An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
COCOA farmer Patrick Erengona from Kaino village in the hinterland of Arawa, Bougainville, earned K680 for two bags of dry bean cocoa in the last week of May.
With the high cost of living in the province, this was not enough to sustain his family. There are problems in the Bougainville cocoa industry.
In a newspaper story some years ago, journalist Eric Tapakau wrote that, by the end of 2004, Bougainville should have 30 million cocoa trees and reported on a feasibility study for a proposed cocoa factory on the island.
To this day there is no evidence of the progress indicated by the media report. And the problem is the ownership of the cocoa industry of the island.
Bougainvillean farmers are not owners of their cocoa. The effective owners are non-Bougainvillean buyers and dealers.
In the 2008 research work, Market chain development in peace building: Australia’s roads, wharves and agriculture projects in post-conflict Bougainville, authors Ian Scales and Raoul Graemer revealed that Bougainville cocoa since being purchased directly by Rabaul-based buyers had been misattributed as East New Britain cocoa.
Scales and Graemer noted the Rabaul-based buyers in 2005-2006 as Agmark, Outspan and Garamut, which operate as direct buyers of dry bean cocoa.
A chronic problem has been ‘black-market’ and ‘grey-market’ cocoa that affects monitoring by the Cocoa Board of PNG in Bougainville and proper earning schemes for agents and the Bougainville economy. There are many unregistered as well as registered fermentary sheds around Bougainville.
The distance between the Rabaul-based buyers and their agents on Bougainville complicates things.
‘Grey-market’ cocoa exists where a local dealer buys cocoa from an unregistered fermentary, brands it with the number of a registered fermentary and sells it to a cocoa exporter.
‘Black-market’ cocoa is unbranded and unreceipted and eventually mixed with legitimate produce for export.
The Bougainville branch of the Cocoa Board finds it hard to monitor, control and protect Bougainvilleans in terms of income and pricing. This weakness has over the years attracted dozens of non-Bougainvillean companies to enter Bougainville further complicating matters for the understaffed Cocoa Board.
This all impacts on little growers and farmers like Patrick Erengona. His fermentary is unregistered and he sells cocoa to a clansman who he says is an agent of Outspan. He doesn’t care about registering as he says the Cocoa Board of PNG does nothing to help him.
According to Scales and Graemer, in 2004-05 Bougainville produced 15,670 tonnes of exportable cocoa matching the pre-crisis average of 15,600 tonnes. This quantity at world market pricing would have earned the Bougainville economy about K59 million if Bougainville had its own company in charge of its cocoa industry.
With non-Bougainvillean companies controlling the industry, farmers like Erengona are exploited and the government awaits the re-opening of the Panguna copper mine with foreign consultants screaming, ‘Re-open Panguna and your GDP will rocket into the space and we give you more loans to keep you in control.’
Erengona harvests 140-170 kilograms of wet bean cocoa to ferment into one standard exportable bag of 63.5 kilograms of dry bean.
So his recent earning of K340 per bag is a disadvantage for him and the Bougainville economy.
Since cocoa is a major income earner for Bougainvilleans the Bougainville government must take control of the industry.
“Bougainville is taking all the powers and functions of government from PNG,” Erengona says, “so it’s about time it forms his own cocoa board and also form a true Bougainvillean company to export the cocoa we produce.
“With that I think the price of cocoa on Bougainville will triple and that the internal revenue of Bougainville will rise and there is no need to destroy our environment with the re-opening of the Panguna mine since Bougainville is a small island.”
To Erengona, Bougainville is being deprived of it enormous economic power from this cash crop, impeding its political journey towards deciding its political future.