A time to spice things up

People

By ZACHERY PER
ONE spice processor and promoter in the Highlands region Zacharias Ikio says the industry has potential to generate over K600 million for Papua New Guinea if is supported and commercialised.
“Efforts have not been made to commercialise the spice industry over the last 40 years and that is unfortunate because it has a potential to bring over several hundred million kina to the country’s annual budget,” he said.
Ikio, who is heavily involved in the industry, said: “Spices are high valued crops with lucrative markets around the world. In the European Union, United States and Caribbean the demand for spices such as turmeric, ginger, cardamom and chili is growing from 30 per cent to 40 per cent per year.”
He said minor spice crops and essential oils including vanilla could generate more than K400 million by 2030 if fully developed.
“For this to happen, a more concerted and serious commercialisation approach by the national government through the department of Agriculture is required.
“Vanilla has already generated K200 million during 2017 and 2018 financial years,” he said.
Ikio said other spices and herbs could contribute the balance of the prospective export income as estimated, the potential for production and export was high in PNG but the spice industry had been left stagnant since Independence.
“Unlike coffee that flourished in April, May, June and July every year, spice is an all-year around industry that can sustain economic viability of PNG throughout the entire fiscal year,” he said.
Ikio commended Prime Minister James Marape’s vision to push national development through sustainable economic growth and one area in the agricultural sector was the spice industry in PNG.
Ikio first got involved with spices in 2000 as a volunteer extension and research officer with the Western Highlands provincial division of agriculture and livestock in Mt Hagen operating out of Kapal Haus.
He concentrated on extending spice information to farmers in Western Highlands, until 2007, when the Kapal Haus burned down, destroying the division’s collections, samples files and other records.
“We waited from 2008 to 2013 for the Western Highlands provincial government to help us revive our work in spice work but nothing happened.
“I came to Goroka in 2014 and started to spice projects and after five years I have 250 spice farmers in the eight districts of Eastern Highlands,” Ikio said.
He pursued, with limited resources, until the Department of Agriculture and Livestock provided funding support in December 2018 that paved the way for them.
Ikio said the bulk of the money was used to carry out extension services to communities in Eastern Highlands, Enga and Morobe.
“One of the main activities under the extension project was to establish our model spice plot at Masumave village in the Unggai-Bena district.
“We also increased production at the farm level by purchasing spice planting materials and distributed to interested farmers in communities around Unggai-Bena and Goroka districts.
“We have also established model farms in Markham in Morobe and Tsak valley in Enga using small holder farmers to see the potential of the spice industry in these provinces,” Ikio said.

A chili grower picking crop from a garden outside Goroka town, Eastern Highlands.

He said developing a local spice industry would cater for domestic demand and reduce the need to import spices; it would also allow diversify the agricultural sector and give Papua New Guineans opportunities to export to other countries as well.
Ikio said the challenge would be to have sufficient production volume to meet the ever increasing demand for spices on the international market.
“This is a matter that needs further discussion with the National Department of Agriculture and Livestock for their increased involvement to get the spice industry up and running sustainably,” he said.
Ikio hails from Tsak valley, Wapanamanda, Enga and is an ex-seminarian who studied at St Fidelis Kap Minor Seminary in Madang.
While doing Pastoral work with Goroka Catholic Diocese and he developed his interest in spice. He attended Pumakos Primary School from 1979-1984 and Wabag High School from 1985-1988 before entering the seminary.
Ikio now operates the company PNG Organic Spice Developers and Trader, a service provider to the Agriculture and Livestock department, heavily involved in extension work, technical support, product procurement, consolidation, downstream, processing, value adding, internal market access, market research and strategic management.
downstream, processing, value adding, internal market Access, market research and strategic management.

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