Agmark MD outlines recipe to repair Papua New Guinea’s cocoa industry

Papua New Guinea’s cocoa industry could be back to its 1970s levels if it had a strong cocoa grower-based Cocoa Board, more farmer training and increased investment. That is what John Nightingale, Managing Director of Agmark, told the country’s first-ever agricultural summit, held in Port Moresby last month.

Weighing cocoa beans. Source: Agmark

‘In the 1970s, PNG produced 2.5 per cent of the world’s cocoa crops,’ said Nightingale, MD of Agmark, the country’s largest cocoa grower, trader and exporter.

‘Today, we barely produce 0.7 per cent.’

He said that if PNG output had maintained its production at 1970s levels it would be producing 115,000 tonnes per annum, rather than the 37,000 tonnes it currently produces.

‘The reasons for the decline in the PNG cocoa industry included increased tree senility.’

The PNG industry, he said, had not ‘kept pace’ with the cocoa world. ‘It’s a tragedy that we have gone backwards’.

Strategies

In order to get production levels up, Nightingale outlined seven strategies:

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  • Plant more hectares;
  • Achieve higher yields per hectare with longer longevity and improved root stock;
  • Improve farmer practices;
  • Undertake better farmer training;
  • Have stronger grower representation on the Cocoa Board;
  • Create a grower-dominated Cocoa Board to drive research, and
  • Improve quality control, including inspection of dried cocoa before it is exported, and the regular inspection of cocoa dryers.

A cocoa plant. Source: Agmark

According to Nightingale, the reasons for the decline in the PNG cocoa industry include increased tree senility, decreased investment, a failure to keep up with planting, the effect of the cocoa pod borer, poor roads to transport beans, poor farmer training, and the ‘politicisation of the Cocoa Board’.

He said there had been a ‘lack of truly representative Cocoa Board members over the last 12 years’, and pointed to ‘political interference in the Cocoa Board and Cocoa Coconut Institute over many years.’

He added that appointments were made on an ad hoc basis ‘with very little input from growers’.

‘It’s the best we have seen in PNG for the spread of the projects and the increasing continuity of support.’

Continuing poor roads, he said, prevented access to markets.

‘Our main plantations at Tokiala used to take 40 minutes [from Kokopo] to get there. I went out the other day and it took an hour and a half. It’s a disgrace that it’s happened.’

Jobs

Nightingale said money invested in agriculture creates at least 100 times more jobs than investing in other industries—particularly mining.

He singled out the success of the PPA [Productive Partnerships in Agriculture] program funded by the World Bank.

‘Funds go directly to lead partners, private commercial people.’

‘It’s the best we have seen in PNG for the spread of the projects and the increasing continuity of support.

‘Funds go directly to lead partners, private commercial people, rather than find their way through government bureaucracies, which are inefficient and unaccountable.

‘The manufacturing initiative by Paradise Foods to produce Queen Emma Chocolate is a most welcome development and has occurred without government involvement.’

Comments

  1. John Wemin says:

    Thank you Nightingale. Neglect of successive governments to adequately fund this vital sector of the economy, and too much politicization with commodity boards brings us to this saddening decline. Similar stories with declining exports from the coffee sector.

    It really saddens me to see large hectares of coffee plantations and coffee blocks being replaced with kaukau and other cash crops.

    PPAP is a good intervention and hope will address the decline in cocoa and coffee.

  2. Best summary of the 2017 Cocoa year. The worst and the good prospect

  3. Gheno Minia says:

    the only way is up, but cocoa and agriculture needs to be taken seriously….

  4. Thanks for the commentary

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