Sepik Plains getting attention

The National, Tuesday July 19th, 2016

PAPUA New Guinea’s agriculture industry has lagged behind the mining sector as well as the oil and gas sector for more years than one cares to remember.
There was a point when coffee was one of the county’s leading exports.
It was a testament to the focus the national government and people, particularly those in the fertile Highlands region, had on the cash crop, turning it into one of the biggest, and in many ways easiest, money earners.
Sales from harvests launched many a local company as growers, plantations and sellers made a respectable profit from their endeavours out in the fields over season.
But sadly, those times are memories as other concerns have taken away the drive that agriculture once had.
It’s not just coffee that has suffered from a lack of concerted State support.
Copra, cocoa and the livestock industry are not where they should be today after getting good foundations set in pre-Independence times and the decade or so following September 16, 1977. But there have been efforts to reinvigorate the industry.
Recently, State-owned Kumul Consolidated Holdings in partnership with Innovative Agro Industry Limited signed a joint venture agreement to develop a K55 million Sepik Plains agriculture project.
The project, which will cater for the production of poultry products, will also produce stockfeed for the local community.
One would assume that with a project of this size the eventual goal would be national production and supply.
Innovative Agro Industry chief executive officer Lior Crystal said the project would be self sustainable and provide for the Sepik provinces and presumably for other provinces in the Northern region of PNG.
Lior added that the plan was to include the development of a coca plantation which would be irrigated by state of the art technology that would be part of their new cocoa processing centre.
Kumul Holdings chairman Paul Nerau made a statement that summed up the importance of the project.
He said PNG needed more agricultural projects because that was where the bulk of the population was engaged.
One of the reasons that there is continuous rural to urban drift is because of employment. In cash society people need to be gainfully employed in order to actively take part in the community. It is difficult to do that if one doesn’t have employment opportunities nearby or within their province or region.
The agriculture industry has that advantage because by its very nature is more often than not based in the rural areas of provinces. Thus it provides a practical and valuable means for the rural majority for economic activity and the benefits that come with it.
Nerau said the sustainability of the project and indeed the sector was its biggest trump card as opposed to the shortcomings of the extractive industry.
“There is also a significant export potential for these products and this goes with cocoa and all the other crops in this project. It also benefits an underdeveloped part of PNG, the Sepik Plains, and that would be major multiplier effect for spin-off businesses which will create hundreds and thousands of jobs that our country needs right now,” Nerau said.
Trade, Commerce and Industry Minister Richard Maru echoed similar sentiments saying the need to import hundreds and millions of dollars worth of wheat and other products would be offset by the project.
Maru said he was thankful the project had finally got off the ground and he was excited at the returns that would be generated once production started.
“The benefits are so big for this country and for the area and I’m convinced that financially it’s going to be very good for everyone involved.”
But this project will not just be dependent on the funding that is being injected directly into it. There are other others areas that will need to looked at to complement this project.
The transport infrastructure needed to distribute and sell the product must be developed in tandem with the project.
The last thing the Sepik Plains needs is to have a major agricultural project undermined by a lack of good road networks, wharves or airstrips in order to get their produce to other parts of the country and the world.