PNG spends about K600 million to import 400,000 tonnes of rice a year to meet the demand because there has been little attempt to grow rice on a large scale locally. Department of Agriculture and Livestock rice extension unit programme manager HEAI HOKO talks to Business reporter PETER ESILA about the issue
THE three big rice manufactures and distributors are Trukai Industries Ltd (Trukai rice), Goodman Fielders (Skel rice) and Homestate Cooperative Ltd (Star rice).
There are other smaller brands in the market.
The Department of Agriculture and Livestock data shows that PNG currently produces around 4,500 tonnes of rice per year – a substantial volume except that they are not properly marketed and distributed.
Much of this production remains at the smallholder level and lack support to expend production and sell commercially to meet local demand and lower the rice import level.
There are 12,902 smallholder rice farmers currently involved in rice production, using 3,663 hectares of land.
PNG needs to develop around 60,000 hectares of rice to meet local demand.
It needs to produce sufficient volumes of rice to meet domestic demand and lessen the dependency on imported rice in the long term.
The Government needs to seriously invest in large-scale rice farming with partners in the private sector to develop rice on a commercial scale.
The National Rice Policy (2015-2030) aims to make the country a rice producer and exporter.
The Government is focusing on commercial rice production with the private sectors and development partners to reduce reliance on imported rice and encourage self-sufficiency.
There are opportunities to grow rice around the country with Morobe already into it.
West New Britain farmers said they have a lot of land there and want to grow rice in a big way.
They have 10,000 to 20,000 hectares and in some areas, 50,000 to 100,000 hectares.
But these are covered in forests which have to be cleared to plant rice.
What we do is to roll out rice farming on available land.
Oil palm is the major crop there but some want to use their land for rice farming instead.
The department plans to supply seed banks in Maprik, East Sepik; Central for Southern; Kimbe for the New Guinea Islands; and, Jiwaka for the Highlands.
The idea for the seed garden is to grow certified seeds to maintain standards, have quality control of the seeds, and then distribute them to the districts.
There is a plan to conduct a pilot rice farming in Central Sepik and in Angoram.
The requirement is 60kg of seeds per hectare.
Provinces have to advise the department on the amount of seeds they want and the areas to be planted.
The rice industry commodity board is being planned to follow commodity boards for other cash crops.
Cocoa, coffee, spice, rubber are oil palm are big industries now.
People are on the ground now doing the same for rice – plantations, smallholders, buyers, processors and exporters.
The strategy is to create a corporate entity to drive rice drastically.
Setting up a rice industry board can help workers better organise themselves.
The Government can recognise rice production and put in adequate funding to develop it.
The strategy now is to create smallholder and large-scale mechanised rice farming.
Small people in the Markham valley, Morobe, and elsewhere are doing large-scale mechanised farming.
It is what the department wants to see elsewhere.
In the long run, PNG has the potential to export rice to Asia.
Rice grown here is not being exported.
But Trukai, which imports rice to be milled and packaged in PNG, distribute the finished product to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu under its brand name.
But there is potential to export PNG-grown rice if it grown and produces on a large scale.
Countries which may buy PNG-grown rise are members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies such as Indonesia, Philippines and China.
Indonesia has about 270 million people who need more supplies of rice to feed its people.
They need rice even though they are a rice-growing country.
Philippines had stated in the past that they needed more rice to feed its 100 million people.
China has more than one billion people.
PNG’s priority is to grow enough rice to meet local demand before it can start thinking of exporting.
That is why the department is focusing now on the Sepik plains because it can export rice from Wewak or Vanimo directly to the Philippines, Indonesia and China.
Smaller rice brands are being produced, milled and packaged.
They are yet to establish their brand to compete with Trukai and Goodman Fielder.