AGRICULTURE

Weekender

A great start to 2022

Potatoes from Kundiawa-Gembogl on sale at Stop N Shop Waigani Central on Monday.

By MALUM NALU
MY heart swelled with pride to see PNG-grown potatoes and bulb onions from Kundiawa-Gembogl, on the foothills of the great Mt Wilhelm, on sale at Stop N Shop Waigani Central on Monday.
This is in line with the vision of Prime Minister Marape for Papua New Guinea to be self-sufficient in food production by 2025.
I flew all the way to Gembogl last June for the launching of the project, an initiative of local MP and Police Minister William Onglo and Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA), by Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon. A small step for Kundiawa-Gembogl, a giant step for PNG.
We are slowly, but surely, moving towards self-sufficiency in food production in PNG.
PM Marape, ever since he took office in May 2019, has spoken about his vision for PNG to be self-sufficient in food production by 2025.
On Aug 23, 2019, while opening the K20 million Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) Haus in Goroka, he announced that his Government was allocating K200 million every year for an agriculture incubation programme to achieve food self-sufficiency for PNG by 2025.
The aim is to make agriculture a family-oriented business, thus, becoming inter-generational and handed down from one generation to another for families to live off their business forever.
Papua New Guinea’s horticulture (fresh produce) industry is worth a staggering K2.5 billion annually, making it the biggest in the agriculture sector, according to FPDA General Manager Mark Worinu.

Onions from Kundiawa-Gembogl on sale at Stop N Shop Waigani Central.

The concern here is that a large part of this, over K1 billion, is spent on imported fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the country.
“If we fix up the food chain and deliberately invest in cold storage facility infrastructure in strategic locations, supported by good policy initiatives, I think we can do better,” Worinu said at the time.
On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, on the foothills of the great Mt Wilhelm – PNG’s highest mountain – PM Marape’s vision came one step closer to reality with the launching of the Kundiawa-Gembogl Agriculture Cold Supply Chain and SME Booster Project in Goglme, Gembogl.
It’s a multi-million kina initiative spearheaded by Onglo and FPDA, and supported by PM Marape. This will involve establishment of cold storage facilities in Kundiawa-Gembogl, Lae and Port Moresby to buy and store fresh produce, particularly bulb onions and potatoes.
FPDA has generously given its Kainantu depot to Kundiawa-Gembogl to use.
The Kundiawa-Gembogl District Development Authority (DDA) bought two excavators to build roads, two tractors, three trucks, 10 motorcycles, four refrigerated containers, three sawmills, three vehicles and three generators to set the project in motion. The 64 SME cooperatives in the district received K10,000 each as start-up capital. On top of this was K200,000 worth of seeds.
Present for the occasion were Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon, Chimbu Governor Michael Dua, Health Minister Jelta Wong, Worinu, CPL Group of Companies Management Consultant Ajay Patel, and others.
At 8-Mile in Port Moresby, work is quietly taking place on a major project, that promises to have a big impact on farmers from throughout rural PNG. A cold storage facility, established by the Kundiawa-Gembogl DDA through its business arm Agro-Tech, with the full support of PM Marape, is being built here.
Fresh produce, particularly bulb onions and potatoes from Kundiawa-Gembogl, will be stored here for buyers in Port Moresby. The facilities will be run by the Kundiawa-Gembogl DDA but will serve all of PNG.
Agriculture, fisheries and meat products from all over PNG will be brought here and stored for distribution to Port Moresby, PNG and international markets.
PM Marape has given his support since the proposal first landed on his table in early 2020, including securing the land from Department of Agriculture and Livestock, for Kundiawa-Gembogl DDA to build the cold storage facilities.
The dream of self-sufficiency in food production is already in motion.

  • Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister

Rubber farmer strives to make a honest living

Mark Patlau (in orange vest) together with his nephew Ari Longowei, showcasing the rubber they had harvested from his plantation and brought back to store at his house before taking it to Lorengau. – Picture by KINGSTON NAMUM.

By KINGSTON NAMUN
IN the last Papua New Guinea census in 2011, a total of 7.2 million persons were enumerated in 1.3 million citizen households in the country.
This gives an average household size of around 5.5 persons per household. Manus province had a population of 60,480 people with 10,360 households but now 10 years has passed since and the population would have certainly grown. According to the 2021 National Budget Volume 1 document, Covid-19 had an impact on the PNG economy in 2020 leading to a job loss of 35 per cent and both the private and the public sectors, including the agriculture sector, declined by 12 per cent.
However, farmers all around the country have not given up with major strides taken in industries relating to cocoa, coffee, vanilla, etc. Rubber has been one such industry that has gone through a lot and has still maintained a stronghold as a key cash crop in PNG’s economy.
Rubber’s long history
Published research by Hirohata (2017) point out that natural rubber has had a long history in Papua New Guinea since the early 1900s because the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis has been planted here since 1903. There are two technically specific rubber (TSR 10) factories in the country, one natural rubber estate in Doa, Central province while another, privately owned in Western Province and they export some 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes every month.
Individual farmers are doing their bit too to make sure they maintain, harvest and sell their rubber. One such farmer is Mark Patlau, 59, of Liap village in Manus Province. Liap village is on the northern coastline of Manus and is situated in the Pomotu Ndrehet Kurti Andra (PNKA) Local Level Government area. According to the last national census in 2011, PNKA holds around 12.2 per cent of the total Manus population of 60,480 with an average household of 6.4 people.
Patlau is a humble and hardworking smallholder rubber farmer who has 500 trees on his land. According to the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) website, Patlau is one of around 60,000 rubber farmers in eight provinces in the country. These include Central, Gulf, New Ireland, Manus, Northern, Western, East Sepik and West Sepik.
He first planted his rubber trees in 1987 but did not utilise this cash crop. However, in 2012, the Manus Division of Agriculture and Livestock initiated a training for 15 farmers and gave them 200 cup holders each and a tapping knife. Using this, he begun harvesting his rubber trees. He explained that it took around two hours for the latex to collect in each cup. He harvests what scientists call a natural rubber polymer known as ‘cup lump’ rubber. Cup lump is a coagulated rubber that is produced when the latex is left uncollected and allowed to coagulate under bacterial action.
Once collected, he stores the rubber in the plantation area. He cannot take it home as the smell emanating from the latex is foul, like rotten fish. After a few weeks, he collects all the rubber that has dried and carries them from his plantation back to his house. It is rigorous work carrying the harvested rubber from the plantation area to home as he has to go back and forth multiple times carrying heavy sacks.
His extended family also provide a helping hand. His first harvest in 2012 was 50 kg and then over subsequent years his harvests grew. He has never looked back, with his minimum of 120 kg and maximum of 360kg harvested since. He always transports the cup lump rubber to Lorengau where he sells it at the Manus Division of Agriculture and Livestock at Tamat for K3 per kilogram.
It hasn’t been an easy job harvesting the rubber for this father of six but this year he has gone to another level. This year, Patlau and his nephew Ari Longowei, 35, spent three months harvesting close to two two tonnes of latex from 300 of his 500 trees. He couldn’t harvest from all his trees due to the shortage of cups. It is no mean feat considering it was only a two-man operation. But the journey is not complete as he now has to bring the rubber to Lorengau town to sell.
Big challenges
While Patlau continues this labour-intensive work, his challenges are even greater. Most problematic has been the lack of cups in the province to capture the latex and secondly, there are high transportation costs when he has to bring his rubber to Lorengau town to sell. He has to hire a boat to transport his rubber to town, further digging into his pockets.
At the national level, rubber nursery development has been allocated K1 million under the 2021 National Budget but that money has not trickled down to farmers like Patlau in Manus. Even to make matters worse, earlier this year, money meant for agriculture in PNG was squandered such as the recent revelations in the mass media that K22.7 million that was misused.
While rubber is a viable crop for farmers in PNG, in my opinion, there needs to be more government funding allocated to finance rubber nurseries, processing infrastructure developed or provided to small holder farmers, extension efforts improved and maybe small loan programmes initiated to assist framers establish proper rubber blocks on their customary land.
Only then can smallholder farmers like Patlau who live in rural areas truly experience the true value of their work, add cash flow to the local economy and support their families as well.

  • Kingston Namun is a freelance writer and blogger.

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