OVER the course of my long career in the rice industry I have been fortunate enough to be part of some memorable milestones for my sector. But I can remember few years as memorable as 2017.
In terms of consistently big developments that will chart a whole new course forward for rice development in PNG, every quarter featured one significant event or another.
With the book now closed on this landmark period, it’s a good time to reflect on how far we have come in the industry, and to get excited about what’s in store for 2018.
In February, Trukai purchased agricultural equipment for the establishment of the largest rice crop in PNG’s recent history. With the cooperation of the Chingwam Rice Growers Cooperative, we established a 500-hectare rice plantation near Rangiampum initially for a rain fed crops to be established. This site will be progressively expanded possibly up to 1,500-2,000 hectares over a number of seasons.
In April, in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and Project Support Services (PSS), we announced a pilot project to test a total of eighty solar powered rice mills in thirty communities in Morobe. These mills provide clean energy solutions to communities engaged in rice farming, with Trukai providing feedback on the early prototypes of the solar mills to PSS so the technology could be improved.
In July, with the support and partnership of the Chingwam Rice Growers Cooperative Ltd of Rangiampum Village, Trukai celebrated the harvest of 140 metric tons of locally grown rice across 40 hectares at Umi in the Markham Valley. Some K15m was spent on capital equipment for the development of commercial rice production and post-harvest drying, storage and milling infrastructure.
In August Sunrice and Trukai Industries board directors travelled to witness the progress of this expansive Markham Valley rice project, and during their historic tour a cheque for K84,700 for the purchase of the 140 ton of rice harvested in May was presented to the Chingwam Rice Growers Co-operative by Trukai Industries.
I have worked for over 15 years in the Markham Valley promoting and encouraging farmers to grow rice, and for me it was a special moment to see farmers being paid in Kina for their now commercial-grade crops.
Importantly, the community response from this commercial project was overwhelming, with new interest from farmers and landowners in giving their land for rice farming.
In September the “last link” for an unprecedented era of domestic rice production was unveiled with the inauguration of our new hulling mill in Lae.
In what was a historic moment for rice farming in PNG, the mill opening marked a critical step in establishing Trukai’s holistic paddy-to-plate value chain, which connects commercial quantities of locally grown rice with PNG consumers via a 100% fully integrated domestic production process.
The first of its kind in PNG, the mill now gives us the capability to provide consumers PNG-made rice produced from a total, end-to-end local process involving seed and site research, planting, growing, harvesting, milling, packing and distribution.
The rice used in our initial run was 130 tons of rice grown in Trukai’s trial crop at Chingwam, which was used for Trukai’s popular ‘Roots’ blend.
And in November, the entire agriculture industry came together as one, with the inaugural National Agriculture Summit. Key stakeholders across the agriculture sector exchanged compelling viewpoints on the current limitations holding back the industry – but also the opportunities to evolve it.
The summit saw government ministers, private sector representatives and other key players representing the coffee, oil palm, rice, finance, poultry, livestock and fresh produce sectors among others.
It was a major success and is to become an annual event. I predict that when we meet again in November 2018, each sector will be able to reflect on even more progress, with more long-range plans formulated and benchmarks set.
This will be in large part due to the momentum gained in 2017. Happy new year to you all!
- Humphrey Saese is Rice Development Manager for PNG’s leading rice supplier, Trukai Industries.