The National, Thursday 21st February, 2013
By MALUM NALU
THE coconut industry, which has a long and colourful history in coastal areas of Papua New Guinea, is alive and well despite the current very low copra prices on the world market.
This is the assurance from regulatory body, Kokonas Indastri Koporesen, which says copra production has become a way of life in coastal provinces of PNG and will continue to flourish despite current low prices.
Copra plantations in PNG have been cultivated since the late 19th century.
Originally established by German colonialists, they were superseded by Australian interests following World War II.
“In 1884, German settlers arrived in eastern New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea), and planted coconut palms for the production of copra, the dried flesh of the coconut,” according to Wikipedia.
“They established the colony of German New Guinea in the north eastern quarter of the island and numerous coconut plantations around coastal areas.
“They were afraid of venturing too far inland.
“To counter the growing German presence in the region, the Australian state of Queensland established the Territory of Papua as a de facto possession covering approximately the south east third of the island.
“Both the Queensland and German plantations thrived, providing opulent living conditions for the expatriates.
“Grand mansions were built on the plantations, complete with luxury furnishings.
“Much of the labour was performed by New Guinea natives.
“The towns of Port Moresby and Rabaul were founded as a result of the economic activity surrounding the plantations.
KIK acting industry affairs manager Alan Aku told The National that PNG last year produced 31,000 tonnes of copra compared to 46,000 in 2011, with export earnings – figures for which were still being finalised – being the lowest ever mainly because of the economic crisis in Europe.
“The drop in production is not much,” Aku said.
“Irrespective of the price going down (to its lowest levels ever), people are still producing.
“Production is not too bad.
“Our production figures for last year had shown that although the prices had gone down, farmers continued to produce copra, and we were still exporting.
“Some of those who have export licenses have opted not to export because the prices are low, and are both buying and stocking them up, or they are selling to local processing mills such as Copra Products Ltd in East New Britain or Pristine
“These are the two mills we have operating in PNG.
The current major producers of copra in the country are Bougainville, East New Britain, West New Britain, Madang, New Ireland and Milne Bay.
KIK’s predecessor, the Copra Marketing Board, had depots in all coastal provinces and had a monopoly over copra buying until its demise.
“Copra Marketing Board was the monopoly copra buyer in the country,” Aku said.
“It set up depots in all coastal provinces and was buying, that’s when the provinces were interested in producing copra.
“But then, government wanted to liberate the market, so they took away the marketing power of Copra Marketing Board and made it available to the private sector.
“They changed KIK to become the only regulatory body.
“That’s when the market was opened up to private entities who wanted to go into buying and selling, it’s all private sector now.
“It happened in 2001; in 2002 KIK came into operation.
“That’s why Gulf has stopped producing copra, Central has stopped producing copra, Morobe has stopped producing copra, East Sepik has scaled down, Manus has gone down, Northern has gone down.
“These provinces have stopped producing copra basically because there’s no market.
“Currently, copra production is centred on these six provinces: Bougainville, New Ireland, East New Britain, West New Britain, Madang, and Milne Bay.”
Aku explained that KIK was the regulator of the copra industry in PNG, and was responsible for issuing of licenses to buyers, processors, and exporters.