Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aitape farmers support cocoa development, not oil palm


Landowners in the Sandaun province have called on the government to conduct regular monitoring of major agro-forestry projects.
They say that relevant government agencies including Department of Agriculture and Livestock, PNG Forest Authority and the respective provincial administration should take the lead in the monitoring programme.
The issue was raised recently during a review meeting of the agro-forestry oil palm project in the Pai resource area in Aitape district.
The meeting was attended by landowner representatives, DAL, PNGFA, developer and the district administration.
Landowners give their views during the review meeting in Aitape town
Aitape-Lumi district administrator Timothy Teklan chaired the meeting.
The meeting at Aitape concluded with a recommendation for the oil palm project to be scrapped in favour of cocoa and other potential crops including rubber.
The meeting also agreed to set up a review and monitoring committee comprising of various government agencies in Sandaun and Aitape district administration to coordinate the monitoring exercise.
 The meeting recommended that the developer produce and submit a land use development plan for integrated agriculture development project which would encompass cocoa, rubber and other suitable crops.
The review meeting had been organised to discuss the past activities of the agro-forestry project focusing on oil palm development and to discuss the way forward.
There is a need to assess if the cocoa or oil palm is economical and financially viable, and has high/low environmental implications.
Most people were familiar with cocoa and know that capital input was much less than oil palm.
The review was also to assess the commitment and capacity of the developer on the changes of land use.
DAL deputy secretary for technical services Francis Daink attended the meeting and took note of the concerns raised by the landowners and the recommendations made.
Daink emphasised the need for establishment of the monitoring committee to be coordinated and chaired by the district administration.
Daink stressed that in such projects the district administration, especially the programme manager, played an important role in monitoring and reporting.
National DAL will rely on district programme managers to provide reports as and when required.
He said the government had scarce resources to provide services and needs to bring in investors from abroad that have technical skills and capital to partner with and assist the government to bring development.
Cocoa is also a priority crop which falls in well with the provincial plan to give recognition to West Sepik province as a major cocoa-growing region.
Chairman of landowner company Mete Holdings Ltd, Samson Kupu said the other factor that would really affect oil palm development was the location of the project area - situated in the head waters - which would definitely pollute all the big and small rivers where most people had accessibility for their daily needs.
He said that after his visit to NBPOL oil palm operations in West New Britain province and discussions with PNG Oil Palm Research Association, he had found out that there were some serious issues which would really affect the development of oil palm in Aitape.
These issues included lack of adequate technical expertise; most skilled personnel may be joining the PNG LNG project which offers attractive pay and conditions; availability of state land for development; suitable port facilities and market availability.
Aitape Oil Palm Ltd project consultant, Dr Felix Moh, said the developer company needed the support of all stakeholders including government, landowners and the general public to conduct its operations in the agro-forestry development.
Daink (centre) accompanied by Teklan (third from right) Dr Moh (third from left) Kupu (far right) and other officials inspect the oil palm nursery. Landowners are now seeking to plant cocoa instead of oil palm
The developer supported the desires of the government and the landowners to benefit from any agro-forestry project.
He said the developer would consider any outcomes from the meeting before making a final decision.
Many speakers at the meeting said they were now unsure of the oil palm project and would be willing to switch to cocoa and rubber.
Some said their land was unsuitable for oil palm but good for cocoa and other crops.
Others said cocoa had been grown for many years in Aitape and the people did not need further training.
In addition, cocoa prices were more attractive and most farmers were now venturing into cocoa production.

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