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Papua New Guinea’s Coffee Challenges

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Papua New Guinea has many natural resources: gold, copper ore, crude oil, natural gas, timber, fish, oil palm, tea, rubber, and logs. Agricultural major products include coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm oil, timber, tea and vanilla. The major industrial sectors are copra crushing (process of coconut oil extraction); palm oil processing; plywood production; wood chip production; mining of gold, silver, and copper; construction; tourism; crude oil production, and refined petroleum products. The main exports include gold, copper ore, oil, timber, palm oil and coffee.

Coffee is Papua New Guinea’s second largest agricultural export after oil palm.

Out of nearly seven million people in this country, coffee production employs about 2.5 million people in 12 different provinces. Despite the economic importance of coffee for rural livelihoods, annual national production over the last decade has remained basically unchanged. Why is that?

One challenge that Papua New Guinea has is dealing with the natural forest vegetation and weeds that grow wild throughout the country, sometimes at the expense of cash producing crops such as coffee. Imperata is a type of grass that has invaded this country’s forests and established a secondary forest vegetation that competes for light, water and nutrients with other shrubs and plants. Imperata cylindrical grasslands usually experience annual bush fires, a problem that requires proactive management to prevent further destruction to land, people, fauna and animals.

  • Forest plantations have been successfully used because Imperata is shade intolerant.
  • The result is plantations that produce marketable wood and reclaim the site for other uses.
  • The traditional shifting cultivation system in the lowlands of Papua New Guinea consists of mixed food crop gardens that include yams, bananas, taro, sugarcane and coffee.
  • The “cropping cycle” usually lasts 18 months and it is followed by a “fallow cycle” that can last several years. “Fallow cycles” are important: they give the soil time to recover nutrients and produce crops again.
  • During the cropping cycle, specific species of fruit trees are planted whose leaves as used as mulch. Farmers understand the importance of “fallow succession” and they rotate crops to ensure future production whenever possible.
  • Coffee is inter-planted with other trees as shade. Food crops are planted in the establishment stage of the garden. Bananas and sweet potatoes are retained even in mature coffee gardens. So far, this system appears to be a promising one although quantitative production and performance measures are not really available.

Coffee plantation production has declined since the 1980’s with small coffee farmers steadily increasing their share of total national production to over 85%. Coffee plantation owners, a minority in this country, incurred more debt than they could handle during the boom coffee economic times of the 1980’s. The result is many could not survive. Unfortunately, the coffee quality of many small scale coffee gardens remains inconsistent. There is plenty of room for productivity improvement through better maintenance of coffee gardens and higher harvesting rates.

The future looks bright for Papua New Guinea coffee production as a result of many efforts underway that benefit the coffee trade. For example, integration of soil nutrition management, retention and the use of sustainable practices in small scale coffee gardens which are dominant in this country. Another example is the facilitation of partnerships between the private and public sectors to meet the specific needs of the small scale coffee grower. Some of specific target applications include the following,

Mateyufa Village: emphasis on soil nutrition studies and efforts to retain farmers leaving the coffee trade. Nahoma and Kenenba are two villages near Mateyufa that are showing positive results.

Fumali and Kokiniga villages in the Bena area, a relatively accessible site. A grass roots effort by a service provider is successfully helping raise productivity among his farmer group or cooperative. This is a good example of “farmers helping farmers,” something that a culture of small scale farmers accepts readily and with great trust.

Marawaka site is a remote site where there are several villages in close proximity to each other and where local cooperative efforts will hold the key to adoption of coffee growing improvement techniques. An important point of consideration is that Papua New Guinean farmers practice a complex nutrient management system which includes pig husbandry as a main component of farming traditions. Coffee and pigs have to find a balance for small scale farmers to sustain both without jeopardizing either. This means limiting pigs’ access to coffee gardens so they do not trample the delicate root system or damage the branches.

Baira Village is a remote site with difficult access. However, Monpi Sustainable Services successfully worked with small scale growers in this area and obtained coffee certification for various farmer groups. This is an excellent achievement and a model for many neighboring farmers to emulate. Coffee farmers have two types of coffee gardens: high altitude gardens in forested areas and lower altitude gardens. Baira has large numbers of goats, not as many pigs as other regions, but goats also require disciplined practices to protect coffee plants from the animals.

So, are your ready for a delicious cup of Papua New Guinea AA Estate freshly roasted to order just for you?

Timothy S. Collins

All content in this article is for informational purposes only and in no way serves as investment advice. Investing in cryptocurrencies, commodities and stocks is very risky and can lead to capital losses.

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