Stakeholder partnerships for Nuku cocoa value chain project

The people of East New Britain and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville have demonstrated that without the income from extractive industries such as logging and mining, the local economy could be sustained through agriculture, in particular cocoa and coconut production. 

Both provinces have experienced downturn in the local economy as a result of the volcanic eruption in Rabaul and the civil war on the island of Bougainville. Cocoa production was further impacted by the Cocoa Pod Borer (CPB) infestation, but is picking up after Cocoa and Coconut Institute (CCI) at Tavilo, East New Britain released recommendations to control CPB, including the release of selected cocoa varieties that are tolerant to CPB infestation. The fight against CPB infestation has been taken seriously by lead partners such as Agmark and innovative “Agriculture BusinessLeaders” in the cocoa industry.

Research and Development partners in the cocoa industry are advocating that there is demand for premium quality cocoa from Papua New Guinea on niche export markets. Traditional methods of fermenting and drying using wood combustion dryers generate smoke that taints and reduces the quality of dried cocoa beans.

What this means is that the Cocoa Industry needs innovative “Agriculture Business Leaders” to take the lead in production of quality cocoa beans to tap into niche markets that pay good dollars for premium quality cocoa beans. An innovative drying facility at Banyo Plantation on North Bougainville is a good example of an Agriculture Business Leader that is taking the lead in the cocoa industry to produce premium quality beans for the niche market. This is being achieved by an innovative technology to dry cocoa beans using a combination of steam and solar drying facility. Growers must work in partnership and learn from business leaders in the industry through extension services to produce premium quality cocoa beans.

In Nuku district we need to encourage and build innovative “Agriculture Business Leaders” in the agriculture sector to develop the cocoa and vanilla industry.  We have members of a New Zealand Missionary family that have returned to Sibilanga to set up an export market for vanilla; an example of “Agriculture Business Leader” that we want to emulate. However, there are certain requirements that must be met in order to be a successful Business Leader in the export trade of vanilla. One must have the initial capital to set up infrastructure, set up a network of growers to produce the quality vanilla beans for the export market, must produce quality beans to meet phytosanitary requirements administered by the National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA) to meet the import requirements for respective countries. An exporter must register an export business entity with the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) and submit annual tax returns with the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC). An exporter must also apply for an export license to trade which attracts a substantial amount of money. An export license must be renewed at intervals set by the Department of Trade and Industry.

I am of the view that it is not possible to convert a simple villager with a primary level of formal education to become a successful entrepreneur in agribusiness industry. The process requires a shift from the subsistence to a cash economy – from a subsistence farmer into a modern day farmer. The process that will transform a subsistence crop into a cash crop requires a person with knowledge of the value chain. A farmer is involved in the production chain from farm gate, handling, processing, packaging and marketing.

In order to grow and market an agriculture product we need all three partners that I have been advocating on the social media forums in order for change to happen. The state provides the enabling transport infrastructure and extension services, development partners assist with quality control, handling and marketing and the village people must be receptive and willing participant to support partnerships in agribusiness. This requires a shift in attitude and mindset to enable them to accept and support the involvement of the agriculture business leaders to upscale the traditional way of thinking and traditional approaches to shift from subsistence to a market economy.

We have been trying to modernize our agriculture production systems – from subsistence to commercial agriculture – our living conditions – from bush material type housing to semi-permanent or permanent housing – as well as modernize our learning systems and modernize our attitude to be able to live in a modern society and the environment that is demanded by a civilized society and a systematic market economy.

In 1973 Anthropologist Diana Howlet raised a question whether the process that created peasants from tribal people was considered to be in transition, a phase through which people will pass to emerge as “modern”. She used a catch phrase to describe the process of modernizing our rural economy as going through a state of “infinite pause”; from the introduction of rice cultivation in the 1950s, to Robusta coffee, to cocoa and vanilla. If the income from cash crops can’t modernize us than what is it? We have gone through various processes of transition from hunter-gatherer, to civil order through the efforts of early administrators – the Kiaps. Then the cash economy through cash cropping; cargo cult (that money will appear through superpowers); then deviated forms of religious worship, making leaders and pastors live a comfortable life from tithes. We have pyramid schemes – Aim Global, Papa Lain, Money Rain, U-Vistract schemes. Various forms of schemes designed to capitalize on the ignorance of our people that have been subjected to various processes of transition from traditional lifestyle to modern lifestyle. Surprisingly, educated people, who should know better, are involved in these schemes and losing their hard earned income by investing in these schemes designed to make you believe that you will become a millionaire overnight! Is it the infinite pause syndrome? If one thing does not modernize you, then try the next available option. So you go through an infinite pause cycle: looking for that star to fall to modernize your lifestyle.

We need Business Leaders in the agriculture sector to grow the local economy. However, we have yet to modernize our attitude and way of thinking. We must accept and support local business leaders who are trying to be innovative to provide a service to help increase the level of income for our people. We have a problem when we see that certain individuals or family groups become successful. Jealousy and bad energy in various forms is stopping our own people to become Business Leaders. We don’t need retired Missionaries to come and show us how to become Business Leaders. We have potential Business Leaders in the Agriculture sector but our attitude, jealousy and the insecurity of somebody else stealing business from you that is suppressing the much needed support services that could be provided by our very own Business Leaders. We have a number of Business Leaders in the retail industry but we need more to provide competition which is good for customers. We desperately need Agriculture Business Leaders to modernize production and marketing of cocoa and vanilla at Nuku district to grow the local economy. We have to bring services closer to our people to reduce the risks our people take when they travel out to look for good and services.

With increased cash flow in the local economy, we need to increase retail trade business in order to attract banking services. The satellite township concept has been advocated so that our people can do business and have access to goods and services here at Nuku.

The duty of the Political Governance and Institutions of State (Provincial and District Administrations, Local-level Government and Ward Administrations) is to provide an enabling environment – road transport infrastructure, communication services and improved health and educations services. An additional responsibility is to foster partnerships with the private sector and our people to drive the local economy through agriculture value chain projects.

The challenge to modernize the society we live in is in our hands – we are the masters of our own destiny, a new Nuku we have been advocating is in our hands.

DR JOHN SOWEI (PhD) is a stakeholder interface and development advisor for Nuku District Development Authority.

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