UPDATE: May news from PNG - they have had their first week of buying the parchment coffee from the growers, AND they have received the first instalment of the promised funds from the PNG Government!
Good progress on two of the issues from the April report below...BU Kofi Manager, Greg Mamando
It is now a year since we received the funds to set up the project, so what has been happening? I visited PNG in the first half of April, and I can report that although they have yet to trade any coffee, they are making good progress.
There were three very positive things to report. The first is that they have negotiated with one of the banks to set up a branch office in Kumbareta. The farmers will all be encouraged to set up accounts, which will mean that we can make payments directly to their accounts. Cash transactions were always going to be a security risk, both for staff carrying large amounts of cash, and for the farmers getting their cash safely home. Bank facilities will be a big improvement.
The second progress report is around the possibilities of planting rice as a supplementary crop. Not to replace coffee, but as an extra. Rice is becoming an increasingly accepted part of the diet in PNG, particularly in the cities. They are importing it, but if they can grow their own there is room for good sales. The team have been in contact with two organisations who are prepared to help us grow rice in the Baiyer.
The CLTC (Christian Leaders Training College) grow all their own rice and have a surplus to sell. They have a 6 month practical course in rice growing. They will take a couple of students for us, and also provide technical support. The Highlands Agriculture College in Mount Hagen has Chinese experts doing research on rice growing in PNG who would be very happy to include Baiyer Valley, and plant some research plots for us. One of our goals was to look at crop diversification, so this is looking set to go!
An issue for the Baiyer farmers has been the total lack of any government agricultural services. One of the project goals is to find ways of getting these services to farmers. This was proving to be a challenge, as the official services are hugely under-resourced. They have now discovered that there is a World Bank funded programme that we can tap into that will fund the project to bring in our own agricultural advisors. This was the third highlight of the trip, as we visited the office in Goroka. They complimented us on our understanding of the issues and the way that we have structured the project, and assured us that they would be able to help!
The one big hurdle that we still have is that we have not yet received any of the promised funds from the PNG Government. This is a significant hole in our budget, and one of the reasons that it has taken so long to reach the point that we are now at. We have been told that the funds have been approved by all the relevant committees, but the local government treasury officials continue to delay making any payments.
We have scaled back the start-up programme to match the funds that we have in hand. The coffee buying centre at Kumbareta is now set up, and they are ready to start trading this month. The concern is that we have enough funds in hand to buy the coffee that is brought to us. Even a first instalment of the government funds would be a big boost!