A tenfold increase in production shows the way forward for fresh produce from Papua New Guinea’s Highlands


Working with local farmers to get the fundamentals right has led to massive production increases for fresh produce business Hilans Fres in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands Province. Advisor Paul Browne explains how it’s been achieved.

Mount Hagen market. Credit: Robert Upe

Working with growers to improve farming processes makes the biggest difference in getting fresh produce to market, Hilans Fres Advisor Paul Browne tells Business Advantage PNG.

Hilans Fres is the fresh produce business of major highlands trader Tininga Fresh Produce, based in Mt Hagen.

Tininga has around 500 farmers on its books; 20 to 30 are regular suppliers and the numbers are growing in a sustainable, commercial manner.

‘Hilans Fres has gone from delivering around 15 tonnes [of fresh produce] per month to now 160 tonnes per month.’

‘We assist with the distribution of fresh produce from specific areas, mostly rural, to several major centres, with the majority going to Port Moresby,’ Browne says.

Supply chain

Hilans Fres is the largest regular supplier of fresh produce from the Western Highlands and Jiwaka Provinces. Credit: Tininga

Over the past six years, the company has grown significantly and is working with the supply chain to improve the distribution process from end to end.

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‘Hilans Fres has gone from delivering around 15 tonnes [of fresh produce] per month to now 160 tonnes per month.’

‘We’ve been gradually building up systems and the Hilans Fres extension team is working with farmers to improve the way produce is grown in the field and how it gets to the depot,’ he says.

‘The single biggest challenge we have is getting the growers to understand crops are a live entity, with respiration still occurring after harvested.’

‘It is critical the farmers get the crop to a depot as quickly as possible and without physically damaging it,’ he adds.

‘While there are many refinements to the process, fundamentally it’s about getting the crop into the cool chain process and down to optimum temperature as soon as possible after harvest.

‘Removing field heat and maintaining optimum temperature throughout the supply chain is critical to ensuring good shelf-life.

‘We’ve seen the major supermarkets make great improvements in how they manage fresh produce in store, which is great.’

Infrastructure challenges

The majority of Hilans Fres supply travels by road and sea to Port Moresby via Lae’s port.

Sea freight offers better value, costing around one kina per kilogram compared with up to seven kina per kilogram by air.

With road infrastructure in some areas deteriorating, getting produce to the port is a significant challenge for the company.

‘With the correct drying processes in place, the local onions have potential to replace imports,’ he says.

‘It’s a constant challenge to maintain power to the reefer containers and to maintain cool temperature.’

Poor roads also result in physical damage from produce moving during transport.

‘Hilans Fres has put a lot of effort into finding ways to reduce the risks and have designed special packaging that will withstand being transported on PNG’s difficult road network,’ he says.

Local production

Farmer John Pekri and his family have installed a small irrigation system using profits from the sale of vegetables and have also built a new house. Credit: Tininga

The company has found ways to transport most produce effectively by sea including: broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and capsicum, which Browne says has previously been difficult to achieve.

While shipping produce is a cheaper option, the two major shipping companies only operate their service from Lae to Port Moresby on a Saturday and Sunday, he explains.

‘It would make a huge difference to have a mid-week service because waiting a whole week if you miss the Sunday service is a problem.’

Tininga hopes to develop PNG’s supply of crops to reduce its reliance on imports.

One crop considered to have a large potential is brown onions, Browne says.

‘Large quantities are regularly imported from New Zealand. However, Hilans Fres is encouraging local growers in Simbu, Jiwaka and Western Highlands provinces to plant onions.’

‘With the correct drying processes in place, the local onions have potential to replace imports,’ he says.

‘There is a lot of potential in PNG, and the progress we’ve seen from the farm through to the supermarket is exciting,’ he adds.

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