By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
The isolated areas of Morobe have a very high population density and with no employment opportunities at all, one wonders how these people pay for government services like health and education.
Every citizen of a country needs money to access government services, regardless of location, whether you live on an island, or are surrounded by a chain of mountains and rivers.
When we talk about people and money, we must also talk about the resources that they have. Let us be reminded that apart from gold and copper, there are crops that people can grow.
Coffee was believed to have been introduced into Morobe in the 1900s. Today, there is no large plantation but the province’s coffee comes from households or smallholders.
While some growers can be found in the lowlands of the province, most are in the high altitude landlocked areas.
The Wain-Erap local level government of Nawaeb District is no exception. Located less than 10km west of the district administration centre at Boana is Rabisap village. It is in Ward 5 and has a population of more than 700 people.
There are two schools, Rabisap Elementary School and Guembum Primary School which serve the ward. Ward 5 also includes the Nimara and Yangalang villages, each with a population of between 500 and 700 people.
There is only one health facility that serves the population, the very small Yangalang Aid Post. Lowai, a two-man aid post is located in Ward 4 of Wain-Erap LLG.
Apart from these, the Ward 5 councilor Worinu Samanam says there is no other government service in the area.
Thanks to a project coordinator with Niugini Tea and Coffee Ltd, John Napo, I was able to visit the area for the launching of tools and equipment for a coffee cooperative on Friday, March 15.
Fifty-seven coffee pulping machines, including shade cloth, visqueen and pruning scissors were delivered to Irumu Coffee Group (Fafo Cooperative), a co-partner under a Productive Partnership in Agriculture Project (PPAP) coffee component.
Minister for Commerce and Industry Wera Mori, director of the Small to Medium Enterprise Corporation (SMEC) Momase region Fred Nimme, general secretary of PNC Party Dom Kua, Steven Bapi from Morobe Governor’s office, and local MP Kennedy Wenge were all there to witness the event.
In Rabisap village nearly all households have coffee gardens. I asked a villager why everyone was so keen to grow coffee and the simple answer was that coffee was the only means to make money.
Located at the foot of Dafuruguk Mountain, Rabisap is like a dead-end. The road from Kasuka ends there. The road from Kasuka to Tinibe, and Tinibe to Torowa was okay during the time of my visit. But from Torowa to Rabisap, urgent upgrading and reconstruction is needed.
After Rabisap, there is no more road.
Why am I talking about roads? Because remote places have a huge potential to drive our country’s economy, and Wain/Erap is just one such place.
I stood beside a mother and coffee grower, Erike Murak, as she pointed to each mountain right in front of us, and named every village.
There are less than 10 hamlets or hauslains, all yet to be connected by road. Even the people of Mama Village, on the borders of Huon Gulf and Nawaeb walk all the way to Rabisap, an excruciating eight to 10 hours trek.
Murak said people used bush tracks. Some carry coffee bags from those villages to Rabisap. From Rabisap, they walk another four to five hours to the bridge over Sorop River, where PMVs transporting garden produce to Lae, make a stop.
I also spoke to Geame Waso, a village extension officer based in Siara Village in the Wampar LLG of Huon Gulf. He is also a coffee grower, and a member of the Irumu Cooperative Society. The cooperative has 72 coffee farmers/growers, from the Wampar area.
I asked him how he came to Rabisap and how they received government services and he said he walked from the village.
“Living on the borders of the districts, services can be accessed from both sides, however, only if they are available,” he said.
I understood well that there are people needing access to basic government services still. In such situations, administrative boundaries do not matter, as long as whatever the people need is provided.
One thing I observed was that most people will do things themselves, only when they are empowered or provided with the right resources and skills.
In the early morning of March 15, the village men walked the road, and started digging and clearing using shovels and bush knives, making sure that the road became passable for vehicles.
When the Land Cruiser I traveled on got bogged down, they made sure it was cleared to go on.
Truly there are many different ways we can empower our rural population to take part in the formal economy.
Napo believes in the public private partnerships (PPP) and has spoken highly of it. He said the Coffee Industry Corporation’s PPAP coffee component arrangement was a classic example of this partnership.
“The PPP is a powerful tool in driving agriculture projects to benefit more rural communities and people,” he said.
“The private sector needs to take ownership of the approach and government agencies need to put more money into partnerships with private sector industries if we are to turn this country around in the next 20 years.”
Mori, in his message to the people of Nawaeb, emphasised the need to establish and maintain cooperative groups as they benefited a lot of people.
“Cooperatives is the best model or concept for small-to-medium enterprise (SME). It can mobilise rural farmers to produce revenue-based activities, like coffee, cocoa or coconut.
“Cooperative is the best model because it touches bases where the bulk of the population dwells in the rural areas.”
“Using the cooperative association models, we will encourage all landowners’ equal participation,” Mori said.
There are a lot of people, living on mountain tops in Morobe, walking bush tracks through jungles every day to access basic government services. The only way they can pay for the services is through selling coffee bags.
It is time we provide them the opportunity they deserve. It is time we tap into their potential. Not only Rabisap, but other remote places also. A proper road network is all it takes.
By EREBIRI ZURENUOC