By LEO WAFIWA
POMIO is located on the south coast of East New Britain.
The culture and lifestyle of the Pomio people have been documented in various publications by historians and anthropologists with reference to early arrivals and cargo-cult movements in the 1960s.
The district is also known for large-scale logging and overfishing which have left very little impact on the wellbeing of men, women and children.
What still interests many overseas travelers and tourists is Pomio’s colourful Tubuans and the famous fire dance performed by the inland Baining people.
While Gazelle is being praised as one of the better developed areas in the country, Pomio District has been referred to as the back page. It has been neglected for the last 40-plus years.
The district has a mixture of people from all parts of the country who settled there in the late 1960s during recruitment of labourers to work on copra and cocoa plantations.
While these cash crops have taken lead in the Gazelle area, people in the inland area of Pomio are still growing coffee. However, marketing has been an impediment and consequently some farmers pay less attention to their coffee gardens.
Last week (on Nov 28 and 29), I was at Sinivit LLG headquarters near the popular Warangoi River in Pomio. The visit follows a partnership agreement between Coffee Industry Corporation’s Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (CIC-PPAP) and lead partner New Britain Resources Development Ltd (NBRDL) to rehabilitate existing coffee gardens.
The copartner to the contract agreement is Qaqet Stewardship Council Inc. The partnership agreement was signed at Sinivit LLG headquarters on Friday, June, 30 last year, witnessed by farmers and their families.
The agreement totaling K2.8m is giving a new breath of life to 1000 farmers covering 1000-plus hectares.
Under the partnership agreement, the farmers will improve their coffee gardens with training support and distribution of tools and materials.
The lead and copartner are also setting up nurseries for one million seedlings for replanting and infilling. The company had already, from own resources, produced and supplied 70,000 seedlings to farmers this year.
While in Pomio, I also witnessed the opening of savings accounts for farmers with Bank South Pacific, Kokopo branch.
BSP officers led by Monica Vuvul started as early as 9am on Nov 28 at Sinivit LLG headquarters. The farmers were organised in 20 cluster groups by officers working for NBRDL with the assistance of Rural Development Officer Shilla Sato who is attached with the Sinivit LLG office.
For many farmers, it was their first to open an account to save their earnings from coffee and other crops and they walked away with a great feeling of satisfaction.
“It was very straight forward without many questions asked. If I had gone to the bank they will send me here and there and it can take two to three months,” said farmer Leonard Muvet, 59, of Arabam in the Warangoi area.
Leonard has a block of coffee garden awaiting rehabilitation by extension and field assistant officers working for the lead partner.
Another farmer Charles Suki, 43, is from Madang. He moved to Pomio in 1986 and has lived there since. He is married with seven children and has a coffee block.
“There was no place to sell coffee and I ignored my garden. I’m happy to revive my garden under this project,” said Charles.
A mother Perpetua Isan, 26, from Rieid council ward in Sinivit LLG also turned up with her 2-months-old baby to open an account.
“My father has some coffee blocks and he gave a block to me as well to look after and earn some money. This is my first to open an account. I’m very happy today,” saidPerpetua in Tok Pisin.
The farmers paid K10 only and were provided an automatic transfer machine (ATM) card on the spot.
Project Manager Potaisa Hombunaka explains that the underlying purpose of farmers opening an account is so that all their coffee sales money is paid directly into their accounts.
The famers were also provided an identification card by the lead partner as a participant under the coffee rehabilitation project.
BSP Branch manager Joe Makinta took time off from his office in Kokopo and drove all the way to Sinivit to be with his officers. He also shared with the farmers on the importance of saving some money to improve their livelihood.
“This is a good initiative by the PPAP program and the lead partner here because coffee can grow very well in Pomio. The only way is to set up a buying point here. They can’t transfer their coffee to Lae or other ports.”
Makinta adds there is potential to increase production in Pomio, especially in the Baining area.
“The good thing is the lead partner is grouping farmers into cluster groups or communities, a concept I am interested. This is the way forward to bring services right into the villages. Under this partnership we’re engaging families, tribes and eventually we covering districts and the whole province.”
“This is a good touch base to make coffee as an income driver for East New Britain.”
BSP officers will also conduct financial literacy training for farmers.
Sinivit LLG Manager Dominic Huranaka welcomed the announcement by BSP to set up cash agents in Warangoi and Kerevat for farmers to make deposits and withdrawals.
Market access has denied coffee production in ENB and the New Guinea Islands region (NGI).
The lead partner is filling in that gap by constructing a dry factory at Kabakaul in Kokopo. The processing mill is expected to be opened in the first quarter of 2018.
“Market access will be a thing of the past and some years down the road. East New Britain will displace some of the traditional coffee growing provinces with increase national market share through increased production and sales,” says the CIC-PPAP manager.
Hombunaka adds ENB was identified as a growth area by CIC many years ago but nothing significant was done and now with the coffee factory this will be a game changer.
The factory will be the first for NGI to boost coffee production and quality in ENB and also for the region including New Ireland, West New Britain and Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
The lead partner is investing K1m in the construction of the processing mill.
The roof was completed last week and work on side walls began this week before installation of coffee processing machines will commence.
A jubilant Tseng says the factory will have a three production line and can produce 9000 tonnes of green bean coffee per hour.
Two officers from the CIC inspection division examined the construction work last week and came away impressed with the design of the factory and warehouse.
“We have no problem with the set up. It will be a good factory to service farmers in this area,” said Manager of Industry Regulation & Compliance Sam Menanga.
July Woiwoi CIC officer in ENB says Pomio alone has the potential to produce between 40 and 50 tonnes of coffee a year. He welcomed the coffee rehabilitation intervention saying it will give the rural people of Pomio District a chance to take part in the development of the nation.
The coffee rehabilitation is a CIC project through the Department of Agriculture & Livestock. It is financed by a loan facility from World Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with support funding from PNG Government.
- The author is Information & Communications Officer for the CIC-PPAP.