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By John Apami

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Dec. 1, 1999 – The National)---Sandaun will be the first province to invite Pacific Island nations to grow their food on unused Papua New Guinea land.

Governor John Tekwie said negotiations were progressing well.

Mr. Tekwie said the province has allocated about 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) for islands that do not have sufficient land for crop growing purposes.

He said the arrangements were part of his effort to make Sandaun a free trade zone.

He said negotiations with the island countries, especially Nauru, were well underway.

He said initial talks with this once phosphate-rich island were positive and a formal agreement is likely to be made before the end of the year.

Mr. Tekwie has written to Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Ted Diro and Department Secretary Mirie Setae about his government's initiatives.

He said he has made land available for food production for countries in the South Pacific.

He is targeting Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Samoa to grow their food in the province under his Rural Integrated Farming program.

In his letter to Mr. Diro, he said, "I write to inform your office and that of the departmental secretary of another initiative of mine to invite Pacific neighbors to come and grow their food in my province.

"This program is consistent with the various treaties of the South Pacific Forum countries, and specifically with agriculture. And I am now taking the lead to try and help our small nations," he said.

Mr. Tekwie said the people of Imbio, Ningera, Leitre and Samararu villages have made available 11,000 hectares for the farming project.

(NOTE: 1 hectare = 2.5 acres)

He said the plan is to develop integrated food production to supply the Vanimo free trade zone development and Vanimo beef export project with food for cattle on one hand and for human consumption on the other.

He said the 11,000 hectares for the purpose could be increased to 15,000 hectares if required. Of the 11,000 hectares, 4,000 would be used for corn, maize, grass and the beef export feed lot, 2,000 for the Nauru Government national food program, 4,000 for other Pacific Islands countries and 1,000 for a proposed John Tekwie Institute, a new trade college.

Mr. Tekwie said the idea would be to allocate land to the Nauru government and other small islands countries for food production, which they would acquire and maintain under normal state rules at a commercial rate for 99 years.

He said landowners would be engaged as farmers to supply a ready market.

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

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