Lower Watut cocoa farmers are pushing boundaries and their determination is paying off after making their first sale of 56 bags to Paradise Foods.
Farmers from Wampan, Tsilitsili, Maralina, Uruf and Mafanazo villages along the Watut River, delivered their cocoa beans worth more than K30,000 at the Paradise Foods premises in Lae on August 24.
“Cocoa is our source of income now,” said Martin Ngawi, from Tsilitsili Village. “We want to thank Paradise Foods for giving us a premium price for our cocoa.”
A lot of work has been put in place since the reintroduction of cocoa six years ago by Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV) through its partnership with Cocoa Board, Cocoa Coconut Institute, Morobe Provincial Government and the Huon Gulf District. Cocoa provided an alternative income and since then the farmers have grown to 900 and come from 14 villages, with over forty cluster groups. The farmers formed the Lower Watut Cocoa Farmers Cooperative Society (LWFCS) in 2012 as a single central pillar to move their cocoa industry forward.
“It hasn’t been an easy road for the cooperative however things are looking up,” said Sophin Malaku, who manages the cooperative’s activities. “Through the cooperative we’ve been able to link up the farmers to Paradise Foods, and we hope many more of our farmers will use this opportunity provided by Paradise Foods to sell their cocoa beans.”
Sophin said the farmers are hoping this first sale will pave the way for further business with Paradise Foods. “However there’s more work to be done to maintain and improve bean quality so that it meets the demands of Paradise Foods subsidiary, Queen Emma Chocolate, which is where these beans will end up to be processed.”
WGJV General Manager Sustainability & External Relations, David Wissink, said cocoa can power development and change. “The Wafi-Golpu Project has been working closely with key stakeholders in cocoa and will continue to support the growth of the agricultural sector in Morobe because the people have a very bright future in cocoa and other untapped agriculture products. Perhaps one day we’ll see a Watut Chocolate brand produced right here in Morobe Province and that can happen if all key partners work together.”
Queen Emma Chocolate's General Manager, Karina Makori, said that the company insists on working closely and supporting local farmers to ensure that only the best cocoa beans are grown and supplied.
“PNG grows some of the most sort after cocoa in the world, therefore it is important for our local farmers to understand the importance of fermenting and drying correctly so they receive maximum returns for their hard work,” Karina said. “As a processor, we pay a premium price for the best quality beans, and are excited to have the Lower Watut farmers take on this challenge. Being a company owned 100% by the people of PNG we are proud to be PNG's first Chocolate maker, using our unique PNG flavours.”
Lower Watut cocoa is known for its distinct fruity flavour and the demand will continue according to PNG Cocoa Board Momase Regional Manager, Anton Ningi. “There’s still lots more to do in terms of quality and fortunately for us there are regulations in place to ensure the product reaches the markets and promotes the values and importance of what people are doing in the village. It is a proud moment for us all to see farmers achieving this level.”
Morobe Province produces a lot of cocoa. In the first half of 2015, Cocoa Board reported more than one million kilograms of cocoa was exported out of the province. Huon Gulf District was the leading producer with a return of about 3 million kina for the farmers.