By MALUM NALU
PRIME Minister James Marape, ever since he took office in May 2019, has spoken about his vision for Papua New Guinea to be self-sufficient in food production by 2025.
On Aug 23, 2019, while opening the K20 million Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) Haus in Goroka, he announced that his Government was allocating K200 million every year for an agriculture incubation programme to achieve food self-sufficiency for PNG by 2025.
The aim is to make agriculture a family-oriented business, thus, becoming inter-generational and handed down from one generation to another for families to live off their business forever.
Papua New Guinea’s horticulture (fresh produce) industry is worth a staggering K2.5 billion annually, making it the biggest in the agriculture sector, according to FPDA General Manager Mark Worinu.
The concern here is that a large part of this, over K1 billion, is spent on imported fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the country.
“If we fix up the food chain and deliberately invest in cold storage facility infrastructure in strategic locations, supported by good policy initiatives, I think we can do better,” Worinu said at the time.
On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, on the foothills of the great Mt Wilhelm – PNG’s highest mountain – PM Marape’s vision came a step closer to reality with the launching of the Kundiawa-Gembogl Agriculture Cold Supply Chain and SME Booster Project in Goglme, Gembogl.
It’s a multi-million kina initiative spearheaded by Kundiawa-Gembogl MP and Police Minister William Onglo and FPDA, and supported by PM Marape.
This will involve the establishment of cold storage facilities in Kundiawa-Gembogl, Lae and Port Moresby to buy and store fresh produce, particularly bulb onions and potatoes.
FPDA has generously given its Kainantu depot to Kundiawa-Gembogl to use.
The Kundiawa-Gembogl District Development Authority (DDA) bought two excavators to build roads, two tractors, three trucks, 10 motorcycles, four refrigerated containers, three sawmills, three vehicles and three generators to set the project in motion.
The 64 SME cooperatives in the district received K10,000 each as start-up capital.
On top of this was K200,000 worth of seeds.
Present for the occasion were Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon, Chimbu Governor Michael Dua, Health Minister Jelta Wong, Worinu, CPL Group of Companies management consultant Ajay Patel, and others.
K1 billion on fruits and vegetables
Simon says Papua New Guinea spends over K1 billion annually on fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the country.
“The country spends over K1 billion to import potatoes, onions and vegetables,” Minister Simon told hundreds of people.
“We can save this money.
“Kundiawa-Gembogl could be our answer.”
Minister Simon said what was needed was government intervention by way of setting up facilities, as well as providing seeds for farmers, so that factory door prices could be brought to farm gate.
There is also a need to encourage more people to get into farming in Kundiawa-Gembogl, as according to Minister Simon, there are only 5000 active farmers there out of a population of about 100,000.
“The story of Kundiawa-Gembogl is not a story for Kundiawa-Gembogl alone,” he said.
“This story is a story for Papua New Guinea…what you (Kundiawa-Gembogl) are doing is for Papua New Guinea.”
Minister Simon said all MPs, including those in the Highlands, received the same district funds but had not used it like the Kundiawa-Gembogl MP.
He described Minister Onglo as a “saviour” for his people for setting up the project and involving 64 cooperatives in his district.
“Cooperatives are the way to go because they will buy the produce of their farmers, put it in cold storage facilities and transport it down to Lae,” Minister Simon said.
“We (Marape Government) will support you, through the FPDA, so that the cold storage supply chain will not be broken.
“You set up a facility here, when you go down to Lae there must be a facility.”
Minister Simon said Kundiawa-Gembogl was leading the way for PNG and the Marape Government would support it all the way, including securing storage space in Lae and Port Moresby, to store fresh produce.
“When the ship comes (to Lae), it will take the fresh produce to Port Moresby, where a storage facility is available,” he told the people.
“Your MP is a silent achiever.
“While other districts in the Highlands are talking about such projects, you have an MP who is already making it happen.”
Minister Simon commended the CPL Group of Companies for buying the fresh produce of Kundiawa-Gembogl and PNG.
“One supermarket in Port Moresby that sells the fresh fruit and vegetables of PNG is the CPL Group of Companies,” he said.
“It is one of few companies that is doing this, it is one of few companies promoting PNG.
“We will continue to support you and we will work with you.”
Minister Simon said there was an urgent need for more people to be involved in farming to bring down PNG’s fresh produce import bill.
“We will pump in money to buy more seeds,” he said.
“FPDA will provide you more potato and bulb onion seeds.
“We can cut down imports, however, the concern is that we will not be able to meet the demand.
“We have to meet the demand, with a consistency in supply.
“The Government has plans to help you, however, we have to have a consistent and quality supply.”
Down to basics
Minister Onglo commended Marape for his unwavering support to agriculture in PNG, including in Kundiawa-Gembogl.
“He (Marape) has gone down to the basics, emphasising on agriculture – which is the backbone of this country,” he said.
“He always talks about agriculture, agriculture, agriculture.
“This is because 85 per cent of the land in this land is owned by you, the people, with the only way for you to make money and move forward in life being through land and agriculture.
“That’s why I’m saying ‘thank you’ to PM Marape for giving funds, for pushing us MPs to boost agriculture around the country, with this being one of the projects he initiated.”
Minister Onglo told of the heartbreak of farmers to transport vegetables to Port Moresby only to find them rotten by the time they arrived.
“We waste one or two days waiting for a truck,” he said.
“When we get down to Lae, we have to wait for the ship, which can take up to four days.
“By the time we put our vegetables on the ship, they are already starting to go bad, and after four days at sea they are already rotten by the time we arrive in Port Moresby.”
Minister Onglo said it was this, and the large volume of imported fresh produce, that inspired him to set up the cold chain supply in his district – to be drive by Kundiawa-Gembogl DDA company Agro-Tech.
“We will buy fresh produce like coffee,” he said.
“Every Tuesday and Wednesday, scales will be set up, to weigh and buy your food.
“You take your money and go back to your garden.
“We (Kundiawa-Gembogl DDA) will allocate K500,000 for this purpose.”
Minister Onglo said Agro-Tech would also buy fresh produce from other districts of Chimbu, and Goroka and Kainantu in Eastern Highlands.
Worinu said FPDA had been working with the people of Gembogl since 2005, when bulb onions were imported, and it had pushed Department of National Planning and Monitoring to help in this area.
The department allocated K400,000 in 2003, 2004 and 2005 for the project.
“They people here were very happy and took to growing bulb onions,” Worinu said.
“The Department of National Planning and Monitoring was very impressed with the results – which proved that onions imported from New Zealand and Australia could be grown in Gembogl.
“In 2015, we imposed a ban on imported onions, however, we found that local farmers could not supply enough to meet the demand.
“From 2016, up until now, we (FPDA) have done our homework and worked with the people of Kundiawa-Gembogl on this.
“However, I urge you to harvest the bulb onions properly, and dry and cure them for cosnumers.
“The important thing is that you must meet the market requirements.
“The ongoing issue has been the cold chain, with consistency and quality of supply, which has not been there.
“We had problems of roads, fees, shipping.
“I thank your MP (Onglo) for recognising a very critical area in the cold chain – where there must be quality from the farm to the market.
“This cold chain, now that it has been established, must not be broken.
“The onus is now on you to work, to supply five containers a week.
“The Government wants import replacement, food security, SMEs, income security, nutrition security and wealth security for the people.
“We Government agencies have been tasked to go down to rural farmers.
“I am happy that this is happening here in line with what the Government wants.”
Patel, on behalf of CPL Group and the private sector, was frank: “Keep growing and building the volume.
“Last year was the first time Stop N Shop sold more local produce than imported.
“We want to keep doing this better and better, and this is how we’re going to do it in every district.
“We must make sure that we get the drying of the onions correct, we must make sure that we handle the potatoes properly, and then get the cold chain down to Port Moresby.
“Quality and consistency: Em tasol (that’s all).”
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister