Markets and Mission Creep

How lessons learnt in Peru are helping build truly sustainable incomes in Papua New Guinea.

Drop a seed in the tropics and it will grow. The sheer quantity of sunshine and rainfall create the perfect conditions for growth. With the right support, forest grown crops can increase in quality and yield in a very short space of time. But when it comes to sustainable livelihoods, that’s only half the battle.

Cool Earth’s Asháninka partners invested funds in cacao seedlings and tools, as well as hiring a cacao consultant. The result – a bumper harvest of 2.4 tonnes of cacao beans in 2016. We were so excited by the quality of the cacao that we bought it from the community and sold it to an artisan chocolatier in the UK. The profits went straight back into the partnership, where higher incomes mean families don’t have to sell their forest to loggers. In theory, this sounds great, but this strategy won’t work forever. What about when Cool Earth leaves?

Swooping in to buy produce ourselves is easy, but creates dependency, something Cool Earth is determined not to do. It also has the potential to artificially inflate prices. That’s why this year the Asháninka have forged links with a local cooperative. They now have a sustainable buyer that will be there long after Cool Earth is gone.

coconut oil production tree

Coconut palms line the shore in many parts of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Some trees may have been there for a hundred years and wherever a coconut washes up, a new palm grows. Each family has coconut palms in their garden plot that are passed down through the generations. Many people produce copra (dried and smoked coconut flesh) that can produce a small profit at the market, but there is potentially more profit from coconut oil.

A group from Cool Earth’s partner community in Wabumari decided that they would like to produce coconut oil rather than copra, because of its higher value. In April, Daisy Halaba, Cool Earth’s Project Manager, ran training sessions with the group to produce high-grade virgin coconut oil. Two months later the group has over 200 litres of coconut oil packed up and ready for sale.

So what now?

Cool Earth could buy all the coconut oil. Being a resourceful bunch we could probably sell it in the UK quite successfully and plough the profits back into the partnership. But Cool Earth is not a wholesaler. It’s a charity that works with communities to protect rainforest and we need to remember that. And it’s not just mission creep that’s a risk. Just like buying cacao from the Asháninka, it’s a step towards creating a dependent community.

The lesson here is that whenever our partner communities embark on a livelihood project, market links need to be considered right at the beginning. Despite skills and the raw materials in abundance, if there isn’t a market then no income will be generated. And sometimes, what looks like a simple solution can be detrimental in the long term.

In Wabumari, Daisy is helping the community to find a market for their product. If the group can find reliable buyers they can ensure a sustainable income even after Cool Earth leaves. And that’s the key to keeping trees standing long term.


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