Is Eastern Highlands Synonymous with Coffee?

By Dirong Gomon, Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province

The Eastern Highlands Province (EHP) of PNG is the highest producer of coffee in PNG. However, recent studies and spot inspections show that the plantation and block holders are in serious problems and require immediate assistance. The Primary production in EHP is largely comprised of coffee. Between 2000 and 2012, the coffee farmers of EHP have earned PNG more than K2 Billion through the export of coffee.

Eastern Highlands comprises of eight districts and contributes 36% of the total annual coffee production in PNG. The province exports an average of 23,187,000 tonnes of green bean bags per year which generates K162 million annually for the PNG economy. Apart from the more easily accessible areas of EHP, most of the remote areas are accessed through 23 airstrips. Theses remote areas produce about 5000 tonnes of coffee per year. However, only a small proportion of the 5000 tonnes actually makes its way to export due to the high cost of freight via third level airlines.

During the launching of the Coffee Revitalization Project in Goroka on the 1st of March, 2014, the Governor, Honourable Julie Soso Akeke stated that the Eastern Highlands Provincial government has budgeted K200,000 towards assisting coffee farmers in rural areas to transport their coffee to buyers in Goroka town. In addition, the Coffee Industry Corporation may also have funds to assist farmers in rural area to transport their coffee to buying points.

EHP used to boast of about 300 coffee blocks and plantations in the early 1990’s but today there are only 65 coffee plantations in operation, mostly under local ownership. The EHP government will provide low cost financial assistance to revitalize the run-down coffee blocks and plantations which by expert opinion will cost up to K6 million. The EHP has also earmarked K1 million from the District Support Initiative Program funds towards the recently launched ‘Coffee Revitalization Project.’

The EHP government is committed to working to revive the ailing coffee industry for the following reason. Firstly, to uphold and improve the status of the province as the highest coffee producing constituency in PNG and the Mecca for coffee in the country. Secondly, to improve the annual production volumes by improving the existing albeit run-down coffee plantation blocks. Thirdly, to increase employment and income generating opportunities for those in the coffee sector. Fourthly, to improve the revenue base from coffee by increments based on the yield and quality of coffee. Fifth, the revenue earned from coffee will be collected through sales tax, value added tax (VAT), goods and services tax (GST) and derivation grants. Lastly, the EHP government is committed to revamping the existing coffee blocks and plantations using the bottom-up approach. Above all. We hope that the strategies by both the PNG and EHP provincial governments set a standard by which other provinces can follow to lift up the coffee industry from the doldrums.

As a side thought, South Pacific Brewery PNG Limited noted for the year 2013 that EHP raked in the highest amount in revenues per province for the sale of beer and liquor. On that note, you may want to question further: is the EHP synonymous with coffee or South Pacific Larger?