PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Jan. 23) – Coffee is the renewable lifeblood of Papua New Guinea’s Highlands and an important artery for the national economy as well. Without it, we would be far worse off than we are. That is why the news that coffee prices are soaring is a big fillip for the economy, both at the top end and at the grassroots level.

Coffee industry veteran Ricky Mitio says the prices are shooting up because of the effects of hurricanes on production in the Central America countries. The original predictions of coffee output in those countries has been cut back by 20 per cent and seeing as that region is among the big players on the world market, the effects are flowing through to price rises. Yet we may not be in the best position to take full advantage of the calamity, which has struck the Central Americas.

Mr. Mitio, the chief executive officer of the Coffee Industry Corporation, says exporters have already sold all their stocks of green coffee and are out looking for more to supply the thirsty buyers from overseas.

The traditional coffee season in our Highlands ended last month, he said, but believes there is still coffee left in the villages. Which brings up a vexing point: Is that coffee still lying in the roundhouses of Okapa, Lufa, Asaro, Baiyer, Wahgi and Nebilyer villages, waiting for better roads? Are there bags of coffee beans sitting in more remote villages in the Morobe, Sepik and Madang mountains because airstrips are out of action? Will the Government’s green revolution come to the rescue via the use of Defense Force planes to lift the coffee out of the hills and deposit it at factory doors in Mount Hagen and Goroka? It has been a repeated complaint in past years that Papua New Guinea is incapable of reaping the full potential of such short-term windfalls because the coffee industry has been faltering. Growers in some areas have become despondent and let crops wither because of the difficulties in getting their coffee to main markets. Roads have become impassable and airstrips have been run down. In other areas, tribal fighting has its effects where enmities are acted out by chopping plantations of trees to the ground.

If the industry is to bear to the best of its potential, these factors and more will have to be confronted and solved.

We wish the corporation all the best in dealing with difficult conditions. They will need the best and most committed goodwill from their political masters too. When oil, gas and gold run out, coffee trees will still be putting their roots down and producing their red cherry money earners.

January 24, 2006

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