Boosting Papua New Guinea agriculture the way out of poverty, as new dairy farm starts production

There are compelling reasons to boost Papua New Guinea’s agriculture sector, according to Ilan Weiss, Chairman of Innovative Agro Industry. It can reduce reliance on imports and provide jobs to a country full of dedicated farmers.


The reason to get involved in agriculture in Papua New Guinea is the PNG people themselves, according to Ilan Weiss, Chairman and Executive Director of Innovative Agro Industry (IAI).

Innovative Agro Industry’s Lydia Tasi believes boosting agriculture can reduce poverty. Source: Business Advantage International

‘You can try and engage a Papua New Guinean on any subject on any matter and they may be interested or not, just like anyone else.

‘But you mention agriculture to a Papua New Guinean and their eyes light up,’ he told the Business Advantage PNG Investment Conference in September.

‘They automatically engage. The reason is that Papua New Guineans have been doing agriculture for far longer than Europeans. It’s something dear to their hearts.

‘They are very open to innovation and you find good farmers everywhere.’

IAI has been operating in PNG since 2011, developing modern and innovative vegetable and poultry product centres, a frozen vegetable processing unit in Southern Highlands and its latest venture, a dairy production farm at Ilimo in Central province.

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‘Grass to glass’ project

Innovative Agro Industry’s Ilan Weiss. Source: Business Advantage International

The dairy farm will partially replace dairy imports in Port Moresby and elsewhere, increasing local self-sufficiency, says Weiss.

The farm has 175 hectares of cultivated land producing stock feed for 500 milking cows and a dairy processing plant, capable of producing 12,000 litres of milk per day.

Weiss describes pricing of dairy products in PNG as ‘ridiculous’.

‘This is a grass to glass farm. We aim to bring prices down.’

Weiss says when IAI came to PNG, they found that despite PNG’s natural agricultural advantages, good climate for a variety of produce and excellent water resources, the country was largely dependent on imports to feed its people.

‘All those imports are sold in PNG at much higher prices than they are sold in the developed world. But that’s changing.

The company’s first project, the 9-Mile farm outside Port Moresby, is producing 10-15 tons of vegetables weekly. Weiss says demand was such that ‘we had to stop exports in March and concentrate on the domestic market’.

Out of poverty

Lydia Tasi, Crop Control Manager at 9-Mile Farm, sees agriculture as the way out of poverty for most Papua New Guineans.

An aspiring politician, she came from a subsistence farming family in Wewak in East Sepik Province. She turned to education as the only way out of poverty.

‘I became a village girl again. I went back to growing food, fishing, harvesting for sago.’

But the reality of the PNG agriculture hit after she returned home, having got a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture in New Zealand, under a New Zealand government scholarship.

‘I came back home, but there was no agriculture industry in Wewak. So I was jobless for two years.

‘I became a village girl again. I went back to growing food, fishing, harvesting for sago. What a waste—to go to university and not get a job. So I decided I had to go to Port Moresby for a job.

‘I heard about IAI so I applied and they took me on board. I was working in the packing house where I saw the different technologies they brought into my country.

‘We know only how to do traditional farming. But these new technologies meant we could grow different fruit and vegetables using irrigation and I was thinking “wow”.’

Studies

Tasi told the company she felt she needed to get a Masters.

‘They told me there is a place for you in the company after you finish your study. Again, the NZ Government sponsored me for my three years’ Masters at PNG University of Technology.’

‘The agriculture sector is not doing enough.’

After completing her studies, Tasi returned to IAI where she has special responsibility for irrigation at 9-Mile Farm. Production is done in a climate-controlled environment, using drip irrigation and computerised crop management systems, which is the backbone of efficient water and energy usage.

She laments the poor state of PNG agriculture, despite its potential.

‘We have only two universities in the country specialising in agriculture and every year about 60–70 students graduate but only 10–20 find work. The rest are jobless.

‘So my passion is to further my career, get my PhD, come back to my country, go into politics and in the agriculture sector.’

‘We need to go into mass production of foods throughout the country. Why are our mortality rates so high? Why do we have security problems? It’s because the agriculture sector is not doing enough.’

Comments

  1. Steven Mera says:

    The Government has always placed agriculture amongst it’s highest priorities since independence, however our systems continue to be weaken by policy makers who lack the will to translate these priorities into tangible benefits for our people.

    O’Neil/Abel Government clearly stated in Alotau Accord 2 it’s intention, how many government agencies have effectively collaborated with it’s other to put in place mechanisms to start delivering this outcomes from 2018?

  2. I agree with Philip Leahy, we don’t need Masters Degree to plant kaukau, taros, bananas or yams because we’ve been doing that for over 10,000 years. The government needs to improve road infrastructure and create opportunities and systems to enable us utilize the skills set that has been with us for over 10,000 years.

  3. Damien TOKI says:

    I have been doing and talking agriculture for the last 40 years and am fed up. Countries that have placed emphasis on agriculture have developed overnight. The Government must create incentives and a policy that is conducive for the people and allow the people to help themselves.
    The unemployment rate is getting out of hand because of its free education policy, hence an email employment policy needs to be in place. Maybe we should also have a prepaid service policy for a change.

  4. Phillip Leahy says:

    PNG Leadership has to stop looking for the Golden Fix for Agriculture . There is none.
    What crops have been successful in the last 50 years, 10,000 years. Sweet potato, Bananas, coffee , cocoa and palm oil, vegetables etc. Support these proven crops with Good Roads, Infrastructure, Research , good extension work, soft loans, easy access to markets.
    Tourism will come when crime levels are acceptable, the Economy improves and people have jobs , living standards improve. As a tourist operator said to me in the 70’s people wont spend a lot of money to come to a place like PNG to get mugged.

  5. Good on you Tasi, but the problem for PNG is much bigger and on a much broader scale, with wide implications for National development. Our biggest problem areas are Law & Order, Youth unemployment, Tourism and the Agriculture Sector. They are all interconnected. Find employment for Youth and the Law c& Order problem will largely vanish. Develop tourism on a large scale (like Fiji) and there is a huge potential for training and employment. Put in place employment schemes for drop-outs and youth to return to the villages to develop agriculture and you solve many problems. The lead needs to come from the Prime Minister, and special funding set aside by him to firstly identify where money needs to be spent, then to carry out an aggressive implementation. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for PNG not to have a better than Fiji Cultural and Tourism sector with International Operators setting up major Resorts around the coast. They will not commit until the law and order is fixed. The law and order will not be fixed until youth employment is fixed. Large resorts need labour, food and all the assets that a successful operation needs. This has been said for many years, but never actioned. This needs to be placed as a Flagship Project sponsored by the Prime Minister, with the assistance of imaginative people such as Justin T. It CAN be done,.

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