By SENIORL ANZU in Canberra
More cocoa research is needed to improve the understanding of nutrition-related limitations to cocoa production in Papua New Guinea, according to a new technical report published by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Canberra.
This is one of the four main recommendations in the latest ACIAR publication on PNG cocoa Nutritional status of cocoa in Papua New Guinea.
The other recommendations were for the PNG cocoa industry to produce appropriate nutrient management practices for the different regions of the country; establish effective pathways to adoption; and engage in education and capacity building initiatives for continued improvements in nutrient management research and extension.
The documentation follows a study led by the PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute (CCI) with Australian partners in 63 locations covering nine provinces countrywide recently.
Supported by ACIAR, the study was aimed at determining the nutrient status of cocoa in PNG, and to recommend further steps to determine if there were nutrient-related constraints on productivity, and how they might be overcome.
Information was gathered through cocoa block holder surveys in the 63 locations and plant and soil sample analysis from these sites, stakeholder workshops and research trials at the Tavilo research centre, East New Britain.
The report indicated that there were no external market constraints to low productivity of PNG cocoa but common factors were lack of appropriate agronomic knowledge, land shortages, low level of block maintenance, labour shortages and theft.
The devastating cocoa pod borer pest had drastically reduced cocoa yields in the country with annual production in East New Britain alone, the most-important cocoa-producing region “fell by over 60% to approximately 8,000 t” in 2009.
“PNG cocoa is known for its good and consistent quality, with particular flavour, high fat content and large beans,” the report said.
Quality and demand for PNG cocoa were good, partly due to good germplasm and quality control but productivity was the main limitation to increased income from cocoa.
It said: “For the cocoa industry to recover and prosper, it is essential that management of smallholder cocoa blocks improves dramatically.”
This includes widespread replanting and demonstrations using the integrated pest and disease management package.
The plant tissue samples were analysed at Waite Analytical Services in Adelaide and soil sample analysis done in Townsville by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The leaf sample analysis demonstrated widespread nutrient deficiency in nitrogen and iron – “with 95% of sampled blocks falling below the critical level for nitrogen and 89% for iron. Phosphorus deficiencies were encountered in about one-quarter of the blocks sampled”.
ACIAR has been involved in partnership with PNG research and development organisations in carrying out some of the necessary research in an array of agriculture, forestry and fisheries issues and this was one of them.
The report also noted the eminent need for capacity building within CCI and National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) in the areas of, among others, field trials, data processing, sampling, methods of analysis, training and exposure.