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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 6) - East New Britain Province has been placed under an "agricultural quarantine" as the Papua New Guinea Government attempts to contain the spread of the destructive cocoa pod borer.

[PIR editor’s note: East New Britain Province comprises the eastern region of New Britain Island, which is north east of Papua New Guinea’s mainland peninsula.

The cocoa pod borer is a mosquito-like insect that lays its eggs in cocoa pods and feeds off the pulp, according to the World Cocoa Foundation website.]

The Government has approved PGK3 million [US$1,036,548] to assist in efforts to contain the disease. Part of the money will be used to station quarantine officers in major ports of entry into the whole of East New Britain Province.

Agriculture and Livestock Minister Mathew Siune said yesterday officers from the Cocoa and Coconut Institute and the National Agriculture Research Institute were working around the clock to control the spread of the disease, also known as conopomorphia cramerella. This pest poses a serious threat to the cocoa industry in East New Britain Province, especially the Keravat area, which has been the heart of cocoa production for the province.

"Quarantine efforts have been beefed up in and out of East New Britain and the Government has gazetted that no cocoa seedlings or plants – or any type of plant for that matter – will leave East New Britain or enter the province," Siune said before his departure to Kokopo yesterday.

"We have not established the point of entry but we suspect that it may have been brought in on equipment for logging activities that originated from the Asian region." The cocoa pod borer is actively present in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines where it has decimated those countries’ cocoa industries.

Siune said a committee to be headed by former administrator Hosea Turbarat will work closely with government agencies and advise on the progress made. "This (cocoa pod borer) is a very serious case and the Government will do all it can with its agencies to control the spread of it," said Siune.

"If we do not control it, we will lose the entire cocoa industry in East New Britain Province, and this is becoming a concern for everyone – small-holder growers, estates, exports, overseas buyers and the governments."

He said cocoa production in the East New Britain Province had increased to 50,000 tons a year and was on target to produce 100,000 tons by 2008. But with the disease threat, that target may not be reached at all.

East New Britain Governor Leo Dion has directed the provincial administration to hold a crisis meeting of the provincial disaster committee to devise and recommend a provincial response plan. "The general public must be informed in a way that we do not create confusion. This also involves making the private sector and people in the industry to co-operate and play a role in any intervention," Dion said. "Because of the threat, I am treating this outbreak as a disaster and emergency, as this has a real potential to cripple the economy of this province and even the country."

April 7, 2006

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