By PETER ESILA
BILAS Peles New Ireland is on the road to going big on oil palm.
This is because the Oil Palm Industry Corporation (Opic) acting general secretary Kepson Pupita is doing all the cleaning up he can and lending a hand to revive the industry to make it the country’s even much higher revenue earner.
“Oil palm will be the biggest revenue earner for the country one day where we can easily bring in billions into the country every year,” Pupita asserts.
Palm oil is PNG’s major agricultural export earner, generating on average K1.2 billion in export revenues per year.
But Pupita says there is potential for more revenue when farmers increase production. Also about 6.2 million hectares of land remains available for oil palm production.
Export revenue from palm oil is equivalent to approximately 47 per cent of PNG’s total agriculture exports.
About 20,049 households (2011 National Population Census) are engaged in oil palm cultivation, which supplements and sustains their subsistence livelihoods. Milling companies such as New Britain Palm Oil Limited and Hargy also provide formal employment to hundreds of Papua New Guineans.
The smallholder farmers engaged in oil palm cultivation generate on average K450 to K500 million each year in fresh fruit bunches (FFB).
Opic was established by the Opic Act 1992 to replace the former Department of Primary Industries (now Department of Agriculture and Livestock) Smallholder Oil Palm Extension Service. Its core functions are to promote and encourage increased productivity of palm oil through provision of efficient extension services to smallholders including pest and disease management, collect, record and compile vital data with regards to the industry, and consult, liaise and collaborate with the state and other agencies and authorities concerned or involved in the industry including growers and the private sector.
PNG Opic’s head office is located in Port Moresby and managed by Pupita.
Opic has five project offices located in Bialla, Hoskins, Kavieng, Popondetta and Alotau managed by project managers.
On Saturday, Sept 25, I accompanied Pupita to Kavieng to assess the work done there by Opic.
A newly refurbished staff house was just completed, along with the newly refurbished office with new fencing.
All this is to ensure the gospel of increased production is fulfilled.
Greater motivation of Opic staff is the first tick in a box towards the ultimate aim of reviving the industry with the review of the Opic Act.
Pupita says there are flaws in the act that have negative implications to Opic and smallholder farmers. These includes the rate of the FFB levies contained in the act provided for in the past with little consideration to inflation and rising costs of goods and services. As such, levies collected today are insufficient to sustain Opic’s operations. Opic offices in the districts are completely run-down.
“The act does not grant Opic regulatory functions. As such Opic is merely an extension service provider. Opic needs to be given the regulatory functions in order for proper coordination and management of the industry. In the absence of this, the private sector is dominating the industry,” he said.
“We are here at the Opic Kavieng project office; in 2020 towards the end of the year, the Marape-Basil government gave K50 million to the agriculture sector for the price support and the intervention programme. Of the K50 million, K2 million was given to Opic.
“With the K2 million, I have done in the five project areas (Milne Bay, Oro, Bialla, Hoskins and Kavieng) block rehabilitation and access roads to compliment the PIP (Public Investment Programme) funds on run down blocks.
“On top of that, we have two motorbikes each for all projects but Hoskins has four motorbikes because that is our big project with about 32,000 hectares of smallholder blocks. I also intend to buy a small three-tonne truck (for Hoskins).
“Our crop production has increased because of the intervention that Opic has been doing. As you can hear, they will say that they have been abandoned for a very long time. But since I came in I have put in a lot of effort to change Opic and at the same time we must increase the yield of the crop harvest.
“As an industry as a whole, we are doing 11 to 15 tonnes per hectare per year on average when the milling companies are doing 30 to 40 tonnes on average, meaning that the smallholders have a big challenge ahead to at least bring the yields midway or somewhere near to what the milling companies are doing.
“The land is there, the labour is there, but the thing that we cannot be able to do without government intervention is providing motivation to our Opic staff to stay with the farmers to boost the farmers to stay in the blocks. That is another thing.
“That is why I am buying motorbikes to motivate the staff so that they will be there. I am refurbishing the houses so they are motivated and I make sure that I continue to visit the project sites in person,” Pupita says.
“My officers have seen that I am currently making changes in the project areas. They know that I am serious in bringing the industry to the next level so that is making them to be on their toes.
“I have made a drastic change in terms of changing project managers, I have already done that for two projects, for Popondetta and for Kavieng projects. That is now the challenge for Milne Bay, Bialla and Hoskins projects to bring their production up.
“Though I am not confirmed (for the position of general secretary), I am not saying I am going to take decisions only when I am confirmed. As soon as I took office I have done my best, change in management is a challenging thing.
“At the head office, I have a very young workforce that can be able to deliver projects,” Pupita says.
There are about 1,897 smallholder farmers in New Ireland. The changes there would enable opic officers to carry out effective extension work across 2,820 hectares of smallholder blocks.
The Poliamba estate of NBPOL in Kavieng has about 5,000 hectares of oil palm plantation.
There is more potential for New Ireland.
Just like its perfect roads, the more than 200km Kavieng to Namatanai Buluminski Highway, is undoubtedly the best in the country.