Morobe proposes to buy shares in Trukai Industries

Morobe Provincial Government and Trukai Industries Ltd in a round table discussion. Photo: supplied

Morobe Provincial Government and Trukai Industries Ltd in a round table discussion. Photo: supplied

MOROBE Province wants to be the leading commercial rice producer in the country and will spearhead the national government’s policy to reduce PNG huge rice imports.

Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu declared this after meeting with the Chief Executive Officer of Trukai Industries, Alan Preston on Tuesday, June 1 at Trukai’s head office in Lae.

In the meeting with the Governor were Miring Singoling, Acting Administrator Tokana Hasavi (snr) and Chief of Staff Victor Megao.

Mr Saonu expressed his interest to Mr Preston that the Morobe Provincial Government wants to buy shares in Trukai on behalf of the Morobe people.

He said Mr Preston has agreed to take his offer to the Trukai board and shareholders and brief the provincial government accordingly of the outcome.

Governor Saonu said there are estimated 10,000 local smallholder growers in the nine districts of the province; growing rice and they have very little opportunity to sell their produce or participate meaningfully in the industry.

“Rice is a staple food in Papua New Guinea but our country imports 95 percent of rice from Australia, China, Vietnam and Thailand so there is a huge deficit with what we grow in the country compared with imports.”

“PNG imports about 400,000 tons of rice annually (98% of country rice consumption) valued at K600 million (roughly USD 177.8 million).

“This is good money being wasted that Papua New Guinea should use to invest into growing a domestic rice industry and agriculture.

“Experts claim rice is nutritious and healthy so it begs the question: why aren’t Papua New Guineans growing it. That’s the K600 million question.

“It is imperative that the Morobe government explore business opportunities for Morobe rice growers to participate in what is an emerging and growing cash crop.

“This initiative is aligned with my government’s development blue print, the Morobe Kundu Vision Strategic Plan 2018 to 2048.

“A key pillar of our policy is that Morobe will become prosperous, healthy, educated and self-sufficient society by 2048.”

The Governor said the PNG government National Rice Policy 2015-2030 focus on increasing domestic rice production, reducing dependency on imports and enhancing food security, with the aim of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2030.

”As the largest province in the country with the largest land mass and population, Morobe is strategically positioned to maximize the opportunities available to its people especially, in the agriculture sector.”

Mr Saonu said Trukai is a Morobe company as its headquarters are in Lae and it has been conducting business in PNG for more than 50 years. The company has national shareholders through Melanesian Trustee Services Limited, a PNG investment company that holds 35 percent shares in Trukai on behalf of Papua New Guinean unit holders.

The Governor said Trukai had trialed some commercial rice development with smallholder farmers in Umi Atzera LLG in the Markham District and Poahom customary landowners in Ahi Rural LLG, Nawaeb District since 2014.

“The trials brought some successes but Trukai stopped their investment because of landowner issues, lack of government support and the Coronavirus.

“Lae is the main industrial hub of the country and all the agriculture imports and exports transit through Morobe, so I want my people to be part of the action in the local economy, not just be passive spectators.

“My government will help the landowners to strengthen rice development in their communities by providing some seed capital and we’ll also seek counter funding from Trukai, other rice importers and potential donor partners,” Mr Saonu said.

The Governor said rice was introduced into Finschhafen by German missionaries more than 100 years ago and the local people have been growing rice and consuming it ever since.

“Rice consumption is rapidly increasing. Rice has become a staple in PNG households and the demand for rice is increasing due to the changing demographics caused by the growing population combined with urbanization, economic development, and a shift in the dietary pattern with rice displacing root crops in the diet.

Governor Saonu further noted that a Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) study has shown that rural rice growers average harvest is about two tonnes per hectare (t/ha), but this can be increased if farmers can upscale with government financial support and there is a secure market to sell their produce.

Morobe has thousands of hectares of fertile land underutilized which can be used for growing rice so there is that untapped potential, he said.

“If Papua New Guinea wants to be self-sufficient in growing our own rice industry than we need to ignore the doomsayers who for decades since our Independence have said this country can’t grow rice.

“That is not true; because I believe foreign importers want to hold captive our people’s crave for rice to their own products. This attitude must change and need government intervention.

“I fully support my Pangu colleague and Minister for Agriculture, John Simon in driving the Marape-Basil policy on pushing for the development of a domestic rice industry and I call upon Mr. Simon to put more political pressure on rice importers to grow rice in partnership with smallholder farmers.

The Governor said promoting smallholder rice production will contribute to food security, availability of rice at an affordable price, economic growth by reducing reliance on imports, employment generation and an overall improvement in the livelihood of smallholders and more broadly communities throughout the country.

“I will support a quota system or whatever it takes on rice imports to prod importers to support a local industry as PNG is making foreign farmers rich and millionaires in faraway countries whilst our children, men and women are subservient and locked into eating foreign grown rice when we should be growing our own in the country.

The governor also called on the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) to produce high yielding rice varieties which are tolerant to pest and diseases and have them distributed to smallholder farmers in Morobe.

“I am aware that NARI has over several decades done rice trials with Trukai and international organizations like International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), JICA and the Taiwan Technical Rice Team so they must have some good results there. I would expect the country’s premier agriculture research and development institution help rice producers increase their connection to domestic markets.”

“There is increased interest in the Pangu led government to promote the domestic rice sector through the development of the smallholder rice production systems to harness the untapped production potential for rice cultivation in the country.

“Morobe is keen to build strategic partnerships and capacity building of different rice value chain actors.

“I want to make Morobe the premier rice growing province in PNG by working closely with customary landowners and encourage them to unlock their land for rice development and also work closely with leading importers like Trukai and other major importers who hold the market and have the logistics, infrastructure and market network.”

Posted in: Papua New Guinea

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