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By Frank Senge Kolma

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Sept. 21) – QUIETLY and unheralded, the Government started airlifting stockpiled coffee from remote parts of Milne Bay province last week in a nationwide rescue effort for rural farmers.The government paid Airlines PNG K58,000 (US$18,000) to airfreight 400 bags of coffee from Agaun.

Officials from National Planning, Agriculture and Livestock, Trade and Industry and the Coffee Industry Association supervised the operation, which is the start of the government’s decision at its Kokopo Cabinet meeting last month to help rural farmers transport their produce to markets.

The aircraft made eight trips over three days.

A government official involved in the exercise said some of the coffee has been stockpiled in Agaun since 2001.

"People cried when they saw the plane. Whatever the cost, it gave me a strong conviction to help these people fly out top quality organic coffee," the unidentified official said.

Next in line will be Kokoka in Northern province where 600 bags have been identified, Ioma also in Northern province where some 700 bags await transportation, Afore in Central province where 8,000 bags are said to be stockpiled and Kaintiba in the Gulf province where an unknown number of coffee bags have accumulated.

It is understood that the government has allocated K100,000 for this initial exercise but it has earmarked the project as a major item under the 2005 Development Budget.

Provinces that are initially targeted are: Central, Eastern Highlands, Gulf, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, Northern and Milne Bay.

The government officer involved in the exercise said the CIC would help the farmers in getting their coffee into main ports and sell the produce to buyers for exports, then pay the farmers. The government only assisted in transporting the stockpiled bags out of remote locations.

The government has entered into an understanding with the Coffee Industry Corporation for a kina for kina venture to help the farmers.

When the program gets fully under way, it is expected that the PNG Defence Force will be contracted to use its aircraft and barges for the operation.

The PNGDF has indicated that it requires K4 million (US$1.2 million) to get all its craft operational for the task.

Treasurer Bart Philemon said the government was not able to release the full K4 million but it would release sufficient money to get one barge and one aircraft operational.

September 22, 2004

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