THE reputation of our most notable farming crops is second to none around the world. PNG is the world’s leading producer of sustainable palm oil which is the key ingredient in products all over Europe and America. Our coffee is revered in the US and other markets worldwide, while cacao from Morobe is sought overseas to produce the finest chocolate on earth.
All of this has been achieved despite barely scratching the surface of our potential as an agricultural nation. From sector to sector, it is impossible not to be inspired to raise the bar on the way you do things and what quality of crop you produce. Our rice industry is no different.
But the backbone of our success in all agriculture sectors depends on the progress of our smallholder farmers in PNG.
Our smallholder growers are by far the largest group of agriculture producers in the country. Through a nucleus out-grower system, farmers grow a significant volume of crops for the current established agri-based industries such as oil palm, coffee, cocoa and others.
Ideally this where the future of commercial rice farming in PNG resides. With the right training and infrastructural support to surround them, more of our farmers will be empowered with the necessary skills in farming and management to grow rice on their own. But by working alongside established commercial partners they have a guaranteed access to markets.
Our company is currently undertaking significant upfront investment setting up the framework for our smallholder farmers to succeed, but in future our focus is likely to centre more on processing and the infrastructures required to cater for increased volumes produced by growers.
For all stakeholders and particularly smallholder farmers, this approach is an exciting one. I believe rice can become one of our most renowned and remarkable commercial crops.
We have been engaged with a number of growers and cooperatives across PNG to pilot test these concepts under our Rice Development Pilot Concept. Apart from the locations, we have successfully advanced farmers in the Markham from a pilot stage now to a commercial stage.
Apart from the current proposal of securing 500-plus smallholder rice farmers to work with around the UMI area, we are working with farmers in lower Markham valley in the Huon and Nawaeb district.
One such farmer is Old Jerry Bambe whom we signed a Rice Purchasing and Development Agreement (RPDA) to grow rice on his land. Jerry adds to the growing number farmers, land owners and private local businesses along the Markham valley and PNG who are registering their interest to partner with Trukai in expanding local rice production in the country.
Apart from the work in the Markham valley and other parts of PNG, we have been able to establish an understanding with the OKTEDI Development Foundation Ltd (OTDF) for the development of rice in the province.
A full year of pilot testing in three major locations, namely, North Fly (NF), Middle Fly (MF) and South Fly (SF) is nearing conclusion.
We have been involved in providing training, the supply of new varieties while testing their adaptability to conditions, and advisory and field visits to ensure farmers, staff and the communities are supported to continue growing rice.
After the conclusion of the pilot program, OTDF is likely to invest into a large-scale rice hub in the Western province. It is hoped that this will create an alternate source of income and improve food security resilience of its people.
There is so much opportunity for our smallholder farmers and their families for generations to come. Those sectors I mentioned earlier have seized their opportunity, and in the rice sector we are in the process of doing the same.
- Humphrey Saese is Rice Development Manager for Papua New Guinea’s leading rice supplier, Trukai Industries.