FARMING A PATHWAY TO GROWTH

The adaptability of Bougainvillean farmers are providing snapshots of the great potential to expand the local agricultural sector.

Recently, for example, we highlighted Martin Tsiora who has had success replanting his family’s old cocoa plantation with vanilla beans after cocoa pod borers wiped out the cocoa crops. This type of willingness to try new things is what will help diversify Bougainville’s economy and make it more self-sufficient.

Not surprisingly, given the strong track-record of Bougainvilleans as productive farmers, the ABG counts agriculture, along with other key sectors such as minerals and energy, shipping, marine resources and tourism as central to future economic development.

Agriculture is seen as something of a hidden gem because of its scope for expansion beyond self-sufficiency for families and into more active trade. Across a variety of areas, potential is seen for the supply of local produce into both regional and international markets.

Cocoa remains a vital local cash crop with around 70 per cent of families involved in its growing, yet study found that local production could easily triple if improved management and farming practices were widely adopted.

In addition to cocoa and the other major cash crop in copra, Bougainvilleans have proven adept at growing a wide variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and spices; everything from staples such as pineapple, coconut, bananas, paw paw, mangoes, guava, sweet potato and pumpkin through to coffee, golden apple, bukabuk and the list goes on.

The success of Bougainville’s annual chocolate festival is certainly helping to raise the island’s international profile as a high-quality producer and is helping to drive the types of industry improvements mentioned earlier. Cocoa producers such as this year’s festival gold winners, Jenny Enoch, Chris Poto and Joseph Lowara make terrific ambassadors.

More broadly, the ABG has detailed a range of initiatives to help support the growth of the local agricultural sector. These include the establishment of an Agriculture Commodity Board to help market and ensure the quality of export products.

It plans to support the development of poultry farms, hatcheries and incubators as well as small-scale cattle farms. It also wants to explore opportunities for downstream processing or value-adding for cocoa and copra and to encourage larger-scale palm oil development.

While wholesale buying centres at Buka, Arawa and Buin would help facilitate wholesale agricultural trade. The establishment of farmers’ cooperatives to increase industry scale is something else that is being considered.

Bougainville’s productive fisheries are also seen as an important component of the economic development plan. It has been estimated that approximately 30 per cent of PNG’s catch, including tuna and reef fish, worth tens-of-millions-of-kina annually, comes from the waters off Bougainville.

A Buka fish market with ice-making facilities as well as inland fish farms are both seen as important to the future. Local feeder roads, wharves, jetties, airports and air strips also need to be in good order to ensure produce can be efficiently transported to market.

Bougainville’s climate, including heat, humidity and extreme weather events such as floods and cyclones present very real challenges for local producers, in addition to pests and disease. In this respect, the need for greater levels of research and development are essential to helping farmers overcome such obstacles.

Also identified is the need to encourage more young people into farming to support family succession and ultimately industry development and sustainability. The provision of education and training is a high priority and Bougainville Copper Limited for example, in partnership with Mauang Exports, has been supporting vanilla industry training across central Bougainville.

Agriculture has an essential role in also supporting other industries, such as tourism and hospitality as well as larger-scale mining if that industry is to be developed in Bougainville.  When the Panguna mine was last in operation, the need to feed the workforce provided new supply and business development opportunities for many local producers.

Bougainville Cooper Limited is proud to continue its commitment to agriculture growth in Bougainville. Together with Maunung Vanilla Exports, the company has assisted in funding five additional vanilla training programmes throughout December in the following locations

    • North Nasoi
    • Wakunai District
    • Kongara
    • Sideronsi Village, Ioro 2
    • Koro Village, Bolave