Micro-financing high interest rates impeding agriculture growth

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Waii … PNG’s agriculture still under developed
PNG-CHINA Integrated Agriculture Industrial Park team leader Brian “Mushroom” Waii says Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s agriculture sector is still under developed despite the country having everything in its favor for cultivation of crops.
Waii, a Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University graduate in mushroomology, is the team leader of the park projects in Western and Eastern Highlands.
Waii was studying in China in 1995 when President Xi Jinping was governor of Fujian province.
He brought the technology to Eastern Highlands in 1997, through the Lufa Mushroom Project, but in 2002 the project was crippled by local politics.
Waii has maintained his ties with China and was one of those who pushed for the agriculture industrial park projects. The projects were to have been inked by PNG and Xi at Apec 2018 last November but it was deferred.
“The land is there, we have the best climate in the whole world, every baby born has agriculture in his or her blood,” Waii said of PNG’s agriculture.
“I did some in-depth research while I was with the European Union, and found a number of impediments. One of them is rural infrastructure, which plays an important role, in terms of transporting produce from rural areas to markets.
“The country’s infrastructure is inadequate to efficiently facilitate the transport needs of the farmers.
“Secondly, micro-financing is too costly. The lending rates are too high for the agriculture sector. It scares the little farmers away, wiping out any opportunity for production growth.
“Thirdly, our rural folk don’t have the financial literacy to maintain bookkeeping, profit-and-loss statements, and other accounting needs.
“Of course, there is the ongoing problem of markets, which is affected by all these other factors as well,” he added.
Waii said the lack of proper storage facilities for farmers to store and transport their produce was and “still is a major problem” that impede the growth of the agriculture sector.
“The Government needs to ensure that the rural infrastructure is in place or are developed, and that financial institutions implement reasonable lending rates for the agriculture sector,” he added.
Waii said the best small-to-medium scale enterprises were within the agriculture sector, “but there are some shared responsibilities that both the State and people must embrace”.
“When it comes to land, the people own the land, which you can’t take away. All you should do is formalise and mobilise the land so that people can work on it.
“This is another impediment that is causing this big giant (agriculture) to remain relatively dormant. The Chinese park projects are geared towards solving all these problems.
“It will stimulate the growth and wake this huge animal (agriculture). It is about time we make it rise. The park projects will address transport and marketing woes that cover proper markets equipped with modern facilities like storage, processing, rural infrastructure and mobilisation of farmers.
“Once these impediments are sorted out, you will see the agriculture sector rise and soar, and the people and country will benefit.
“Of course there will be value-adding along the whole value chain. We will also look at the extreme end of the value chain when it comes to markets, for instance, in coffee.
“The green bean will no longer be exported. We want the green beans to go to the next processing stage, instant coffee and coffee capsules, for export.
“In short, we want to do downstream processing here and then export. Our aim is to flood the Chinese market first, and then other markets.
“We have been cultivating and processing coffee for so many years, and yet, the extreme end of coffee (downstream processing) is not there.
“We only own the trees but the beans belong to someone else who takes them out (of the country). With the parks, we want to own the trees and the beans, so that it adds value to the lives of our people. That’s wealth creation.”
Agriculture and Livestock Acting Secretary Daniel Kombuk is pushing for self-sufficiency in organic food production in the country.
Kombuk, a citrus fruit expert who holds a master’s degree in plant propagation, is walking the talk by promoting the cultivation and selling of US and Israeli orange varieties nationwide.
He wants citrus to set the stage for PNG to become self-sufficient in food production.
In Jiwaka’s Waghi Valley, where he comes from, orange trees are now prolific because of his work there. Kombuk, a trained horticulturalist majoring in food production, has 27 years of field experience since leaving university.
“Right now, I am the custodian of the nation’s citrus – oranges, mandarins, pomelos, lemons and others,” he says.
“I have brought in the top American and Israeli citrus varieties. I am the custodian of the nation’s biggest, certified citrus nursery.
“I have over 600,000 seedlings right now which are up to American and Israeli standards. The American varieties come straight out of California, which is famous for its oranges,” he said.
Kombuk added: “I have gone into partnership with the Jiwaka provincial government on commercial food production. I was engaged by the Jiwaka provincial government to grow 100,000 trees this year, which are valued at K2 million. Next year, another 100,000 seedlings will be cultivated.
“By the end of 2022, I will have planted more than 500,000 hybrid citrus seedlings in Jiwaka. PNG will declare Jiwaka ‘orange country’.
“This is the initiative of Jiwaka Governor Dr William Tongamp and we want to venture into downstream processing. Right now, I have thousands of farmers all over PNG.”
Kombuk said: “When the citrus industry starts taking off in the country, bans can be imposed on imports, to encourage local production.
“Collectively, Western Highlands, Jiwaka, Chimbu and Eastern Highlands can sustain the demand for citrus in the country. We should focus on one type of crop, get it established and get the country moving.
“We want to go into downstream processing. We want to export under organic certification.
“Once we export, we put import bans on oranges, and we put more money into farmers’ pockets.”
Kombuk said PNG-grown oranges would be free from chemicals, unlike those imported from Australia.
“Unfortunately, most of the horticultural produce that we bring in from Australia and New Zealand are grown in toxic conditions.
“They overuse chemicals that pose residual effects on the health of consumers. Papua New Guineans should be eating their own organic produce,” he added.

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