VANILLA BRINGS MONEY TO THE SEPIKS

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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 7, 2002 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Vanilla, a bean crop, is making a positive impact on some of the most rural and economically underdeveloped areas of Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik province. Money never seen in people's pockets is now flowing.

Unlike up until the recent past, when the poorly priced coffee, copra and cocoa crops limited their spending, they are now able to make choices on the goods and services they want.

Villagers are able to build permanent homes, pay school fees, and even buy new vehicles.

Vanilla is selling fast, especially with a price range of between K250-300 (about US$ 66-79) a kilogram.

Compare this with the top crop -- coffee -- which now sells at an average of about 80 toea (US$ 0.21) a kilogram.

East Sepik has become the largest vanilla growing province in Papua New Guinea, mostly concentrated in the Wosera and Dreikikir areas.

Wosera and Drekirkir have overnight become sought-after business destinations for hosts of vanilla buyers, dealers and farmers from other areas.

Farmers from as far as Yangoru and Wewak travel there regularly to collect cuttings for planting. They pay up to K2 (US$ 0.53) for a premium cut.

It appears that every young man in the Sepik would go into vanilla planting if he had the means and opportunity.

"A villager who has not seen a lot of money before is seeing K 1,000 (US$ 264.30) and K 5,000 (US$ 1,321.50). There is plenty of money," said one Sepik source.

Flush with cash, of course, people also spend it on the non-productive things -- alcohol, parties, women, gambling and customary obligations.

Papua New Guinea's single largest vanilla farmer and exporter, Alan Bird, who comes from Serengwandu village in Wosera, is mindful of this and wants these expenditures avoided.

In spite of vanilla's popularity, there is very little written information available locally to help farmers learn the best ways of farming the crop.

One high school teacher, Jeffrey Waffimbukie, has committed himself to writing a book on the crop in Tok Pisin. Mr. Waffimbukei, a 1989 University of Technology graduate in agriculture (BSAG), is also a graduate of Goroka University, with a Diploma in Teaching.

He told The National newspaper: "The idea of writing such a book came to me when parents of students I taught at Maprik High School near Wosera came to me asking me to translate what I had taught their children into Tok Pisin, so that they could use the information to grow and produce vanilla for sale.

"With my agriculture background, and seven years of teaching agriculture in high schools, I have compiled and updated an information database on vanilla production in PNG from which to draw on and write."

Mr. Waffimbukie said he had sought and was quoted a price of K 15,000 (US$ 3,964.50) to publish about 2,000 copies of the book. He, however, does not have that much money for this.

"I hope that someone from the government, the Department of Agriculture or some aid donors could come in and help with the publication of this information that will greatly help our growers," said Mr. Waffimbukie.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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