BY MALUM NALU
PRIME Minister James Marape is a passionate believer in agriculture to transform the economy of Papua New Guinea.
Hence, it was only fitting that he address the Independence Day crowd in Maprik, East Sepik, about the immense, untapped potential of agriculture.
A huge crowd from East and West Sepik converged on Maprik on Independence Day, which also coincided with the 85th birthday of veteran former Maprik MP and Pangu Pati founder, Sir Pita Lus.
PM Marape, immediately after a stirring Independence Day speech at Independence Hill in Port Moresby, jumped on a light aircraft which took him to Maprik.
As we neared Maprik, he pointed out the massive Sepik Plains on the banks of the mighty Sepik River, and spoke passionately about how agriculture could make a big difference to PNG.
Maprik currently has an estimated monthly turnover of K20 million from agriculture alone – mainly from vanilla, cocoa and coffee.
This makes Maprik one of the busiest places in both East and West Sepik.
PM Marape announces an additional K2 million in price support for Maprik to keep the momentum and interest in agriculture going.
“I am a prime minister who believes in our agriculture potential,” he tells hundreds of people from East and West Sepik who converge on Maprik for Independence Day celebrations.
“I have recognised the enormous potential of the Sepik Plains.
“When I was flying in this morning, I was struck by the enormity of the Sepik Plains, stretching all the way from Angoram to Bewani (in West Sepik).
“There is so much land that is not being used.”
“ I want the children of East Sepik to move away from a life of waste and doing nothing, to economic productivity. You have massive land, make use of it.”
PM Marape says all this land of the Sepik Plains should be used for agriculture.
He says the people of East Sepik have no better role model than their Governor, Allan Bird, who was a successful farmer long before becoming a politician.
Bird, in fact, is credited by many as the man responsible for East Sepik’s booming vanilla and cocoa industries.
Maprik MP and Minister for Agriculture and Livestock, John Simon, was also a successful farmer before politics.
“Your government is not just talking (about agriculture),” PM Marape says.
“I want East Sepik to become the capital, of not just vanilla, but cocoa as well.”
He says his government’s commitment to developing agriculture in East Sepik was evident when he launched a K340 million European Union-funded project in 2019 after becoming Prime Minister.
“Cocoa, vanilla, copra, coffee and livestock, and other agriculture produce, can grow the economy of East Sepik,” PM Marape says.
“East Sepik does not need oil or gas money.
“It can survive on its own with agriculture money.”
PM Marape challenges the people of East Sepik to work together and ensure that their province and Papua New Guinea as a whole is developed just like their fathers have done.
He urges the young generation of East Sepik to emulate the example of their pioneer leaders like former Prime Minister, the late Sir Michael Somare, and Sir Pita.
“Today, I stand here at the base of Pangu, I stand where Pangu gave Independence in 1975 and all systems of government we enjoy today,” he says.
“I could be celebrating Independence in Tari or I could be celebrating Independence elsewhere, but I have come to the house and tribal land of the chiefs who under Pangu, put themselves behind and pushed for Independence in 1975.
“I am here to appeal to the inner heart of you East Sepik people that if the country is to move forward, you East Sepik people must be the first to embrace continual national unity, and now must work harder for the economic independence we are pushing.”
Marape says development can happen on a much-larger scale in East Sepik, and he offers National Government’s support to the Sepik region, including work on conversion of Bainik Agriculture College land into what will be known as Somare University.
“We will complete the Maprik Hospital to be renamed Sir Pita Lus Memorial Hspital, we will complete the Somare University we will build the Hayfield Airport, and we will fix the main highways as well as other feeder roads,” he says
“This is part of laying the backbone infrastructure to support conversion of the massive Sepik Plains into an agricultural hub.
“To start this work, early on in my tenureship as Prime Minister, I allowed the K340 million European Union grant for cocoa development in Momase, starting with East Sepik.
“We want East Sepik to be a big agriculture and livestock zone in PNG.”
Marape says it was fitting that he deliveres this Independence Day message in East Sepik – home of Sir Michael and Sir Pita – so that the young generation can follow their footsteps by and contribute by way of God-given resources such as land.
“The Somare and Lus generation gave us political independence, we must work now to protect that as well as work towards economic independence,” he says.
“I point towards agriculture and the Sepik Plains as point of reference for the Sepik and PNG economic engine.
“I want the children of East Sepik to move away from a life of waste and doing nothing, to economic productivity. You have massive land, make use of it.”
The Prime Minister says Sir Michael and Sir Pita had a clear vision for the country in 1975, however, things had fallen by the wayside.
“Along the way, we went off course,” he says.
“In 2010, Somare gave another gift to the country in as far as public policy is concerned, which is Vision 2050.
“Vision 2050 states that by the year 2050, Papua New Guinean must be the smartest, wealthiest and happiest progressive nation.
“In 2019, when I became Prime Minister, I stated that ‘PNG must become the richest, black Christian nation’ and this statement is consistent to the country’s Vision 2050 goals as well as 1975 aspirations encapsulated in the 8-Point Plan and the Five Directive Principles.”
As we fly back to Port Moresby that afternoon, over the Sepik Plains, we cannot help but agree with what PM Marape has just told the people of Maprik.
- Malum Nalu works with the Office of the Prime Minister