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By Baeau Tai

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, August 19) - Papua New Guinea’s cocoa export earnings fell by K44 million (US$13,706,000) in the first six months to June 2004, a 28 percent drop from K155 million (US$48,282,500) in export earnings in the same period last year.

This is attributed to a 9 percent drop in export volume to 19,674 tons worth K111.2 million (US$34,638,800) in the same period.

PNG Cocoa Board chief executive Lauatu Tautea said the major factors that contributed towards the lower export earnings over the first six months were due to:

Tautea said continuous heavy rainfall last year and into the early half of the year experienced in the main cocoa-growing regions of East New Britain had a negative impact on flower and consequently cocoa pod formation.

"On the other hand, positive signs are emerging that national cocoa production has crossed over the 40,000 ton mark and heading towards the 50,000 ton level," Tautea said.

Figures provided by the PNG Cocoa Board show that cocoa production measured by cocoa exports averaged 41,227 tons over the last five years from 1999 to 2003.

Production peaked at 46,770 tons in 2000, a year of favorable weather conditions, reaching the lowest at 39,297 in 1999.

"Production for 1999 and 2002 at 39,297 and 39,431 tons respectively should both be above 40,000 tons taking into account the changes in stocks and wastage," said Tautea.

Production increased marginally by 2.3 percent last year against strong expectations that output would increase substantially during the year in response to the heavy planting on Bougainville and increased plantings in other province as a result of the unprecedented increase in cocoa prices between 2001 to 2003.

The impact of adverse weather on production is evident by the drop in East New Britain where harvest dropped by 29 percent to 16,920 tons in 2003 compared to 23,883 tons in 2002.

In Bougainville production increased last year by 15.3 percent to 11,525 tons compared to 9,995 tons in 2002.

"There is a strong possibility to suggest that Bougainville production may reach or exceed 15,000 tons in 2004 but this remains to be seen given the delay in the onset of this year's production for both the ENB and Bougainville provinces," Mt. Tautea said.

Production in Bougainville has increased due to the seedlings distribution under the European Union funded cocoa rehabilitation program resulting in distribution of 12 million cocoa seedlings capable of producing an additional 8,000 tons.

"It is predicted that with the current interest by cocoa growers, the assistance to develop of the industry in Bougainville by aid donors and the positive supply response emanating from the hike in cocoa prices over the past two years may see total production reach 50,000 tons in two years time," said Tautea.

August 20, 2004

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