Thursday, 3 April 2014

Glimmer of hope amid cocoa devastation in PNG

Mrs Odelia Virua Taman (photo: A. Gavin, DFAT)
Mrs Odelia Virua Taman is a progressive cocoa grower in East New Britain who is reaping the rewards of controlling cocoa pod borer (CPB), which has devastated much of Papua New Guinea’s valuable crop.


According to Business Advantage PNG, the production of cocoa in East New Britain alone plummeted by 82% between 2008 and 2012. As an extra blow, PNG’s cocoa production has dropped dramatically at a time when prices are increasing

Odelia led the creation of the Tuvilo Farmers Co-operative – a group of around 200 farmers employing integrated pest and disease management strategies (IPDM) and jointly marketing dry beans.  She is one of many smallholder farmers who have been involved in ACIAR research on improving PNG’s cocoa production for the last ten years.

Recently ACIAR’s Dr Nick Austin visited Mrs Taman’s farm to hear first-hand about the challenges of growing cocoa in PNG. Now harvesting around one tonne a month of cocoa thanks to successful IPDM, Odelia told him “I cannot thank ACIAR enough for funding this technology”.

Research input

Tavilo Farmers Co-operative logo
Australian researchers were already working closely with colleagues at the PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute, investigating the extent of the cocoa pest and disease problems, when the CPB struck East New Britain in 2006. A national state of emergency was declared by the PNG government, resulting in a large-scale CPB monitoring and eradication program.

The borer wreaked havoc on Odelia’s farm and she completely lost her income. By changing her farm-management techniques, she has since been able to control outbreaks of CPB and her cocoa has recovered. She controls the pests and disease through basic pruning, good sanitation such as weekly harvesting and burying diseased pods, and providing the cocoa trees with shade.

Project leader Dr David Guest of the University of Sydney and his PNG colleagues worked with growers in the provinces of East New Britain, Madang and North Solomons to test the effect of the IPDM techniques. “We helped establish demonstration plots, worked with strategically established groups of leading farmers and through field days, generally encouraging adoption through farmer-to-farmer communication.” 

Through another ACIAR project, Dr George Curry of Curtin University and his colleagues set out to improve extension delivery through greater commercial sector engagement with smallholders. He says one of the biggest challenges in PNG is that a good cocoa crop requires  pretty intensive management. “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,” Dr Curry said.

Following his visit Dr Austin said “Odelia’s is a moving story of the importance of leadership and the value of agricultural research. While her efforts have yielded great success, the challenge remains to scale-out the successes to other farmers in East New Britain and other provinces affected by CPB.”

Odelia Virua Taman with ACIAR PNG Country Manager
Emily Flowers (photo: N. Austin)

Where to from here

Dr Curry says the CPB will never be eradicated, but its impact can be overcome. He and others are researching the success of training programs for growers initiated by Agmark, the PNG cocoa-buying and exporting company. Just over 1,000 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 the cocoa pod border they were getting 300-400 kg of dry bean per hectare. And then with borer 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,” Dr Curry said.
Cocoa beans in Papua New Guinea (photo: P. Jones)

In February 2014 the World Bank committed a further US$30 million to expanding its Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project in PNG to benefit up to 60,000 coffee and cocoa farmers. Under these partnerships between farmers and NGOs, farmer group cooperatives or local businesses, farmers are provided with planting materials, extension services and access to certification schemes that help bring higher prices.

According to Odelia, many farmers need a cash injection to help fund the basic equipment to improve their cocoa management. "If we want to save the industry we have to go to the farmers directly to help them, providing equipment like knapsack sprayers, chemicals, secateurs and pruners. We’ve shown this can make a big difference.”

By Mandy Gyles, ACIAR Communications

More information:

ACIAR projects:

ASEM/2006/127 – Commercial sector/smallholder partnerships for improving incomes in the oil palm and cocoa industries in Papua New Guinea
ASEM/2003/015 – Enhancing PNG smallholder cocoa production through greater adoption of disease control practices
ASEM/2002/014 – Improving productivity and the participation of youth and women in the Papua New Guinea cocoa, coconut and oil palm industries

ACIAR publications:

Nutritional status of cocoa in Papua New Guinea
Adoption of ACIAR project outputs 2013
Pest and disease incursions: risks, threats and management in Papua New Guinea
Partners Magazine PNG special edition

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