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By James Gumuno

MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea (January 5, 1999 - The National)---The infant citrus industry in Papua New Guinea will collapse if the National Government does not step in to help solve the various problems farmers face, according to the independent Fresh Produce Development Company here.

FPDC Highlands horticulturist Ario Movis said the citrus project initiated by the National Government in early 1985 was now abandoned because farmers were faced with many problems. Among them is the need to find suitable root stock varieties that could bear fruit under PNG conditions.

Mr. Movis said that apart from the lack of suitable root stock varieties, lack of nursery supplies, poor management, competition from imported fruits and training of and advice to farmers were other major problems affecting the industry in the country.

The National Government started the project to enable local farmers to supply fresh citrus fruits for domestic consumption, to supply raw materials to make fruit juice drinks and to supply overseas markets.

However, the citrus industry has achieved only part of its objective and that is to supply the domestic market, he said.

He said that PNG has very good climatic conditions to grow its own fresh fruits for the local market and to process the fruits to finish products, which can save money on imports. But this is not happening.

Mr. Movis said that due to a lack of finance, no extension services were provided to the citrus farmers and as a result this has affected production and marketing. Local products are still regarded as second grade compared to imported citrus fruits from Australia and New Zealand.

A survey found that 75 percent of the small-holder citrus farmers in the Highlands did not have proper management. It found that essential management practices like pruning out diseased branches, spraying pesticides, fertilizer application and improving drainage were poor, resulting in low yields and poor quality fruits.

He said fresh citrus will still be imported in increasing quantities unless the small-holder starts to increase production and produce good quality fruits to compete with the imported fresh fruits.

Mr. Movis said that currently PNG imports about 750 tons of fresh citrus fruits from Australia and New Zealand where as it has the potential to produce around 30 tons per hectare every year to met the demand.

He wants to see the authorities concerned fund extension services in the citrus industry to improve production techniques and quality fruits for domestic consumption and export.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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