James Rutana is Bougainville’s ‘Mr Cocoa’. James grew up in Pavaere Village in North Nasioi just behind one of Arawa’s large plantations, grew his first cocoa tree at age 10 in 1958, then worked and learnt from the plantation manager. He went on to study micro-economics and international commodity trading in London. When he returned to Papua New Guinea (PNG) he was instrumental in establishing the PNG Cocoa Board, and was appointed first chairman in 1975. He then set up the PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute and was founding chairman for 10 years. He has worked in the cocoa industry in Jamaica, Ghana and New York and has sat at the Queen’s table for his effort, not that he’d tell you that. He is truly a cocoa legend.
James is a grower at heart. In 1983 he brought a plantation in Bougainville so he could get back to his agricultural roots, 6 years later the civil war broke out. A blockade imposed by the PNG Government lasted 10 years and caused detrimental effects on the social, economic, health and wellbeing of Bougainvilleans. James and his family were exiled to the Solomon Islands. Upon their return in 2002, James was appointed a Commissioner for the Bougainville Constitution during the time the Autonomous Bougainville Government was being formed. He went back to his plantation in 2006.
Bougainville has had to start from scratch. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the war and the private sector fled. Recovery has been slow because there is no insurance, and thus, no bank loans. Grants from the National Government are slow and the Autonomous Bougainville Government is new. However, Bougainvilleans are incredibly resourceful and innovative so they have found local solutions to virtually everything. It’s not easy but it is inspiring.
James had to rehabilitate his plantation which was severely affected by Cocoa Pod Borer (an introduced pest that ruins healthy cocoa pods and decimated the cocoa industry in East New Britain, a province in PNG). For the past 8 years he has been developing new varieties of cocoa and growing techniques to improve yields and quality and has run a programme to share this knowledge and planting materials with other farmers. He has also worked with government agencies and NGOs to develop plans to improve the sector as a whole. He has done all of this without support in increadibly challenging conditions.
James is not just about cocoa – he’s about permaculture – the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. He grows dry-land rice between the rows of new cocoa trees as an alternative harvest crop before the cocoa is mature. He also encourages farmers to grow pawpaw, bananas and coconut to shade the juvenile cocoa trees, which double as a food source for families and produce to sell at the market. He also has chickens and Bougainville’s first goats to maintain weeds, provide compost and protein.
There are many needs in Bougainville, and many opportunities. We believe James is an asset and we want to support him and his vision. He is passionate about cocoa and agriculture being the backbone of Bougainville’s economy, not mining. Please watch this great clip:
Lets get behind this project and get behind James!