For more than a century, cocoa has woven itself into the fabric of Bougainville. Once the leading cocoa-producing region in Papua New Guinea (PNG), the island has regained its glory, producing nearly 17,000 tonnes of cocoa this year, thanks to collaborative efforts supported by Australia and New Zealand.
Bougainville’s cocoa earned a prestigious Gold Standard award at the International Cocoa of Excellence Award in Rome. The annual Bougainville Chocolate Festival, a September extravaganza, has evolved into a robust platform uniting farmers, traders, exporters, industry regulators, and chocolate enthusiasts.
Since 2016, the Bougainville Partnership, in tandem with the Department of Primary Industries and Marine Resources of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, has been nurturing the cocoa industry. The partnership spans seedling to export assistance, encompassing village-based farming families, women and youth involvement, research and development, regulatory infrastructure enhancement, and promotional efforts via the Bougainville Chocolate Festival.
A Collaborative Success Story
The collaboration, supplemented by additional support from New Zealand, has yielded significant results. Bougainville has reclaimed its position as the leading cocoa producer in PNG, projecting an annual production of 16,000 to 17,000 tonnes. Though shy of pre-crisis levels, this upward trajectory signifies a positive shift.
Individual stories echo the collective success. Geraldine Paul, now the Minister for Primary Industries and Marine Resources in the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), grew up immersed in cocoa farming. Her journey from managing fermenting and drying processes in her father’s farm to spearheading the industry signifies a deep-rooted commitment.
Geraldine emphasises the importance of investing in human capital, applauding the Commodity Support Facility (CSF) for its focus on quality over quantity. This approach, she believes, supports households and fosters family investment in the industry.
Dr. James Butubu, a lead researcher under the Bougainville Agricultural Commodity Regulatory Authority (BACRA), oversees the BACRA lab, a vital facility for the industry’s future. The lab evaluates flavour, quality parameters, and nutrient content, empowering farmers like Lucas Bierepi, whose dedication resulted in winning a Silver Medal at the 2023 Bougainville Chocolate Festival.
Cocoa: The Lifeblood of Bougainville
Acknowledging cocoa as the livelihood backbone, Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries and Marine Resources, Mr. Kenneth Dovaro, underscores its crucial role. Cocoa sustains families, local businesses, and entrepreneurs, underscoring its significance.
Australian support extends beyond production, with a notable focus on empowering women. The CARE International BECOMES Project challenges gender norms, involving both spouses in technical sessions and providing tools designed for women. Christopher “Topa” Hershey notes the success in building skills, confidence, and family partnerships.
Salome Rihatta, a major cocoa buyer in Bougainville, credits donor support for unlocking the industry’s potential. Li Peng Monroe from Jasper and Myrtle Chocolates in Canberra exclusively uses Bougainville cocoa, affirming its continued presence in her products.
Australian support, exemplified through the Commodity Support Facility (CSF), has played a pivotal role. Over 2,500 smallholder cocoa farmers benefit from grants exceeding PGK 20 million, enhancing crop quality and production. The Bougainville Cocoa Farming Families Project (BECOMES), the Bougainville Cocoa Regulation, the BCRA Laboratory, and the annual Bougainville Chocolate Festival are key outcomes of this support.
The success story of Bougainville’s cocoa industry exemplifies the transformative power of collaborative efforts, emphasising quality, inclusivity, and sustainability. As the island’s cocoa gains international acclaim, the focus remains on empowering communities and building a resilient, thriving industry.
–This is article is condensed from content supplied by the Australian High Commission, Port Moresby