Spicing it up in Alotau

Normal, Weekender

IVAN BAYAGAU writes about a Milne Bay woman who’s making her mark in food processing

WITH limited training, knowledge, capacity or use of proper facilities to produce quality finished products, aspiring entrepreneurs in Papua New Guinea are slowly but gradually venturing into downstream processing or value added production.
Whether it is for domestic consumption or for commercial purposes, these entrepreneurs are certainly setting the benchmark in developing a strong foundation for domestic production which in the long term will replace reliance on non-renewable resources and reduce imports of basic necessities.
One example of such entrepreneurship is a mother from Normanby Islands in Milne Bay province who is growing spices in her backyard and processing them into refined mixed spices.
Shy, soft spoken but cheerful Patricia Edward is a community health worker by profession who spends her free time cultivating spices from which she produces mixed ground spices.
I’ve known Ms Edward for a very long time as she is close family friend but little did I know of her skills until my recent visit to Alotau.
I paid her a visit at home to see for myself what she has to offer and found her sitting on the verandah using basic kitchen utensils to produce a magnificent and aromatic product.
Ms Edward uses the crude method of processing the spices which she learnt from her Indian friend in the 1990s when she was in Popondetta, Oro province.
She and her Indian friend resorted to home making activities after they were unsuccessful in securing jobs in Popondetta.
They shared ideas on baking, cooking, sewing and making spices while their husbands were at work.
“I learnt quite a lot from my Indian friend but I was more interested in producing spices,” Edward said.
At the time of my visit, Ms Edward had around her, a vegetable grater, a huge pot, knife, a cup, a smooth round stone, kerosene stove and of course a collection of different spices.
“I produce or buy most of my ingredients at the local market except for the onion, garlic and salt which I buy from shops” said Ms Edward.
It was in 2008 when she decided to try out the market for spice in Alotau and to date her product is quite popular amongst her colleagues who are her main customers.
“I started with basic spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli and salt but as I progressed and with a few ideas and advice from my customers I am now adding other ingredients for flavor and aroma,” Ms Edward said.
She explained the procedures as she went along peeling, grating, grinding and crushing the ingredients into different bowls.
Ms Edward went on to crumble curry leaves, which she dried over the fire and began to crush dried dehydrated chili in a bowl using the stone.
“You will realize that I use fire most of the time to dry out my ingredients, it’s easier and faster,” she said.
Most of her ingredients are measured in a normal mug except for salt which she measures from the 50 gram bags they come in.
She then combined all the crushed, grounded and grated ingredients into the huge pot and placed over the kerosene stove and began tossing and stirring constantly until all the ingredients broke down into a powder form.
She packs the finished product into sealable 20 gram plastic bags, for now unlabeled, which she sells for K5.
“I’d really like to improve on what I am doing and that is why I encourage my customers to comment on my products,” she said.
She produces up to 50 packs depending on the demand from her customers.
The market for spices is growing in Alotau and according to Ms Edward, many of her customers are housewives, mothers and women who use her spices in their cooking.
Ms Edward says she is keen on going into the food processing industry and maybe will expand into other foods as well such as fruit juices.
She also wants to improve on her packaging and labeling as well.
But her focus in the meantime is perfecting the quality of her product to meet the market demand locally.
“Once I get the taste, I will begin to look at proper packaging and labeling as well,” Ms Edward said
The government seeks to generate greater domestic production of most basic consumer and industry goods.  Hence, it has a policy framework which includes plans, to enhance the manufacturing sector and that is giving the confidence to Papua New Guineans to take up the challenge to produce value – added products.


* The writer is an assistant investment officer with the Investment Promotion Authority