Banzaid Manager, Paul Thompson reports on his July 2013 visit to PNG to work on setting up the BU Kofi Company and starting the project activities.
It didn't feel like a good start. I was on my way from Wellington to Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea to work with the local Baptist Union people to get the coffee project started. We were taxiing out for take-off when the captain announced that there was an engine problem and we returned to the Brisbane terminal. When we finally took off two hours later I spent the flight wondering if I would make the connection to Mount Hagen or if I would have to find my way to a hotel in Port Moresby.
Fortunately the late afternoon flight to Mount Hagen is often late! I arrived at the departure gate with time to get a can of Coke and phone my hosts to let them know of the delay.
It was something of a pattern for the trip: people we wanted to see weren't available at the times we expected – but we did get to talk with everyone that we needed to. Local body elections threatened disruption, but we were able to get to the Baiyer Valley project area and have a meeting to finalise details of the site for our start-up activities.
We achieved a great deal in the ten days. The project is being set up as a business enterprise, so we had a meeting of the company board, and dealt with the necessary legal details – acceptance of the constitution, appointment of new directors, acceptance of the budget and business plan. We met with the local representatives of the PNG Coffee Industry Corporation and discussed ways in which they can provide training for the coffee growers in our area. We planned out the baseline survey that we need to do to have a clear picture of where our coffee growers are starting from. We will use this to map the success or otherwise of the company in meeting the goal of improving the grower incomes by the end of the project period.
We interviewed several good people for roles in the company. James Leahy comes from a Mount Hagen family with strong links in the business community, and particularly the coffee trade. James tells of a somewhat wild youth followed by an experience of God. He is particularly happy to be working with us as he has a degree from Lincoln University in NZ, sponsored by the NZ Aid Programme. He will give us time as a consultant and a director of the company.
Gregory Mamando comes from the Baiyer Valley, and so knows the people and the issues. He has an agricultural degree from the University of PNG and a Master of Business Administration from Bath University in the UK. He has managed palm oil plantations on the coast of PNG, but now that his family are grown, he is keen to return to work in his home area in the highlands. Greg will be the farm manager, and supervise the local coffee buying operations. He started immediately, taking responsibility for supervising the baseline survey and organising the clearing and fencing of the land for the company base in Kumbareta.
The trip ended with two days in Port Moresby so that we could have a meeting with the MP for the Baiyer Valley project area. He has been very supportive of the project from the beginning of our planning, and is promising to expedite the release of promised PNG Government funds for the project.
PNG is a country with enormous potential, but also a country torn by violence and corruption. One of the issues in the Baiyer Valley has been clan divisions and violence. The Baptist Church has worked hard to bring peace and stability to the region, and the BU Kofi Company is intended to be a part of that by helping to improve the economic situation for the coffee growers. I left the country feeling encouraged that we had been able to get this off to a good start!