"Cultivating cocoa has immense benefits because through it I built my house, I invested some money and I bought vehicles, but we lost hope when the CPB struck', says Marex.
Marex, a passionate cocoa farmer in Papua New Guinea's Madang Province has worked alongside other cocoa and agriculture projects over the years and has seen firsthand, the benefits of a flourishing cocoa block.
The ANCP funded - Climate Smart & Inclusive Cocoa project was initiated in 2021 and is in its third year of implementation. The project is expected to be due in 2026.
"I was so happy when I heard what was said during the awareness phase of the project, and it gave most of us hope. It urged us to return our cocoa blocks", he adds.
He says that work progressed well, in the initial stages of the project but it seems it has gone astray. "They said we would work with professional agriculture extension officers, they would proceed with field budding and set up satellite nurseries, but now it seems all has come to a standstill", adds Marex with much frustration.
He understands that projects such as these have a time span, and that is what he is most afraid of, he adds that if the project ends without meeting its promises to the farmers; people in the target areas will see no change, even after working so hard to rehabilitate their old cocoa blocks.
He says that he is not sure what is causing delays in setting up a satellite nursery and working on clear-felling overgrown cocoa plants for chupon budding to begin.
With an established cocoa block, Marex was advised that he should choose 300 trees in his block to trim and have it ready for the next stage, which was the chupon budding process.
"I have already trimmed 300 overgrown tree's and I am still waiting for the budding process to begin. They said they would train us on how to bud and then we could do it ourselves with some help", he adds.
It is understood that contact farmers will be trained on the budding process and these contact farmers would then share this knowledge with other farmers but that has not occurred according to Marex, deeming most farmers unsatisfied with the wait.
"I'm not sure what happened, but this delay is making most of us lose hope in the project', he adds. Marex says that cocoa farmers had lost hope in cultivating cocoa after the CPB but when the project was introduced in 2021, farmers regained hope.
However, Dehaan Lapawe, the project coordinator for the Climate Smart and Inclusive Cocoa project in Usino says that they are now prepared to support the team in April to roll out the TOT for Lead farmers for village extension agents and later support with fieldwork after the training.
Mr. Lapawe added that the project will also have to wait for the cocoa board to certify the budwood gardens and the 4 central nurseries before the project can multiply and share as promised.
"It is compliance reason and beyond our control", he says.
He further adds that the project is on schedule as it plans to end all foundational activities (budwood garden certification, nursery set up, farm registration, and Climate-smart tool sets distribution) by May 2023 and start nursery production by June or July 2023.
"The project has to comply with the Cocoa board requirement for budwood garden and nursery setup before the project can produce and distribute 300 clones to each farmer as promised," he adds.
Marex on the other hand is glad with receiving the climate-smart farmer toolset from the project, comprising of secateurs, 2-meter pole pruners, loopers; handle saws, and knapsacks.
"Receiving the tools, we need is good but where will use them if we do not have a satellite nursery and if no one is coming around to help us with the budding process", he adds.
Mr. Lapawe further added that the project cannot harvest and use bud sticks from budwood gardens that are not certified by the cocoa board, thus the delay.
"The Cocoa board has visited 10 budwood gardens in April and the project awaits their report and approval before any further budding can take place for compliance and quality reasons," he says.
He adds that the Training for Trainers (ToT) for Lead Farmers will be co-facilitated by World Vision PNG technical officers, DAL extension Officers, and Cocoa Board Extension Officers in April 2023.
"These 90 trained Lead farmers will support the project team to reach registered farmers from July 2023 onwards. Importantly these village extension agents will remain as resource persons for the two cooperatives", he says.