The battle to save the Papua New Guinea 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. Business Advantage PNG reports on attempts to combat the pest which threatens the sector.

Training growers on the management of the cocoa pod borer in East New Britain Province. Credit: Paul Barker

Training growers on the management of the cocoa pod borer in East New Britain Province. Credit: Paul Barker

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, 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$3,090 per tonne by January next year, a US$200 per tonne rise.

Fighting the borer

Curtin University's George Curry

Curtin University’s George Curry

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 break the life cycle of the pest. These measures can eliminate as much as 98% of CPB infestation.

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

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 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 cocoa pod borer moth. Credit: Qld Dept of Agriculture

The cocoa pod borer moth. Credit: Qld Dept of Agriculture

‘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.

‘The ones that haven’t made the transition are trying to make up for lost income by spending a lot more time growing food crops for home consumption and sale at local markets.

‘So they’ve gone back into a subsistence agriculture system, but the income from food crops sold locally doesn’t come anywhere near compensating for the loss of cocoa income.’

Trial under threat

Despite the success of the trial, all that could be lost if the 500-hectare Tokiala plantation where most of the trials and training takes place is sold.

‘Because of the massive drop in total production for the province, the company’s been adversely affected,’ says Curry.

‘In my view, it would be a national tragedy for the cocoa industry if that was lost because it is operating as a national training centre which could be really scaled up.’

The industry is pinning its hopes on a World Bank project in East New Britain and Bougainville to help farmers deal with the outbreak. Using a similar strategy as Agmark, they are hoping by the end of 2013 to involve 18,000 farmers in training partnerships with a range of service providers.

By the end of 2013, it should be clear whether or a not a viable cocoa industry will survive in PNG.


  1. Interest to growing cocoa as an alternate cash crop to Oil palm is slowly creeping into wnbp influenced by the high cocoa price and the link between the two new britain provinces by the new NB highway bringing access to cocoa market in the ENBP.

    Can anyone in PNGCCRI at Tavilo assist on how to go about obtaining the new cocoa clones by the farmers here in the West.

    • Greetings Terry,
      Please contact me on alexnugi if you require further info.

      • NGIP-Agmark Limited as the largest exporter of PNG cocoa continues to be proactively engaged in the rebuilding of the cocoa industry in the post endemic CPB era. Cocoa supply for our export business has been seriously impacted upon to the extent that it has become difficult to meet the demand from our customers for PNG cocoa. It is clearly evident that manufactures around the world need more PNG cocoa beans, and demand is continuing to increase.
        Our center of excellence in cocoa cultivation at Tokiala Plantation has a licensed sustainable commercial planting materials operation with the capacity to produce and distribute large volumes of the CPB tolerant cocoa planting materials recently released by CCIL. We are able to provide, pre-development advice and information for farmers and farmer groups on how to prepare their land for cocoa. And, depending upon the location and situation of those farmer groups we are able recommend the most appropriate method to introduce the planting materials to their area, either as bud-wood, bare-rooted plants, or fully developed plants ready for field planting. All of these are available from the NGIP-Agmark planting materials facilities.
        In recognition of the training needs of the PNG cocoa industry, and to provide assurance that new plantings are cultivated correctly by farmers; NGIP-Agmark Ltd has opened its doors at Tokiala plantation through the development of a Training & Resource Centre. Here, at reasonable cost, cocoa farmers and industry stakeholders are provided the opportunity for practical hands on training courses on cocoa cultivation, and cocoa nursery management. The plantation, planting materials units, and its staff provide the resource. There is a training room for the evening classes, and a full time training officer is on hand to co-ordinate the program. The basic full board accommodation unit caters for up to 20 trainees at a time. Since 2009 more than 3,000 people have undergone various short term trainings at Tokiala. The trainees have included self sponsored individuals, and those funded by PNGSDP, Provincial Departments, and through the Cocoa Boards’ World Bank financed PPAP program. This work is on-going and, LLG’s throughout the cocoa cultivating areas of PNG are actively encouraged to consider utilizing part of their budgetary allocations for rural training to include the Tokiala training in cocoa cultivation for their some of their leading cocoa farmers.

  2. Am currently attending UNRE, Vudal at ENBP ly doing a masters thesis on ways to improve supply certainty and quality of cocoa after CPB in East New Britain. Would very much like to discuss with Agmark on some of the points mentioned!

  3. Hugh Laird says

    I endorse John Nightingale’s comments. But the lack of interest in CPB by the authorities after the initial shock after its introduction, and the usual motherhood statements by bureaucrats and politicians of how this affliction would be controlled and eradicated, was a sick joke. The appeal for funding to combat the spread of the pest resulted in a pathetic system of inspection road blocks and the spraying of cars, whereas the real need was for continuous targeting of farmer extension in the field. I remember vividly at that time, predicting to my staff in the Gazelle, we would see a massive drop in cocoa production in PNG because of the inertia of the Dept. of Agriculture and the CCRI .The resultant spread of CPB throughout the entire cocoa growing areas of PNG and the catastrophic drop in production is a national disgrace. Cocoa growers in PNG deserve better than this.
    The chance of this disaster repeating itself is on the horizon, with the presence of Coffee Berry Borer in West Papua. The damage caused by the introduction of this pest and the resultant financial disaster for the coffee growers of PNG would be inestimable.

  4. Are there any biological control method available in the country to control or eradicate the disasterous effects of cocoa pod borer pests on cocoa seedlings?

  5. Can the life cycle of CPB be destroyed to eliminate or control the disasterous effect of Cocoa Pod Borer?

  6. Evin Vinarut says

    Cocoa was the main source of income for most families back then.How does current cocoa prices compare to its glory days in say year 2000?

  7. Kamane Bagle says

    Research organizations in the conurty such as NARI and PNGCCI colleborate with overseas organizations to provide benefical information like IPDM that is enough to combat the battle with CPB, but the problem persist because farmers fail to adopt new methods and its expensive and labour intensive..I also figured it out that the research organization provide information but dismination of information is lacking.These are the things that I think needs improvment….

  8. CPB is causing significant damage to small horlder cocoa farms in East Sepik Province which are the largest supplier of cocoa in the province. Currently most of the cocoa farms are producing at a quarter or half their usual production capacity. The status quo had affected the operations of Fementries and the ability to produce high quality and quantity dry cocoa beans for sale to the major buyers/exporters in East Sepik. While ongoing efforts by PNG Cocoa Board, Agmark, Monpi etc, to rehabilitate the small holder cocoa farms the damages done by CPB were so destructive that recovery efforts will take a while. The main challenge for farmers now is to acquire and plant new hybrid CPB resistant cocoa clones in their farmers. Therefore I am seeking information and contact numbers of cocoa nurseries in Rabaul and Madang so I can be able to link farmers directly to those nurseries to buy hybrid CPB resistant cocoa clones for planting in their farms..

    • Elliott Kadir says

      Hello Mr. Stanis Hulahau.
      I am in process of establishing a PNG Cocoa and Coconut Certified Cocoa Bud wood Garden and if certified by CCI will be producing hybrid clone seedlings of the 18 x CCI released CPB resistant cocoa by middle of next year 2015.
      Please email me ( to get my contact details for your file records for future reference to interested cocoa farmers in East Sepik Province.
      I am located in East New Britain Province.

      Thank you.

  9. C P B can and is being managed by small holders as well as large growers.There is a change in the cocoa growing culture that is necessary to achieve this.
    No longer can growers wait and harvest only when they need the cash.
    Cocoa must be harvested weekly as we do on the Agmark estates.

    This reduces the chances of over ripe pods that are so attractive
    to the adult CPB moth.
    Cocoa planting material that has the highest potential to yield must be used.
    This is being achieved through bud grafting proven high yielding hybrid
    clones in state of the art nurseries on Agmark’sTokiala and Vunatung estates.
    The collapse of cocoa production in East New Britain has ripped K100 million
    a year out of the cocoa farming families pockets.There are indications that
    the decline has been arrested. However we are seeing CPB effects on cocoa in the East Sepik, Madang and the ABG.There are reports that CPB has devastated the small amount of cocoa on Misima island.This should have been a natural quarantine area as should Bougainville. How was CPB introduced to these areas?

    This reduces the chances of over ripe pods
    that are so attractive to the adult CPB moth.

  10. The CPB is spreading like wild fire in Madang Province. It is drastically reducing cocoa growers’ income and affecting living standards. The government is turning a blind-eye on CPB for unknown reasons. A public outcry would be a way forward to attract political support.

    Thanks for your iformation. As an extension services provider in the private sector in PNG, I deeply concerned about cocoa farming communities’ livelihood which may be affected due to CPB.

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