Dr John Konam is a familiar face for many local cocoa farmers. The unassuming agricultural scientist from PNG has been working in Solomon Islands for the past three years, helping the country’s farmers to improve their cocoa production.
Dr Konam originally came to Solomon Islands as an adviser on the AusAID funded Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Project (CLIP). Under the project, Dr Konam supported the work of agriculture extension officers to train farmers on the importance of integrated pest and disease management in cocoa gardens. This system involves targeted pruning, weeding and tree management practices that can help farmers to vastly improve yields from their cocoa trees.
Dr Konam now has a new role in the cocoa sector in Solomon Islands. Following the closure of CLIP in June 2012, the Solomon Islands Government with support from AusAID employed Dr Konam to work as a cocoa adviser with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. Dr Konam is helping the Ministry to launch a participatory cocoa research program with farmers to select and develop improved cocoa varieties. The plan is to develop better yielding and higher quality cocoa varieties that can help the country produce 20,000 tons of cocoa by 2020.
“It is a challenging but exciting time for the cocoa industry in Solomon Islands. For many years farmers having been using seedlings as planting materials but these show a lot of variability in production and quality. When we have identified some desired planting materials and we want farmers to plant them out as clones and test their performance in the field. Farmers must be prepared to adopt new cocoa management practices.”
“At the moment we are looking at ways of teaching farmers vegetative propagation skills, grafting, budding and clonal cocoa management. We are also teaching farmers to adopt integrated pest and disease management practices and then select their best trees which they will then spread within their farms” Dr Konam explains.
Part of Dr Konam’s role is also mentoring research and extension officers in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. The aim is to train local cocoa experts in Solomon Islands to help with the future growth of the industry.
Raymond Vava is a research officer who has been working closely with John.
“I am so privileged to work alongside one of the regions cocoa experts. Through his mentoring I am building my confidence and developing my knowledge on cocoa. This is especially important now as we are trying to improving the planting materials for our farmers. Developing good cocoa trees is technically demanding work and Dr John is helping me to understand the whole concept right from the beginning.”
“I am looking forward to further developing my skills and helping the cocoa industry in Solomon Islands develop to its full potential.”
Press Release: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock