The Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea is home to over 300,000 people. The majority depend predominantly on agriculture and live in far stretched rural communities that pose a daily challenge for travel.
The Bougainville cocoa community has endured a lot of setbacks in the last 30 years, most notably the nine-year Bougainville Crisis, and the pod borer outbreak that devastated the economy, and the livelihoods of many farmers.
Cocoa farmer Francisca is a testament to the struggle, and tells a remarkable story of survival. At age 50, Francisca is a widowed mother of 10 children and owns over 1,000 cocoa trees.
Francisca’s husband passed away when most of her children were very young. Having 10 children to take care of, Francisca turned to the thing she knew best, cocoa farming. Cocoa was her single source of income, and the only way she could take care of her family.
“Cocoa farming is the only thing I know best, I rarely go to the garden, and know little of selling in the local market," says Francisca.
Francisca is a cocoa farmer under World Vision's Productive Partnership in Agriculture Project (PPAP), funded by the government of Papua New Guinea, World Bank, the European Union, and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).
The project aims to help smallholder farmers improve the quality and quantity of their crops by introducing alternate farming methods and tools that can help improve the effectiveness of common farming practices.
"World Vision ran training for us. In the training we learnt how to prune and plant cocoa and many other things. I prune, trim, and spray my own cocoa trees to avoid disease and infection. That is why most of my cocoa trees have a healthy and fresh look,” said Francisca while pointing at one of her own cocoa trees.
Since the outbreak of the cocoa pod borer disease, many farmers like Francisca have suffered a significant loss. Cocoa pods became infected and unfit to sell, plantations were destroyed and farms left unproductive. Many farmers considered alternate sources of income as cocoa was not making enough money to maintain the household.
Francisca however, stuck it out with cocoa and made use of what little she had. “I have put my heart into farming cocoa, and I feel I am connected to my farm. It always hurts me to see infected cocoa pods. It affects me, and I even feel sick sometimes," shares Francisca.
Since the global intervention on the pod borer disease, farmers have begun switching to hybrid cocoa clones that are more immune to the Pod Borer disease. Farmers also use chemical sprays that kill the disease and protect pods from being infected without affecting the crop.
The usual cost for 100 clones from a local seller is K250, a price most farmers must make in order to expand or replace what they lose. World Vision supplies 200 cocoa clones to each of the farmers in the PPAP project to help replenish what was lost and increase their yields.
World Vision training coordinator for Tinputs district, Marlon Sira said that they also teach farmers how to rejuvenate their old cocoa trees. This method is cost-effective and saves farmers from buying new cocoa seedlings as often as they would otherwise.
“Francisca is a perfect example of a successful farmer under the PPAP project, she has her own nursery, and a mini dryer. She is very hardworking and uses all her skills well - you can see it in her crops," says Marlon.
Francisca has her family to thank for a lot of her success as a business woman and a farmer. She now has her own nursery where she prepares cocoa clones for planting, and her own mini dryer where she prepares cocoa seeds for sale.
“When it is time to remove the cocoa pods that are ready, I leave most of the work to the family boys, because I feel I am not strong enough to do this part alone," Francisca said.
“After removing the cocoa pods from the tree, we store all the seeds for seven days, and after seven days, they are put in the dryer for two days before they are packed and ready to sell,” Francisca explained.
Because she lives far from town, Francisca sells to local buyers in the area to save travel costs. “I usually sell one bag for K400, and the money is divided between all the needs of my children and family,” Francisca added.
World Vision also helps farmers connect and build lasting relationships with local buyers to ensure sustainability after the project ends.
Francisca is now able to do more, especially now that her cocoa trees are healthy and producing well. For her children, it means education. And for her family, it means hope and livelihood.
Francisca was able to build a permanent house for her family with her savings from Cocoa. “I designed the house and found a carpenter to come and build it with the help of my family”, she said.
“Every time I complete my children’s school fees, I can start saving up for something else that will benefit the family,” she added.
After building a permanent house, Francisca saved money and asked her brother to build a trade store for her. This is the first business venture for Francisca and her family outside of cocoa, and will be a new source of income.
“Now I will wait until I have paid all the school fees for next year before buying the first stock, and opening the store,” says Francisca.
Cocoa has done a lot for Francisca and her family, and with the help from World Vision, production has been very beneficial. Now with her new business plan, and with her cocoa farming skills, Francisca looks forward to what the future will bring.
World Vision provides training under the PPAP project for over 4000 farmers in Bougainville. The training includes chemical handling, clone’s managements, pruning, grafting, pest and disease management, cocoa quality, clone tipping and formation, and rejuvenation.
For farmers like Francisca, improving the potential of their yields mean strengthening their livelihood and hope for the future.
Photos: Suzy Sainovski