For smallholders in the Pacific Islands, there are relatively few options for the competitive production and exportation of commodities. Cocoa is one of the few crops being produced with success, constituting the 3rd and 4th most important export earner for the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu respectively. Yet whilst most Pacific smallholders have considerable plantings, cocoa production is negligible, and farmers are able to market only low-value, bulk produce. Further, ACIAR experiences in PNG suggest that smallholders are unwilling to adopt intensification technologies on offer, and do not readily respond to economic signals through increased production.
A 2006 ACIAR scoping study, PC(HORT)/2006/109, concluded that Pacific Island smallholders could substantially increase cocoa production through integrated pest and disease management, and improve cocoa quality through increased attention to fermentation and drying. The study also proposed that smallholders could develop a competitive market advantage by focusing on the production of high-value certified organic or fine-flavour cocoa, a strategy currently being pursued in Vanuatu.
Rehabilitating cocoa for improving livelihoods in the South Pacific builds on previous ACIAR experiences, particularly within PNG, of introducing intensified production technologies, and understanding the livelihood strategies of smallholders by offering different incentives and modes of support. PC/2008/046 will evaluate the opportunities for cocoa growers to enter niche markets, and recommend the best practices for selection, conservation and dissemination of improved germoplasm. Focusing specifically in Vanuatu, the project will also introduce and evaluate the best-bet crop management practices within fair-trade and organic supply chains. The aim of this project is to understand how development organisations can assist smallholders to improve the returns from cocoa through higher productivity and access to niche markets.
This project commenced (January 2011) with reviews of the cocoa industries of Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Samoa. These reviews provided information on: a) current and projected production levels; b) exporter, processor and producer groups engaged in the industry and c) current cocoa industry development programs in place; and d) future market opportunities.
In February 2011, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) conducted a scoping mission to the Solomon Islands to consult with the Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Program (CLIP) on the impact of their smallholder Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) project. This mission enabled SPC to adjust the different cocoa management practices which would become part of this project’s participatory trial of IPDM methods and plan future actions in Solomon Islands.
The project team then undertook a series of missions to Vanuatu and took the following actions to establish partnerships and launch the IPDM work:
In February-March, SPC and CAB International (CABI), worked with partners - the Department for Agricultural and Rural Development (DARD), the Vanuatu Agricultural Research and Technical Centre (VARTC), and the 10 different farmer networks on Epi and Malekula islands - to finalise the research and implementation plan for the first 18 months. Information sessions were conducted with 8 of the 10 farmer networks with whom the 12-month Participatory Research Appraisal (PRA) of cocoa IPDM strategies would be evaluated, to discuss the strategies for addressing pre-harvest losses attributable to black pod disease and rats. This also enabled SPC and CABI to carry out a rapid field assessment of the current losses.
In April-May, SPC, in consultation with CABI and CLIP, designed the training tools and information packs to be distributed to farmers, prior to commencing the IPDM trial. Information packs for farmers were developed by SPC, and training tools for farmers on the proper management of black pod and rat infestations were developed by CABI and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) respectively. Copies of these information packs and training tools were distributed to all project partners in Vanuatu in June.
In May, SPC developed a work program for the implementation of the IPDM PRA in consultation with the three different cocoa export networks involved in the project (the Vanuatu Organic Cocoa Growers Alliance (VOCGA), the Cocoa Growers Alliance (CGA) and the Alternative Communities’ Trade in Vanuatu (ACTIV) network), as well as CABI and other project partners in Vanuatu, beginning with the selection of 12 lead farmers (‘Apostles’) from each of the 10 participating farmer networks.
In June SPC and CABI worked with each of the three cocoa export partners, to provide a 1-day training session to each of the 10 farmer networks, on effective black pod management, rat management and the parameters of the IPDM PRA.
During April-May, SPC worked with the Vanuatu National Statistics Office and University of Adelaide to develop the Cocoa Livelihoods Household Questionnaire. This questionnaire is designed to identify influences on adoption of new cocoa management technologies. It has been translated into Bislama and six enumerators trained to carry out the household surveys. An initial trial has been conducted, allowing the questionnaire to be adjusted ahead of carrying out the full survey of 480 households.
A major challenge to project delivery has arisen through Mars Inc. deciding that it is unable to provide the germplasm evaluation, conservation and dissemination role outlined in the project document. SPC and ACIAR are negotiating with the Cocoa Coconut Institute Ltd (CCIL) in Papua New Guinea, to provide this expertise. In addition, CLIP in the Solomon Islands has agreed to provide some short-term support to the Vanuatu Agricultural Research and Technical Centre (VARTC) while a long-term solution is explored.
The major scientific achievement of this reporting period was the measurement of black pod and rat damage in Vanuatu. While pre-harvest losses as high as 90% were previously reported, this assessment found that losses resulting from rat damage are never higher than 10%. This finding will inform the design of the IPDM assessment.
Initial project impacts relate to the improvement of smallholders’ cocoa management practices. During this reporting period, 120 farmers were trained on effective black pod management and rat control, and provided with three systematic methodologies (of varying degrees of labour intensiveness) for reducing losses.
The major communication activities involved the dissemination of the findings of the rapid assessment of black pod and rat damage and the dissemination of training tools on simple IPDM techniques.
During 2012-13, this ‘cocoa rehabilitation’ project (PC/2008/046) concluded a 12-month investigation of farmer adoption of Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) in Vanuatu, and renewed the focus on evaluating the availability of improved cocoa genetics in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu. It also expended an IPDM program in Fiji.
The major scientific impact of the project has been the successful assessment of the positive returns to labour offered by IPDM, compared to current cocoa management practices (no management). While the adoption of IPDM offers farmers a significant improvement on the returns to labour of cocoa production, there were low levels of observed adoption and high rates of attrition from the trial. This indicates that the barrier to adoption is not a lack of knowledge or inferior returns to labour relative to other activities, but a social or cultural one. The results of a time-use trial carried out in two cocoa farming communities in 2011 indicated that, due to commitments to other activities, the absolute time commitment required to carry out IPDM for these farmers’ entire cocoa plantation would be prohibitive. Understanding these labour constraints, further cocoa trainings should focus on helping farmers to implement intensive IPDM for a smaller number of cocoa trees (100-150/farmer) as a first step towards intensification.
The results of the IPDM trial were used to design a training and extension program that would help encourage adoption of improved cocoa management, and result in increased cocoa production and incomes.
Training of extension staff and focal cocoa communities in Fiji was undertaken with assistance from the Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Project (CLIP) of Solomon Islands and the Cocoa and Coconut Institute Limited (CCIL) of PNG. Despite improving the knowledge of extension staff and cocoa farming communities on cocoa IPDM, given the age of most of current tree stock, significant production increases will only be achieved in Fiji through widespread re-planting.
The evaluation of the conservation and distribution of cocoa germplasm in Vanuatu, Samoa and Fiji identified that while Government research stations possess a large number of improved clones and varieties with disease resistance and fine flavour qualities, the major focus of dissemination programs over the last two decades has been on high-yielding varieties. The cocoa collections on research stations required significant pruning and disease management in order to enable mass production of bud-wood, in order to facilitate the dissemination of improved cocoa clones to farmers.
An improved survey of farming livelihoods and incentives for adoption of new crop management techniques was carried out in Vanuatu, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide and the Vanuatu National Statistics Office. There were significant delays to the collection of data from some areas, which slowed down the analysis of this data. At the time of writing, data had been collected and entered for 439 of the 608 households selected in the sample.
A project amendment implemented in July 2012 enabled the project to address gaps in the project design that became apparent during implementation of the first years of the project. It enabled the project to shift crop management training resources from externally based project partners, to local partners. It also enabled the project to provide financial support to purchase materials for processing of cocoa beans, in order to assist farmers to improve bean quality.
The major scientific impact arises from the insight that effective cocoa IPDM was found to offer smallholder-farmers a yield 138 per cent greater than current practice (no cocoa management), as well as a 50 per cent improvement on returns to labour. However, it also requires farmers to commit 52 per cent more time in total to cocoa production activities every month.
The major community impact was the finding of the cocoa livelihoods survey that household investment in village activities is crucial to securing access to increments of land and labour, and therefore securing the economic future of their household. Therefore the unwillingness of many semi-subsistence producers to adopt cocoa IPDM, by shifting time away from competing activities such as village activities, is understandable. This helped the project to design a more culturally appropriate approach to cocoa management extension.
The major communication activities were the production of a draft ACIAR technical paper based upon the findings of the 1-year trial of IPDM and the cocoa livelihoods survey, workshop papers delivered to the Pacific cocoa extension community at CCIL in PNG, and the production of a new cocoa extension tool designed to be better suited to the competing time demands of semi-subsistence cocoa producing households.