By MALUM NALU
REMOTE Poroma in Nipa-Kutubu, Southern Highlands, has been described as the new frontier of agriculture in Papua New Guinea.
It is the perfect rural location to stage the Marape Government’s ‘Take Back PNG Through Agriculture’ drive.
Amidst this rugged, mountainous terrain, is some of the best agricultural land in the country which is only now being utilised.
Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) General Manager Mark Worinu gave this apt description of Poroma during launching of the K600,000 Poroma Potato Project last Thursday (July 15, 2021) by Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon and Southern Highlands Governor William Powi.
The Wasu Cattle Project was also launched at the same time.
National Planning Minister Rainbo Paita and his department secretary Koney Samuel added more clout to this big day in Poroma.
Minister Simon, Governor Powi and Minister Paita are all members of Prime Minister James Marape’s ruling Pangu Pati – which has a strong focus on agriculture.
Hundreds of people from all over Nipa-Kutubu and other parts of Southern Highlands converged on Poroma for the big day.
The project is a joint collaboration between FPDA and the Southern Highlands Provincial Government (SHPG).
The FPDA chipped in K300,000, from the Government’s agriculture intervention funds and Public Investment Programme (PIP), with K2000,000 from the SHPG as initial support.
This is part of the K3 million funding which will be made available by SHPG under an agreement between FPDA and SHPG.
Over the next three years, under the agreement, FPDA will roll out the Southern Highlands Potato Development Programme with a total investment of K5 million.
Governor Powi presented K500,000 to Worinu during launching of the Poroma Potato Project to get the ball rolling.
“We are trying to establish your future,” Worinu tells the big crowd.
“The Marape Government is working hard to establish agriculture in the country and expects its agencies, include FPDA, to go out to rural areas and work with the people to achieve this.
“In 2020, we (FPDA) realised that we could not go out and do this by ourselves, and had to set up partnerships with district development authorities and provincial governments.
“We can pool our resources together and create an impact in the community.
“When I sent out an invitation to the Southern Highlands government, it accepted, and a memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) was signed in Port Moresby.”
In May 2020, the MOU was signed, and is now bearing fruit with the Poroma Potato Project.
The FPDA, in carrying out further research, found out that Southern Highlands was literally a ‘Garden of Eden’.
“We did research and looked around the country, and found out that Southern Highlands has good soil to grow potatoes,” Worinu continues.
“We want to establish the Muli research station in Southern Highlands, which we have already acquired, as the hub of clean potato seeds – not only for PNG, but for the Asia-Pacific region.
“In other provinces like Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands and Chimbu, there are already potato diseases.
“We see that the new frontier is in Southern Highlands.”
The Poroma Potato Project is the first of a number of similar projects to be established in Southern Highlands under the MOU.
Worinu adds that local farmers can now start supplying potatoes as import replacement.
“Frozen chips continue to come in from Australia, New Zealand and other countries with a lot of money going out of the country,” he says.
“The Marape Government wants import replacement and wealth creation, SMEs, through agriculture support.
“We see that we need to establish a reliable production system within our own communities.”
Worinu announces FPDA plans to sign MOUs with other districts in Southern Highlands, as well as establishment of cold storage facilities, to enable sale of potatoes at farm gate.
He cites the example of Kundiawa-Gembogl in Chimbu, which now has a thriving fresh produce industry, as an example for Southern Highlands to emulate.
“I want Southern Highlands not to rely too much on oil and gas,” Worinu says.
“The potential is there, the land is good, and all that is needed is a bit of push from the agricultural agencies.
“Let’s take ownership and take it to the next level.”
Governor Powi says the project is one that can “transform” the lives of the people of Poroma and Southern Highlands for the better.
“Putting money into your pockets is what this Pangu-led Government is all about,” he tells his people.
“I really want to transform this province, so that one day, what I have started here will leave a big legacy.
“Following leaders around and conniving deals to make money is leading us to destruction.
“Wealth accumulation is through hard work, putting shovel to the earth, and starting a small business.
“If we don’t support agriculture, which will put money in your pockets, we will be continuously fighting each – which will lead to the destruction of Southern Highlands.
“Transformation, with a vision, must starts somewhere and this is the way this province must go.
“Development is putting money into the pockets of the little people.”
Minister Simon recalls that when he launched the Kundiawa-Gembogl fresh produce project in Chimbu recently, bags of potatoes and onions were on display, and challenges the people of Poroma and Southern Highlands to emulate this.
“When I next come here, I want to walk on bags of potato,” he adds.
“The Marape Government will help you by way of bringing markets closer to you.
“This is the focus of this Government.
“This government, under the leadership of Pangu Pati, wants to bring factory door price to farm gate.
“The price paid in Lae, paid in Port Moresby, must be paid to farmers here.
“There is no need for you to travel to Lae to receive this price.
“Governor (Powi), we must have a buying point here, a storage facility here, so that farmers will grow and sell their potatoes here with no need to look for markets.”
Minister Simon says he will visit the Poroma Potato Project again to check on its progress.
Southern Highlands, all of PNG for that matter, wait to see the success of this project.
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister