The cocoa farmers involved with the Adelbert Cooperative Society, Papua New Guinea (PNG), don’t need any reminding of the invaluable resource they have on their doorstep. Located in the remote Adelbert Mountains, a distant 189 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Madang, the nine communities that make up the collective, which has been producing cocoa since 2008 and later selling it as a FAIRTRADE-certified product, have an unshakable bond with the tropical rainforest.

This innate attachment to the environment that surrounds them and resistance to the unsustainable logging that has threatened to degrade it has been the driving force behind one of the success stories of responsible forest management in PNG.

In many ways the relationship of the villagers with the forest has been forged through years of isolation from the outside world. Even the most basic social services are non-existent here, while the journey to Madang involves an arduous trek through jungle along a single access road. For generations of villagers, the forest has been their life — their habitat and primary means of earning a living. Therein lies the genesis of the Adelbert Community initiative.

In the 1990s, the Adelbert area was mapped out as a timber concession area by the government of PNG. However, community leaders didn’t feel as though they were sufficiently engaged in the decision-making process so opted to withdraw their support. Legal action ensued, resulting in a victory for the resource owners as the courts withdrew the concession rights and put the fate of the land back in the hands of the community.

Collective cocoa production is the vehicle through which villagers are now managing their natural environment. Cocoa is a cash crop that grows well in the shade of a tree canopy. Therefore, there is an economic incentive to keeping the forest intact. Not only that but the prevention of mass commercial logging and the promotion of sustainable forest management aids carbon retention and helps reduce carbon emissions in line with the UN’s REDD+ guidelines. This is one of the key objectives of the Australian and US Government-funded Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program. Meanwhile, the natural forest is preserved as a resource for future generations.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Founded in 2007 and officially registered as a cooperative in April 2008, Adelbert is made up of nine villages (Avipa, Dumudum, Gurube, Itatawat, Iwarame, Musiamunat, Turutapa, Urumarav and Yabera) and 20 smaller clan groups. Around 200 villagers in total are involved in the cooperative. Specifically, the organization is working to develop a sustainable, self-reliant business based on the equal participation of its members, regardless of gender, and the responsible use of natural resources in order to contribute to the social, environmental and economic development of the communities in which Adelbert members live.

Since its inception, the collective’s achievements have been multifold. Adelbert received FAIRTRADE certification in October 2010 and began to sell its cocoa to Monpi Cocoa Exports Limited of Madang — a partnership that has provided the collective with access to FAIRTRADE markets overseas, primarily in Australia and New Zealand.

FAIRTRADE certification was awarded in part because communities had undertaken participatory land use planning that identified local forest areas to conserve. As well helping communities maximize benefits from their land, FAIRTRADE certification provides a price premium, which means that growers get paid more per bag for their cocoa. The profit incentive gives farmers another major reason to stick to their forest conservation plans. This in turn provides further carbon retention benefit relevant to RAFT and REDD+.  A proportion of these profits from cocoa sales are funneled towards forest conservation and covering land management costs. Another objective of the RAFT program is to reduce emissions from improved forest management and land-use decisions. The fact that cocoa sales are providing a reliable cash flow means that the capacity for responsible forest management is enhanced.

Although Adelbert is not organic certified, members produce their cocoa without the use of chemicals and there are plans to apply for organic certification in the future.

“It has been a major step for us to be able to produce Fairtrade-certified cocoa,” said Joe Waguba one of the community leaders of the Adelbert Cooperative Society. “We have been living and farming our land for centuries, but the formation of this collective has allowed us to maximize its potential in a manner that safeguards it for the foreseeable future.”

Recent assistance and support from RAFT is helping to reinforce the objectives of the project. Working through The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in PNG, RAFT has supported training and helped to facilitate relationships between the collective and outside parties. This is in keeping with RAFT’s objective of working as a partnership to amplify the impact of existing networks.

“Not only are members of the communities now more aware of the decision making powers they have over their natural resources, they have also become more knowledgeable about how they can sustainably manage their environment,” commented Francis Hurahura of TNC.

The future certainly looks more secure for the communities of the Adelbert collective. Through the collective they have been given the tools to take advantage of a business opportunity that supports sustainable livelihoods. Looking ahead, the plan to apply for organic certification is indicative of a long-term vision for the collective. Indeed, it can be used as an example to other resource owners in PNG of how RAFT and its partners can promote better forest stewardship by through its support.

RAFT’s involvement in the Adelberts project is an example of how the program works in partnership throughout the supply chain. Multiple stakeholders, including communities, industry and organizations promoting fair and sustainable trade, are being engaged to achieve better understanding of their respective needs and requirements as well as tangible results such as Fairtrade certification and trade agreements. These efforts are benefiting forest communities in Papua New Guinea and throughout the region.