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Papua New Guinea

Sweet Success

In Papua New Guinea, The Nature Conservancy is working to sweeten the pot for sustainable farmers.

The Adelbert Conservation Cooperative Society, established with help from the Conservancy in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province, recently started producing the first Fair Trade-certified cocoa in the country.

In the past, conservation didn’t put food on the table, let alone allow communities to fund teaching positions to educate their children. Now, with Fair Trade, consumers in countries far away from Papua New Guinea will be able to make sustaining both forests and communities in the Adelberts possible.

“We realized that, through our conservation cooperative, we can link with Fair Trade to sell our organic products overseas and sustain our conservation,” says Andrew Basebas, a conservation monitor in the Urumarav village.

“What’s the Incentive?”

For over a decade, the Conservancy has been working with local communities in the Adelbert Mountains region to create Land Use Management Plans (LUMPs). These plans provide communities — which, in Papua New Guinea, still retain their traditional ownership of the land — with a blueprint for using local resources in sustainable ways that promote the well-being of people and forests. LUMPs are the basis for conservation agreements with the local government.

LUMPs are important steps toward preserving resources for generations to come, but they don’t show immediate returns. Most logging companies, on the other hand, promise nothing but instant gratification. Their bids on forest tracts offer rural communities an opportunity to make money fast.

“When they signed the management plan agreements, communities asked, ‘What will we get next? What’s the incentive this project will bring in?’” says Francis Hurahura, director of the Conservancy’s Papua New Guinea forest program. “That’s when the conservation co-op came into being.”

“A Tremendous Opportunity”

In 2008, the Conservancy helped organize the Adelbert Conservation Cooperative Society, a large coalition of farmers who had already signed on to LUMPs. The idea was to obtain Fair Trade certification for locally grown cocoa, thereby converting local farmers’ commitment to conservation into increased profits.

Many of the things we consume — including furniture and chocolate — are produced in Asia’s tropical forests by impoverished subsistence farmers at the mercy of middlemen. Selling Fair Trade-certified products guarantees communities like those in Papua New Guinea a certain amount of stability: they earn a guaranteed minimum for their products as well as a premium for social and economic investments that enrich local livelihoods.

Fair Trade certification also makes good ecological sense by requiring that cocoa producers comply with sustainability criteria. In the case of the Adelbert Cooperative, having LUMPs and following local conservation laws are preconditions for membership. That's great news for the many unique species — including rare reptiles, tree kangaroos and 38 species of birds of paradise — that call the Adelberts home.

“We didn’t say Fair Trade was an easy solution,” says Tint L. Thaung, who works with the Conservancy’s RAFT program. “We said there were challenges and risks to the certification process, but also a tremendous opportunity.”

The Conservancy helped with every step of the Fair Trade process. Finally, in October 2010 — almost three years after the process started — the certificate came through. The Adelbert Conservation Cooperative Society’s cocoa is now a Fair Trade product.

And in November 2011, Monpi - a local cocoa exporter - obtained its Fair Trade Chain of Custody certification. This gives the Adelberts region the ability to send its cocoa to high-value overseas markets with its Fair Trade pedigree intact.

“Small but Beautiful”

Right now, the Cooperative is producing 24 tons of cocoa a year. With Fair Trade, that could create $48,000 in revenue plus a $3,600 Fair Trade premium compared to the $40,000 they were formerly making.  The premium will go toward necessary community improvements. The Cooperative is headed by a board that will disburse money toward initiatives like paying local teachers, purchasing better medical supplies and building new roads in places where rains currently preclude car travel.

The success of this local conservation work encouraged the national government to declare the Adelberts site a national REDD+ pilot site in December 2010. Community-based monitoring and management of Fair Trade premiums provide important lessons about how a future payment mechanism to reward REDD+ could work.  So, a little project could have a big influence on the forests of an entire country and, ultimately, on a global conversation about the best way to fight climate change.

The Conservancy is now working with Monpi and local community-based organizations to build the capacity of the Cooperative Management Board, expand the use of LUMPs over a larger area and attract more farmers to the Cooperative. In the long term, larger volumes of cocoa will be needed to satisfy international demand, a common challenge with Fair Trade products.

“It’s a small achievement, but it will have a really lasting impact and benefit for the communities,” says Clement Kipa, who works with the Conservancy's Papua New Guinea program. “We’re not spending a ton of money on policy dialogues and having expensive meetings. We’re just trying to link communities with whatever resources we can find. It’s small, but beautiful.”

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