By MALUM NALU
ANYONE who’s been up to Goroka, and the whole of Eastern Highlands for that matter, will vouch for the sweetness of the honey produced up there. Honey – ‘liquid gold’ – is a thriving industry up there, in this land of eternal springtime’, later spreading to other Highlands provinces and Morobe. Bees thrive in the flora of Goroka and Eastern Highlands. Honey used to be exported out of Goroka and once won an international award in Madrid, Spain, in its golden years. The industry, however, has gone down with no more exports, bee diseases, and virtually no Government assistance for the last 20 years. There is, however, a vibrant local industry with PNG honey, mainly from Eastern Highlands, sold in major shops and supermarkets nationwide.
No government agency took ownership of the honey industry, until Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) in 2014, and Livestock Development Corporation (LDC) last year. It has only been the determination of beekeepers in Eastern Highlands, especially, that has kept the industry alive. Men like Ian Mopafi, Tela ‘Honeyman’ Loie and Jonah Buka were with the fledgling honey industry in the 1970s and 1980s up till now. Mopafi, Loie and Buka are the backbone of the industry in Eastern Highlands and PNG. Fittingly, all these three men were at National Park in Goroka on Friday, May 21, 2021, when the Marape Government – through Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon – announced the first ever assistance of K1 million to the honey industry. Buka has been chairman of the Eastern Highlands Beekeepers’ Association on a voluntary basis for the last 20 years. “There has been no support (to the honey industry) from the Government,” he says. “Ian Mopafi (pioneer beekeeper) knows about the history of the industry from 1976 to 2000. I can speak about the industry from 2000 up until now.” Buka said the association was formed to serve the eight districts of Eastern Highlands and has continued despite the challenge of bee diseases. There has been no help from the national level, with occasional assistance from Eastern Highlands Provincial Government, through Governor Peter Numu, “If there had been assistance, this place would be filled today with honey farmers, it would be flowing with honey,” Buka said. “If the Government talks about downstream processing, Eastern Highlands is already into it – with our production of honey.” Minister Simon says the Marape Government, unlike its predecessors, is committed to developing honey into a major industry. He announced before hundreds of honey farmers and the general public at that the honey industry would receive K1 million this year under the Government’s Agriculture Intervention Programme. Also present were Eastern Highlands Governor Numu, Provincial Administrator John Gimiseve, Unggai-Bena MP and former Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Benny Allan, Livestock Development Corporation (LDC) MD Terry Koim, and others. Simon presented a brand-new Toyota Landcruiser, 72 three-storey beehives and 11 honey extractors to farmers in Eastern Highlands and other Highlands provinces involved in honey. He also gave K10,000 to Unggai-Bena Bee Farmers’ Cooperative, K10, 000 to Daulo Bee Farmers’ Cooperative and K10,000 to Eastern Highlands Beekeepers’ Association with an assurance that the balance of the funds was safe in the care of LDC. Simon also visited stalls of honey farmers and producers set up at National Park for the day. “Honey can become a big industry,” he said.
“We (Government) will stay with you (farmers), we will work with you to establish markets, set up processing centres to properly process honey, and we will help to take your honey to market. We will work with you because we have an interest in seeing you develop your industry.” Simon said he wanted to see PNG honey sold in major retail shops around the world. “We want to see Goroka Honey sold in shops in the USA,” he said. Simon said once farmers set up beehives, they were assured of a regular income from their honey. “This is a very good job (bee keeping),” he said. “We will help you.” Simon said he had already instructed Agriculture and Livestock Secretary, Daniel Kombuk, to start work on developing a policy for PNG’s honey industry. “We are working on that now so that the honey industry has its own policy,” he said. LDC managing director Terry Koim sweetly describes honey as the “liquid gold” of PNG. He said the Marape Government was committed to developing honey into a thriving industry which would bring in much-need export dollars into the country and create employment. “Honey is known as ‘liquid gold’,” Koim said. “Our (PNG) honey is of the highest quality. If you don’t believe me, ask (leading Eastern Highlands’ honey farmers) Ian Mopafi, Jonah Buka and Tella Loie. “Our honey is of the best quality because it is produced organically in areas where there are no impurities. It is the best and the sweetest.” Koim said the K1 million given to the honey industry by the Marape Government’s Agriculture Intervention Programme was recognition of the hard work of honey farmers over many years. “Today, this government intervention is recognition of the hard work of bee farmers through thick and thin, rain and sun, for many past years,” he said. “They may have thought that the Government had forgotten about them. Today, I want to tell you that the Government under James Marape as Prime Minister, has allocated K1 million to support our honey industry. “We have bought a new vehicle, we have bought honey boxes and extractors, with some money still with us (LDC). I want you to organise yourselves in your districts, so that we can help you to produce honey, our ‘liquid gold’.” Koim said honey would help to strengthen PNG’s economy. “We are too lazy to work in our gardens,” he told the crowd. “The alternative here is to get a honey box, place it at your backyard, and make money for school fees for your children and to look after your families. “Today, I see our children selling things like Twisties, noodles and batteries. I want to ask you: Do you produce these things? “When I was growing up in the village, we did not sell such things. “We sold things like kaukau, vegetables and corn grown by our parents. Today’s kids are selling things produced in other countries, they are not selling the produce of our land. “This attitude has to stop. One way to achieve this is to get a honey box. “If you are already working, and want to earn extra income, we encourage you to go into the honey industry.” Koim said foreign-owned shops in Goroka did not sell local produce, however, the people were belittling themselves by peddling products from these shops on the streets. “We must not continue to do this,” he said. “We must sell things that we grow and produce ourselves.” Koim encouraged people to be like the humble and hard-working honey bee which worked non-stop to produce a quality product. Buka is a happy man, saying: “With the support that we have been given, and if we work hard, we should hit more ‘liquid gold’.”
• Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister