I RECENTLY reflected on the great strides Papua New Guinea took in the agriculture sector and indeed the rice industry during 2017. It was a watershed year, I believe, and a beacon of great things to come. However, 2018 promises not only to continue momentum for our industry, but also offer opportunities that have never before presented themselves on our shores. Opportunities that reach other shores!
The major potential agent of change for agriculture in PNG this year is, of course, Apec.
With leaders of the most powerful nations in the world, including Apec’s 21 Pacific rim member economies, coming to PNG for the summit, the eyes of the world will be on our nation like never before. With such unprecedented exposure, it will be very interesting to see what interest is generated in an investment sense and what can be leveraged from it.
What the international appetite is for foreign investment into PNG’s agriculture sector on the back of Apec exposure remains to be seen, but I believe there needs to be a focus on the renewable resource sectors not just extractive.
Should Apec give our agricultural export trade the shot in the arm I think it can, can we handle the increased demand for our produce?
Some agri sectors are better placed than others when it comes to capacity, with the coffee and cocoa sectors possessing the necessary infrastructure of smallholder farmers to increase production.
But other sectors are also getting their own infrastructure in place to produce a top quality local product that meets the needs of local consumers, with potential to supply new demand overseas. Rice is certainly one of those sectors, and while it is still sensible steps for us, the potential is there.
The upcoming Nari Agricultural Innovation Show in April, which Trukai sponsors, is the sort of event to fast-track the progress of PNG’s smallholder farmers, offering the opportunity for education and technology transfer into smallholder production.
This is the primary focus of the show in 2018 – smallholder agricultural production embracing all sectors, including livestock, horticulture, coffee, cocoa, grain crops and others.
As for the rice industry itself, in terms of momentum, we are already picking up where we left off last year.
Trukai’s Chingwam planting project is one example. Located at Rangiampum village in the Markham Valley and grown in partnership with the Chingwam Rice Growers Cooperative, 15 hectares of rice variety trial areas were planted before Christmas and will be used to assess the suitability of four different varieties for large-scale commercial production.
The commercial production area for 2018 is planned to be in excess of 250 hectares and is now being planted, beginning on Jan 9. Large scale machinery, including harvest, planting and spray equipment, has been sourced and will be used on this, PNG’s largest and newest rice farm.
Harvest of the trial areas will commence in March with the commercial harvest beginning in April. A large investment in commercial grain drying and storage facilities is in progress and ultimately, the grain will be transported back to Lae to run through the new hulling mill and then packed into Trukai packets.
There is also the opportunity for smallholder growers to also deliver to the Chingwam site and have their rice purchased.
There are numerous other milestones to come for our domestic rice production blueprint, but more on that later.
For now, our family of local producers in the agriculture sector are busy working and planning to answer the door when opportunities knock in November.
- Humphrey Saese is the rice development manager for Papua New Guinea’s leading rice supplier, Trukai Industries.