By Elizabeth Guka – EMTV News Cadet Journalist
Rice, a much-loved staple food
Rice is a common food that is eaten in most parts of the world.
Whether imported or locally grown, produced and supplied, people love having rice in their diet. They depend on rice to add balance to the meals they prepare on their table.
In Papua New Guinea, the bulk of the population in towns and capital cities consume rice on a daily basis. Even those in the rural areas, despite having a surplus of fresh vegetables, also opt to consume rice on a weekly basis based on their financial capabilities to purchase this favourite grain.
Increase in the demand for rice
With rice being a staple food for people all over the world, its demand has increased.
Countries that grow and mass produce rice, export it to other countries that cannot be able to produce rice due to certain natural weather conditions, climate change issues, or other geographical reasons.
There are also countries that are able to produce rice, but lack the technical capability or the required machinery to produce rice for their people.
It is evident that the demand for rice has increased, and also with the issue of food security, there is now a need for PNG to venture into commercial rice production.
Commercial rice production will not only secure the food security of the country, but will also bring investors into the country. This means that there could be improvements in the country’s economy, and also there could be a market demand for home-grown PNG rice.
PNG Rice Imports
In PNG, rice is imported in large amounts.
PNG imports about 98 percent of the 400,000 kilos of rice that is consumed by Papua New Guineans. Imports come from countries like Thailand, which is a major supplier of rice.
Other major importers of rice into PNG include Homestate Co-operation Limited, and Australia’s SunRice.
The two major suppliers of rice in PNG
Homestate Ltd is a Thailand company that commercially produces rice on a large scale, and then exports that rice to other countries. This is where PNG comes in as an importer of rice. Homestate Ltd., whilst exporting rice to PNG through the years, has also set up bases in Port Moresby, Alotau, Rabaul, Mt. Hagen with the head office in Lae. The company imports rice products such as the much-loved popular Jasmine rice that many Papua New Guineans purchase at shops.
SunRice is an Australian Company that produces rice as well. The company came into PNG to invest, and started off under the name, “Ricegrowers-Australia Pty. Limited, with only one type of white and brown rice produced, packaged and sold. Now the company has expanded to PNG and has changed its brand name to “Trukai”, which is now the most popular food brand in PNG, with assets including a 200,000 plus tonne rice mill and packaging plant, with 12 national supply centres in the country.
The expansion of Trukai
Trukai has now expanded to include other branches throughout the country. Trukai also produces short grain, long grain and medium grain rice products with various package varieties for customers to choose from.
Trukai also imports rice that is grown in Australia.
Currently, Trukai is supporting small scale rice farming in some parts of PNG to encourage the development of the rice industry to suite the high demand of rice, with pilot rice farm projects established in West New Britain, Northern (Oro), Morobe and Central Provinces.
So if these pilot rice projects can prove that PNG can be able to produce its own rice, then why is PNG still importing rice from other countries?
The answer to that would be to look closely at what PNG still lacks.
Though it has been proven that PNG can produce its own rice, the production can go as far as the growing and harvesting of the raw product, with the testing, milling, producing, packaging and selling of the product done by big commercial companies such as Trukai.
Reasons why PNG still cannot mass produce rice include the following:
- There is a shortage in skilled man-power
- There is still a need for more technical expertise
- No proper machinery
- Small scale rice farming still ongoing in certain areas, but cannot be commercially viable due to lack of required facilities.
With these mentioned issue-areas, it is evident that PNG still has a long way to go in terms of commercial rice production.
In terms of man-power, PNG has local farmers throughout the country who have been trained through Trukai rice pilot projects; however, there is still a growing need to train more local PNG farmers who are willing to grow rice.
Even if PNG does have the required skilled man-power in the future, technical expertise on operating rice production areas as well as the necessary machinery will still be required for the whole production process.
PNG Government’s stance
With the increase in demand for rice as the main staple food of PNG, food security is also crucial.
With food security being an issue of concern in the country, the PNG Government, signed a Memorandum of Agreement in November last year (during APEC) with the Philippines Government, for Philippines to help provide technical assistance and training of local PNG farmers to increase the capability of PNG to commercially mass produce rice in the future.
The MOA included commitment to establishing a trial rice project at the 14 Mile area, on land belonging to the Pacific Adventist University in Port Moresby. The trial rice project started in October 2018 with 25 hectares of rice being planted as trial.
Reasons why the Philippines is investing in the rice project
Philippines has invested in such a project as this, due to current rice shortage in their own country.
Despite having the necessary technical capabilities, skilled man-power, required equipment, and the knowledge on how to operate and maintain the required machinery needed for the project, Philippines faces a great challenge in food security. This is because it does not have enough of the staple food (rice) to cater for its growing population, which is much higher compared to PNG’s estimated population of more than 8 million.
In the agreement, Philippines, upon providing the technical assistance for the rice project, will also benefit from this project. The agreement reached by both countries involves Philippines providing PNG with technical assistance in exchange for being a major importer of PNG rice in the near future.
This means that after PNG produces enough rice to feed the bulk of population in the country, the surplus will be bought and exported to the Philippines, by the Philippines Government.
Achievements of the project
Upon the establishment of the trial rice project, nineteen (19) skilled Filipino rice technicians were sent from Philippines to PNG, with the necessary equipment, to assist in the project’s trial stage. These technicians also helped to train local PNG farmers in the 14 Mile area, who showed interest in learning to grow rice.
The first batch of harvest of the trial rice project took place at the farm on 21st December 2018, where PNG’s Minister for Agriculture & Livestock, Benny Allan, and Philippines Ambassador to PNG, Bien Tejano, officiated at the harvest.
With the successful harvest of the first trial rice project, positive feedback of the trial rice project has come from the PNG government and the Philippines government through its Embassy in Port Moresby.
This harvest has shown that there is great promise that PNG can be able to commercially produce its own rice.
Expansion of project
Following the success of the trial rice project, the PNG government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, has more plans of expanding the project into other parts of the country.
With technical assistance from the Philippines government, PNG is set to venture into commercial rice production this year (2019), once proper facilities and necessary technical areas are in place, which also includes the training of local PNG farmers in the country.
With that, Minister, Benny Allan, announced the PNG government’s commitment to this project through an allocation of K8 million for the expansion of this project this year.
The project will now go into full swing, with the training of local farmers selected from various provinces in the country, to be on full-time training at the 14 Mile rice farm area. The farmers will then go back to their provinces after the training and input what they have learnt into their local rice farms in their respective provinces.
The 14 Mile trial rice project area will act as a seed bank for other rice project centres in the country where the project will be extended to. In that way, the rice farms may grow and expand to increase the commercial rice production in the country, which will inturn bring investment opportunities for other countries to invest in home-grown PNG rice at a large scale.
- Second batch of rice harvested from rice project in Port Moresby
- Philippine Government eager to be PNG’s major rice importer