniently access medical services through the money cocoa brings.”
Isaac’s experiences mirror those of Inchn Zisu, a cocoa farmer from the Markham Valley village of Magain. Inchn has over 1,200 cocoa trees on her three-hectares of land and says that since becoming part of PPAP in 2019, it has delivered a huge change in her life: “The project helped build an access road into my village and this has transformed our community in terms of better access to goods and services. I own a fermentary, a small shop and built a house in my village, so I am very happy.”
Inchn says that one of the key skills she learnt under the PPAP program was learning how to prune her cocoa trees properly: “[My trees] grow healthy fruit and the beans are very big now.”
Her thoughts are echoed by Yali Kilamu from Dabu in the Markham District, who has been part of PPAP since 2016.
“Cocoa farming is hard work; budding, pruning, drying the beans and then carrying them to sell,” says Yali, who dreams of building her own fermentary soon. “So when we work together under the cooperative, we receive a lot of support; like a feeder road into my village, which made transport much easier.”
Its success has come through an inclusive approach to supporting coffee and cocoa producers. Growers are supported with seedlings, training in how to care, maintain and grow them – and they are supported with access to other services and markets as part of cooperatives. Each cooperative – such as the Agi Agro Cooperative, which supports over 500 cocoa farmers in the Markham valley; including Isaac, Inchn and Yali - is supported by the private sector, community-based organizations and the PNG government.
Building on the success of PPAP, the World Bank is now supporting a follow up project – the five-year, US$40 million PNG Agriculture Commercialization and Diversification Project. The new project will build on the cooperative approach already established by PPAP, but focus on additional crops such as coconut, spices and small livestock, with the aim of also helping to improve the nutrition of Papua New Guineans – with greater production of healthy, locally-grown foods.
“PPAP has delivered beyond expectations,” said Allan Oliver, the World Bank’s Senior Agricultural Specialist. “We have seen increase in yields for both cocoa and coffee, which has increased economic activities for many communities, and created a demand from other communities who have not been part of the project.
“We are proud to continue this support to the agriculture sector, in partnership with the PNG Government and our implementing partners on the ground, through the new project focusing on expanding PNG’s agricultural opportunities.”
The World Bank-funded Productive Partnerships of Agriculture Project (PPAP) – and its successor; the PNG Agriculture Commercialization and Diversification (PACD) Project – are funded through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s most in-need countries. PPAP was also funded through the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and the European Union’s Trust Fund, together with provincial and national governments across PNG, as well as a number of local farming organizations and communities.