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.’
‘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.’