By Baeau Tai

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 9) - The nation's vital coffee industry is in "crisis" and faces the greatest challenge in its history, Agriculture Minister Moses Maladina said yesterday. 

At a time when world coffee prices are extremely low and continues to fall, Papua New Guinea's production performance remains profoundly "disappointing and unsatisfactory".

"Production levels are basically the same in Papua New Guinea in 2003 as they were in 1993, yet in the same time total world production of coffee had doubled," he said.

When the Coffee Development Agency was absorbed into the Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) in 1991, there was a plan developed to lift production to two million bags a year by 2000 but today production continues to be below one million bags a year.

"Instead of doubling production, as was planned, production has actually gone backwards. In 1990 we produced 80,000 tons. Last year we produced 63,000 tons which is basically the same level of our production in 1990. In 1998, our coffee exports were worth K476 million, last year they were worth just K250 million," he said.

While low world prices are beyond our control, appalling domestic production is not.

He said that over the last decade, the CIC has taken more than K80 million from growers by way of a coffee levy. 

In that time, a period in which the CIC had total control of the industry free from any political involvement, production has not increased, even though the population of coffee growing regions has increased by over 40 per cent.

"That money should have been translated back into the industry," he said.

Under the "stewardship" of the CIC, this once great industry has gone backwards with grower services such as extension services declining massively, and in many areas are today non-existent.

He said the national government was determined to rebuild the coffee industry because it is more vital to the social and economic fabric of Papua New Guinea with many families depending directly on it.

There is no alternative and economic and social ruin would follow if the coffee industry is allowed to decline further.

The answer is simple ... we must lift production and do it without delay.

The Minister has appointed an Advisory Committee tasked to advise him, the industry and the government on steps to rebuild confidence in the coffee industry and to harness the energy and commitment of growers and their communities.

"I will require the Advisory Committee to report to me on the steps the government needs to take, the CIC needs to take, and all stakeholders need to take.

"The CIC has wasted millions on court cases and legal costs. It has not spent growers’ funds on extension or other services that benefit growers and the industry.

"This cannot continue, and as a result of the law passed by Parliament, I am in a position to ensure it does not continue one day longer.

"I require the CIC to co-operate with the Advisory Committee, and I appeal to the industry's stakeholders to do so as well."

October 9, 2003

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