A heavy burden

Normal, Weekender

ZACHERY PER reports on the struggles of remote Okapa villagers to transport their coffee to Goroka

GETTING coffee out of Okapa, Eastern Highlands province, is next to impossible.
The small-holder growers do it the only way they know – on their backs, for at least two days, to the nearest road.
But there is no guarantee that there will be a motor vehicle there at the end of their walk, or the road passable, to transport their produce to Goroka.
But the hardy growers of this remote, largely unforgotten district have shouldered the burden every coffee season for years, with no government help, without complain about their back-aching experiences.
They have learnt long ago that nobody listens anyway.
Coffee – organic coffee to be exact – is the only cash crop for the 20,000-plus people of Okapa district, mostly in the Gimi area which borders Gulf province.
The Green Revolution, the Government’s failed scheme to airlift cash crops out of remote area like Gimi, has come and gone with much fanfare and, again, Okapa was overlooked.
The people carry bags of coffee on their shoulders for days, and nights, through the jungle, up and down mountains, across fast-flowing streams to get to the nearest road.
They walk from as far as the remotest villages of Misapi, Tarotu, Asarupi, Amusa and Agivu to get to the nearest road link at Henegaru to catch a vehicle, if they are lucky enough.
It is more than 20km of trekking through the bush tracks to get to Henegaru, or they could take the longer route to Kuru mountain to catch a vehicle.
But it is no easy drive for the growers after their vehicle, normally a four-wheel drive Toyota Landcruiser or Hilux.
From past experience, the growers travel armed with spades and bush knives to dig the vehicle out of boggy patches, or clear new paths for the vehicle to travel forward.
The Salvation Army, which has a big presence in Okapa, is helping the villagers to market their organic coffee and get the best price for their sweat.
The Salvation Army’s Community Advancement and Reform Enhancement (CARE) program coordinator, Henry Dua, said they are assisting because they do not want the villagers ripped off by middlemen.
“It has been a real test for the people, in getting their organic coffee out to the open markets,” Mr Dua said.
With CARE’s help, the people managed to carry out 55 bags of organic parchment coffee this year.
“Farmers must get maximum benefit from their hard work.
“We help them avoid the lazy middlemen in the coffee trade chain,” Mr Dua said.
“The growers encounter very poor roads and unfriendly weather, hire local bush material houses to store coffee and sleep overnight on top of their coffee bags.
“Then they hire local vehicles at high cost which sometimes break down on the way but they have no choice.
“To wait for another vehicle may take days and the safety of their coffee bags is our concern,” he said.