Made in Milne Bay

Weekender

BUSINESS

Coffee, peanut butter, roasted peanuts, jams, soaps, perfumes and other products from farms.

By MALUM NALU
PRIME Minister James Marape has pointed Papua New Guinea small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to agriculture as a space that they can move into.
He said this when addressing the third SME Business Breakfast at Apec Haus in Port Moresby last Friday (June 25, 2021), which also marked the end of the SME Week.
Meanwhile, in Alotau, Milne Bay, SMEs there are already into small-scale downstream processing of agriculture products and setting an example for the rest of PNG.
They are indeed walking the talk, despite all the negativity and bad news about Alotau and Milne Bay, created by the criminal Tommy Baker and his gang.
PM Marape said agriculture could supply domestic needs as well as export to other countries.
He said PNG was the closest Pacific country to Asia, including Indonesia right next door, which had a population of 260 million.
Marape said the majority of Indonesians were Muslims who ate beef.
“I wonder why the grasslands of Sepik and Fly are doing nothing,” he said.
“Those are places where we can raise beef cattle and supply to the 260 million Muslims next door.”
Marape said the next 100 years would be the “Asian century” as the increasing population there needed more food, water and energy.
He said PNG could follow the track of New Zealand in becoming a specialist food producer to supply the population of Asia. He pointed out the case of Fiji water, which was now sold around the world, and added PNG could do similar through organic food.
“Organic food supply to niche markets in Asia can be a forte, can be a specialist area, going into the future,” he said.
“Government will look at those concepts and work with the SME Corporation, for those who want to be innovative in the space of SMEs, whether in export-based businesses or domestic supply.”
Last month, Milne Bay SMEs showcased what they produced from agriculture, during a visit by Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon and his delegation.
They displayed coffee, peanut butter and roasted peanuts, jams, soaps, perfumes and other products – all made from the agriculture of Milne Bay.
So impressed was Minister Simon that he made a commitment of financial assistance to the Milne Bay SMEs.
PNG Cocoa Board CEO Boto Gaupu appointed them as a buying point for cocoa.
Milne Bay SME inc was formed in October 2020, with the primary objective of encouraging local people to become active and successful participants in the micro small and medium enterprise (MSME) arena.
It currently consists of 12 financial member businesses and groups, most run by women, with over 250 people under them.
They range from co-operatives, creative associations, tourism service providers, tour operators and small-scale manufacturers, all of which are PNG-owned.
Those involved in small-scale downstream processing are:
Gudi Foods – producers of roasted peanuts products including caramelised peanuts and peanut butter (owned and operated by Genevieve Igara-Falevai and partner Api Falevai);
Yanua Kitchen – producers of homemade organic jams including pomelo, mango, papaya and five-corner flavors (owned and operated by Ms Nemika Brunton and partner Sioni Sioni);
Alotau Tours & Niche Market – producers of organic soaps and high-end noni and virgin coconut oil products as well as provide tours services throughout Alotau Town and surrounding villages (owned and operated by Ben Jainona and daughters);
Milne Bay Organics – producers of Milne Bay coffee, cocoa, vanilla and coconut products as well as training and development services for value-added production and export grade commodities post-harvest processing methods (owned and operated by Ms Rhona Conn and partner Raymond Choong);
Palm’s Comfort Cultivates – producers of Milne Bay tumeric powder, spice powders and pepper products, and rural farmer training providers (owned and 0perated by Ms Daisy Leon Parascos and partner Harold Taylor); and
Bou Resource Development Cooperative Society – training and development of rural farmers in plantation establishment, and management and value-added production of natural resources such as cooking oils and soaps (founded by Mr Noah Taugaloidi);
Rhona Conn, the young woman president of Milne Bay SME Association and co-founder of Milne Bay Organics, is passionate about her country and people.
In the blood, as her father is the well-known David Conn, chairman of Milne Bay Tourism Association and former CEO of Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Born in Port Moresby, Conn’s career path has been an intentional one – to better serve her people.
After tertiary study in Australia – majoring in tourism and hospitality – she wasted no time when returning home to put her education and training to good use in both the hospitality and communications fields.
“In January of 2018,” Conn recalls, “the brand Milne Bay Organics was born as a means to create awareness for the world-class organic products that Milne Bay has to offer, and to showcase to a bigger audience with the hopes of drawing international markets for our organic produce in order to expand our buying capacity to farmers.
“We also hoped that this would potentially initiate an agri-tourism market as an additional income stream for farmers and producers, and to motivate provincial stakeholders to invest into relevant infrastructure development that could directly support access to market for more farmers in the remote mountainous areas and outer islands of Milne Bay.
“Although we are very much in our infancy as a company, we are taking strides every day to empower our youth and marginalised among our communities to take control of their lives, and truly find financial freedom through sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurial activities.”
On Sept 27, 2020, Yanua Kitchen Alotau received a PNG-Australia Partnership winning award for Best Emerging FMCG – Food Product Category in PNG.
Yanua Kitchen, owned by young Alotau woman Nemika Brunton, is a cottage jam industry serving the public (families/households) and retail companies.
“Yanua Kitchen started making jam in April 2020 amidst the Covid-19 lockdown period and was incorporated with Investment Promotion Authority on Oct 8, 2020,” Brunton says.
“It was a very economically-challenging time especially in Alotau.
“Because we depend heavily on cruise ship tourists for income, the pandemic affected the industry very significantly, and we had to seek other means of making food for ourselves, reducing our shopping bills, and selling some of our produce to support local demand.
“The pandemic stopped all cruise ships and tourism traffic and presented this opportunity.
“Driven by the need to survive, we ventured into ice block and popcorn making, which we informally sold at a primary school down the street to students and the public.
“As the Government enforced Covid-19 restrictions, the selling of food was stopped, and eventually our market, along with the closure of schools.
“With the blessing of having internet at home, we looked into food production and marketing strategies to somehow liberate ourselves from our financial hardship.”
Brunton came across pomelo jam-making videos featuring“very simple recipes with affordable ingredients.”
“I spent at least K20 for the first batch that I made, which was an experiment, but it turned out surprisingly well: we sold four jars at K7 each,” she remembers.
“We used our recent empty jam jars that we sterilised and refilled with our product, and labelled with our own logo.
“Yanua Kitchen sells jams at affordable prices with the belief that people will love that they are homemade and all-organic, and that the demand for it would grow.
“I created the jam logos on my own, and of course, with reviews from my partner and family.
“My labels had ‘Home Made Jam’ at first, but eventually, we had to improve the branding and decided to call it ‘Yanua Kitchen’.
“The word yanua means ‘home’ or ‘village’ in the Suau language of Milne Bay.”
Alotau, Milne Bay, is indeed shining a light on SMEs for the rest of PNG to see.
lMalum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister