Local produce: Papua New Guinea’s delicious prospects


COVID-19 has taught us to think and act local. Food producers in Papua New Guinea are benefitting from a trend that appears to be here to stay.

Highlands Honey

Highlands Honey.

During this COVID-19 era, there has been a marked shift in food consumption to locally made. Smallholder Papua New Guinean businesses are innovating products ordinarily of the imported variety, such as peanut butter, jams, rice and wine.

Gudi Foods’ organic peanut butter from Milne Bay can’t keep up with the feverish demand of its customers. Even its roast nuts—seasoned with sea salt, chilli garlic and salted caramel—sell out.

Marmalade and jam Papua New GuineaYanua Kitchen Marmalades, also Alotau-based, but already a household name for all-natural spreads, may soon add to its range a coconut jam.

Of course, there are older players like Highlands Honey, which is packed and distributed by New Guinea Fruit Company Limited; they started out in 1997 making ginger, tamarillo, elderberry and strawberry wines.

A serious honey alternative is Mountain Honey from Goroka, praised as 2021’s best honey at the SME Awards.

A 30 member-strong cooperative society in Hisiu, Central, is selling homegrown medium-grain Kairuku red, purple and white rice. Red and purple rice contain more antioxidants than brown rice. The society also makes herbal teas such as moringa and lemongrass, aloe vera juice and ground turmeric.

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An up-and-coming coffee brand Central Mamina, showcased its beans at North America’s largest specialty coffee expo in October last year. This arabica coffee is from Koiari and Goilala. Owner Nellie Varmari, dubbed the ‘Coffee Queen’ by Western coffee culturists, ‘grew up in the Highlands playing among coffee cherries,’ so her nose for quality is so fine-tuned she can tell if any of the 40,000 farmers that supply her have used fertiliser.

Up in Karamui, Simbu, cocoa farming is breaking new ground, with a variety of dark chocolate. Bean samples in 2019 ranked in the top 50 at the World Cocoa of Excellence Show. The beans were noted for their smoky taste.

From little things big things grow

The Friends in Agriculture Cooperative Society is making wine out of homegrown red grapes in the coastal village of Hisiu in Kairuku. ‘Everyone was so surprised grapes could be grown here on sandy soil,’ Chairman Pastor Ikupu Vaki says with a laugh.

His 10-metre x 2-metre vineyard started bearing fruit in 2014, after his son brought him his first grape seeds from Port Moresby.

Initially he sold single bunches for K4 or K5 to villagers at the barter system market every Saturday. Kairuku is one of the districts in the country still practising this traditional system of trade: vendors from nearby Mekeo villages go to Hisiu to exchange their fish for garden food, betel nut, and mustard.

Only three years ago Pastor Ikupu started experimenting with making red wine: picking only the ripest grapes, he cleaned them thoroughly, crushed them, added a bit of sugar then allowed them to ferment for 21 days before straining the liquid and rebottling for two to three months more.

Some of the wine is sold for K10 per bottle and some is given to the local Christian Life Centre Church for communion. The pastor plans to extend his plantation, scale up, and get licensed to start selling to major town centres.

The story ‘Delicious prospects’ was first published in the December/January 2022 of PNG NOW, PNG’s leading lifestyle magazine.

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