By ALPHONSE BARIASI
A MASSIVE investment is planned to transform Koitaki in the Sogeri Plateau in Central into a food park right next door to Port Moresby.
The plan is driven by Pacific Balance Fund through its subsidiary company PBF AgroBusiness Ltd.
Jerry Kootz Simon, the company general manager and CEO, on Monday took me on a tour of Koitaki which has changed hands over the years since the early 20th century when the land was first acquired.
The recent past owner of the farm land had disposed it to PBF AgroBusiness Ltd.
Says Simon, the acquisition was made after a thorough due diligence to the satisfaction of the fund’s board and management which saw in Koitaki a lucrative business that can easily turn over returns in millions of kina annually.
The proposal is to establish a food park and central buying point for all kinds of produce from the land by lease holders.
“Lease holders can raise crops or animals and sell to the central distribution point which will then supply Port Moresby. This could even be a pilot and model food park for PNG,” Simon says.
The soil is very fertile with all-year-round rainfall which can sustain anything from vegetable farming to citrus farming, honey bee keeping, spice production and animal husbandry, he adds.
The plan has already attracted the interest of Innovative Agro Industry (IAI) Ltd who already operates the Nine Mile Farm and the Ilimo dairy production facility just outside of Port Moresby.
IAI and PBF AgroBusiness Ltd plan to establish an egg production facility in the proposed Kotaki Food Park under a joint venture arrangement.
According to a statement released this week, negations around this have started and this was announced by PBF Agro Business chairman John Sanday.
The facility, to be built at a cost of around K26 million, will be funded by a combination of debt from local financiers and equity by shareholders.
At full capacity, it will produce 2.83 million eggs annually, according to the statement.
Simon stated that the project would produce its own grain/feed by integrating a grain grower scheme where nearby communities engage in growing corn to supply to the facility.
This arrangement would cut the cost of feed by up to 50 per cent which would then translate to reduced costs of production and retail prices of eggs and better returns to farmers and investors.
PBF Agro Business Ltd has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Royal PNG Constabulary to establish a horseback training facility to be part of the Koitaki Agro Food Park. This was announced by company chairman John Sanday.
The mounted horseback training facility is included in the overall master plan to provide security for investors as a matter of priority, says CEO Simon.
“The MOU now includes the setting up a mounted horseback training facility…although the initial discussion was on police houses. We have a lot of good land for grazing and horses on the farm and police need a facility like Koitaki Agro Food Park to set up its mounted horseback training ground for new personnel,” Simon said.
The Kotaki homestead, a feature of Queen Victoria-era architecture is still very much intact and would be transformed into a museum while also providing accommodation for tourists, Simon says.
The 5,000 hectare, Koitaki Farm is ideally locatedclose to the capital by a sealed road. It is in a fertile, elevated valley with permanent water, reliablerainfall and existing agricultural production.
The vision is to develop this unique corporate asset into a showcase farm, owned and managed well by Papua New Guineans.
The strategy is to simultaneously generate cash income from agricultural enterprises, add value to the land through developing infrastructures/buildings/roads and rezoning land for alternativeuses such as an Agro Park, or rural residential lifestyle blocks. Other opportunities also exist, such as bottlingspring water, tourism and educational facilities.
PBF Agro’s objective is to provide sustainable returns, through a diversified portfolio of assets on the Koitaki farm,and to lift the net asset value through land valuation.
PBF Agro is committed to strong stakeholder and community engagement. Its corporate social responsibility (CSR)programme will seek to provide land access to local communities for agricultural production, provide support andextension to ensure profitability, offer scholarships and provide employment.
PBF Agro seeks funding to unlock the value of the asset and to implement its strategy. It also seeks national, provincial and district governments support in the area of declaration of Koitaki Agro Food Park as tax free zone to attract local SMEs to operate farming business there, and maintenance of the 12.6 km road network from Sogeri National High School to Itikinimu Primary School.
Work is currently underway to harvest raw rubber and produce hydroponic vegetables at Koitaki.
Due to the size of the farm, the varied geography and reliable climate, the income stream from the farm will bediversified across the various types of agriculture businesses that can be undertaken on the site.
Profits and rents can beaccumulated from livestock, plantations, dryland cropping and intensive farming operations. Further income will bederived from rents on the existing housing and other planned facilities.
The objective of PBF Agro is to make sustainable returns from owning agricultural land through farming operationsand land development.
The immediate objective is to use the land and existing farming assetsto produce income.
The Koitaki Agro Food Park Strategic plan is consistentwith the overarching national development plans.
Some other non-agricultural uses are being considered that take advantageof the attractiveness of the Sogeri area’s natural beauty, mild climateand easy access to Port Moresby. These include residential and holidayhousing, tourism and conference destination development.
A bit of history
The Koitaki asset was first settled for farming around 1907. The British New Guinea Development Company operatedthe farm from the 1920s to the 1950s, followed by the Belgian company until the 1960s, then theAngo-Co owned it from 1970 to 1980.
Trukai Industries had possession of the farm from 2000 to 2001, Nominees Trustees from 2000-2003 and the Murray family, under Koitaki Plantation Ltdowned and operated itfrom 2003 to 2016. At that time the original homestead was refurbishedby Lord and Lady Murray.
The Murray family ran a business called Koitaki Bred, a Brahman herd that had are ported 5,500 heads of cattle.
The road connecting Sogeri and Moresby was not finished until 1938. Before that time supplies were ferried to thevalley by foot and donkey and agricultural produce was back-loaded.
The Koitaki farm formed part of the WW2 effort and provided food for troops fighting on the Kokoda Trail. The homestead acted as a field hospital.
The total land area comprises four separate locations – Sogeri, Itikinumu, Koitaki and Catalina.