Sav­ing PNG’s co­coa in­dus­try


De­spite grow­ing de­mand for co­coa around the world, the co­coa in­dus­try in Pa­pua New Guinea is in cri­sis, with pro­duc­tion in East New Bri­tain alone plum­met­ing by 82% be­tween 2008 and 2012. Made in PNG re­ports on at­tempts to com­bat the pest that threat­ens the sec­tor.

The cause is the co­coa pod borer (CPB) pest, which has hit many co­coa-pro­duc­ing re­gions around the world. Ac­cord­ing to the PNG Co­coa Board, pro­duc­tion in East Sepik Prov­ince and the Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion of Bougainville ‘will likely crash’ over the next two years, all due to the pest.

Re­ceipts from co­coa ex­ports halved be­tween 2011 and 2012, but with co­coa prices ex­pected to rise, the rev­enue lost will be­come even more ap­par­ent.

In the sea­son ended 30 Septem­ber 2013, world de­mand out­paced pro­duc­tion by 160,000 tonnes, ac­cord­ing to the International Co­coa Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ICCO). As a re­sult, an­a­lysts now pre­dict co­coa prices may rise to US$3090 per tonne by Jan­uary next year, a US$200 per tonne rise.

Fight­ing the borer

The CPB will never be erad­i­cated, but its im­pact can be over­come, says Pro­fes­sor Ge­orge Curry from Curtin Univer­sity, Perth. Curry and his Curtin and PNG Co­coa Co­conut In­sti­tute col­leagues are cur­rently re­search­ing the suc­cess of train­ing pro­grams for grow­ers ini­ti­ated by Ag­mark, the PNG co­coa buy­ing and ex­port­ing com­pany. The re­search, funded by the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for International Agri­cul­tural Re­search, seeks to iden­tify strate­gies that al­low grow­ers to pro­duce co­coa in a CPB en­vi­ron­ment.

As well as pro­vid­ing high-yield­ing va­ri­eties of co­coa, Ag­mark trains grow­ers in such things as prun­ing, good block san­i­ta­tion and CPB con­trol tech­niques like weekly har­vest­ing and pod burial, which in­ter­rupt the life cy­cle of the pest. These mea­sures can elim­i­nate as much as 98% of CPB in­fes­ta­tion.

‘It’s prob­a­bly been the most suc­cess­ful strat­egy to over­come CPB,’ Curry tells Made in PNG.

Just over 1000 of East New Bri­tain’s 23,000 grow­ers are tak­ing part in the trial and most of them are get­ting higher yields now than they were even be­fore the pest ar­rived.

‘Typ­i­cally, be­fore CPB they were get­ting 300-400 kg of dry bean per hectare. And then with CPB hit­ting, it al­most went down to zero but un­der the Ag­mark strat­egy, a lot of grow­ers are get­ting a tonne per hectare; some a good bit higher than that.’

In­ten­sive ef­fort

‘The big prob­lem with CPB is that it re­quires a high in­put sys­tem of pro­duc­tion to con­trol it,’ says Curry.

‘The thing with most small­holder pro­duc­tion in PNG, in­clud­ing oil palm and cof­fee, is that they op­er­ate in a low-in­put, low-out­put sys­tem of pro­duc­tion.

Curry says grow­ers need to put more time into main­tain­ing their crops.

‘Even with ba­sic prun­ing, you can re­ally rack up the yields be­cause co­coa re­sponds re­ally well to prun­ing and shade con­trol.

‘How­ever, it re­quires a fun­da­men­tal change in the way peo­ple live their lives, so it’s a dif­fi­cult thing for grow­ers to do. The farm­ers who’ve made the tran­si­tion in East New Bri­tain are get­ting good re­turns. In fact, a lot are amazed at how much co­coa they’re get­ting.’

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