The Bougainville Islands Group, led by Chairman Godfrey Mantle, has bought up the titles to 15 abandoned cocoa plantations and is in talks with landowers to start a business which could employ between three and four thousand Bougainvilleans.
Reporter: Jemima Garrett
Speakers: John Momis, the Bougainville President ; Australian businessman Godfey Mantle
GARRETT: Cocoa is booming on Bougainville.
It is putting 200 million kina a year or - 74 million Australian dollars - directly into the hands of small holders.
President John Momis says it will delivering more in the near future.
MOMIS: There is a lot of new cocoa plantings and we are told by experts that by 2017 cocoa price will triple so people are getting ready for that.
GARRETT: While small holders plant cocoa, Australian businessman Godfrey Mantle, is working to get a much larger-scale project off the ground.
He has bought the titles to 15 cocoa plantations in north, central and southern Bougainville.
The idea came to him 5 years ago, when he first visited the island.
MANTLE: We're in the food business. And I'm from a farming background in Billaweela in Queensland. So I first looked to start a hotel, which is closer to our hospitality. Couldn't negotiate with the government to buy the land, which is what I wanted to do. So started looking through titles to find alternate land and I came across lots and lots of cocoa plantation titles, among other titles, and that sparked my interest.
GARRETT: Mr Mantle's Bougainville Islands group now has 99-year leases on 12,500 hectares of land.
President Momis says it is unethical.
MOMIS: we just had a war over land so for one foreigner to own so much, in fact to own some of the best, choicest lands on Bougainville is not seen as ethically right. It may be legally right because he bought a mortgage from the bank but it is something that has to be dealt with. He may be allowed to have discussions with some landowners and go into a joint venture, but the ABG is a little bit concerned about allowing one foreigner to take 15 choicest plantations on Bougainville.
GARRETT: Mr Mantle says the scale of the project is necessary for it to bring maximum benefits to Bougainville.
He says there will be jobs for up to 4000 Bougainvilleans, and landowers will get a 30 per cent share in the business as well as other opportunities
MANTLE: We just don't want their ownership we want their involvement, we want to show how a business should be run, in our view, best practice but with transparency and a high level of integrity. I see the CEO of the business in a fairly short period of time being a Bougainvillean, in fact I have got somebody in mind, who I think is very talented but we want to build the skills first, get the best practice bedded down well and when they are rock solid then start to transition.
GARRETT: An inquiry into the cocoa project conducted by the Bougainville House of representative is due to report next month.
President Momis will take a lot of convincing.
MOMIS: This is where the government's role is very important and we must not try to undermine the authority of the government because in the final analysis the people will respect the government and we are spending a lot of time negotiating with them and telling them that international best practices must be adhered to you know and our zeal to make money should not be used as pretexts to break rules and to break conventions and protocols.
GARRETT: So under what sort of conditions would that development be possible and acceptable to you?
MOMIS: It has to be negotiated. In fact we already have a policy which say no stand-alone foreign business will be allowed. Of course we still have people like Ella Motors and Digicel, these are existing, but from now on we are not going to allow, and sooner of later we will be delaing with Digicel and Ella Motors and others, and say look this is the policy. We want to encourage joint venture deals and partnerships with foreign companies. And the reason for that is to make the people feel they have a sense of ownership and therefore they will take responsibility to protect the properties and operations of the companies.
GARRETT: Mr Mantle is confident he has addressed all President Momis's concerns.
He says the Bougainville Islands group will bring a skilled marketing, distribution and scientific team that will benefit all the island's cocoa growers.
MANTLE: You need scientists who can bring in the best cones, get the best practice. And the people who benefit from that are not just your plantations. That is an extension to the rest of the Bougainville cocoa producing community. So we would share those skills and resources and we'd also look to build a world class fermentaries where we control the fermentation, which is a key process of the cocoa beans, and buy green beans from the locals, if they want to sell them to us. And that way you are working with everybody to get an outcome that is multiples to what it would be both in terms of yields and in terms of quality and in terms of branding.