By MALUM NALU
EAST New Britain, since colonial days, has been an agriculture-based economy producing for the export markets of the world.
The long and colourful history of Rabaul and East New Britain has been largely based on its coconut industry.
Its economy was built on copra and later cocoa, however, both these commodities have seen a big drop in production in recent years
Agriculture production is East New Britain now promises to grow again following the launching of the Gazelle Agro-Industrial Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by Prime Minister James Marape on Monday, May 9, at Kerevat.
The Prime Minister, when launching the SEZ, called on the people of Gazelle to use their land for commercial agriculture.
It is a project of the Gazelle District Development Authority (DDA) of MP and Health Minister Jelta Wong, which will focus on its rich agriculture and tuna potential.
The occasion was witnessed by State Enterprises Minister William Duma, Lands and Physical Planning Minister John Rosso, East New Britain Governor Nakikus Konga, Minister Wong, and Kumul Consolidating Holdings Managing Director Professor David Kavanamur, among other guests.
PM Marape has repeated the same message throughout the country that people must turn to agriculture, with his Government financially supporting that, through price support.
He says his Government is also supporting small businesses with K200 million every year given to National Development and Bank South Pacific for lending.
“Over the last three years, my Government has given price support to cocoa, copra, coffee and other commodities,” PM Marape tells the people of Gazelle.
“Before we took office in May 2019, coffee was being bought at K4.50 per kg, but we took it up to K6, and it is now reaching K10 coupled with high world prices.
“When we took office, the price of cocoa was about K4.50 per kg, but it is now going up to as high as K8. The price of copra was about K1 per kg, but after our intervention, this is gone up to as high as K5.”
PM Marape tells the people that his Government has created these incentives for people to make money.
“Gazelle District has fertile land and good people,” he says.
“I want you to partner the district, province and National Government to grow the economy. Small-scale downstream processors, such as the ones I’ve seen today, need to partner with relevant Government departments and agencies.”
PM Marape also urges the people of Gazelle not to sell their land but register it to be eligible to get bank loans to start and grow agriculture businesses.
“I want you to go more into cocoa, copra and balsa,” he adds.
“We can make so much money from our land, through agriculture, but we are not using this to its full potential.
“I want you all to put more effort into commercial agriculture, and not just subsistence agriculture.”
Commercial agriculture, to become a reality, needs a reliable supply of electricity.
PM Marape, when launching the Gazelle Agro-Industrial SEZ, fulfils his promise to landowners of Warangoi in East New Britain to pay them K5 million for use of their land and water for PNG Power Ltd’s Warangoi Hydro Power Project.
The Prime Minister, when opening the K83 million 10 Megawatt Warangoi Hydro Power Project major rehabilitation last November, assured landowners that they would be paid the K5 million they wanted for use of their land and water.
The Warangoi landowners had been allowing use of their land and water to supply electricity to East New Britain for the last 39 years without demanding compensation.
The Prime Minister made a first payment of K3 million earlier this year, and paid the outstanding K2 million when launching the Gazelle Agro-Industrial SEZ.
PM Marape says this intervention by his Government will ensure a reliable supply of electricity throughout East New Britain to grow the economy.
“East New Britain will no longer face electricity problems with this intervention,” he says.
“The currently electricity needs of East New Britain are about 2MW, but completion of the Warangoi project provides you with an excess of electricity.
“That extra electricity is for the tuna industry and for the agriculture industry – especially in downstream processing.
“Seeing processed galip nuts and coconut oil products today warms my heart and assures me that we can go into downstream processing.
“We no longer need to send out raw products from our country, when we can go into downstream processing, with a more reliable supply of electricity.”
Rehabilitation of the Warangoi project was made possible through the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the GoPNG co-funded Town Electrification Investment Programme, with the contractors being Dongfang Electric Corp and AG Investments JV.
It will boost the low production of Warongoi hydropower facility, which was originally commissioned in 1983, but has been supplying below its rated capacity of 10MW for the last 10 years into the Gazelle grid.
The future of Gazelle, the whole of East New Britain for that matter, looks bright with the opening of Gazelle Agro-Industrial SEZ and a reliable supply of electricity from Warangoi to the province.
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister