Grow PNG has been established to help realise Papua New Guinea’s rich agribusiness potential, especially in Morobe’s Markham Valley. Executive Director Ivan Pomaleu tells Business Advantage PNG about the organisation’s plans to make a difference.
PNG’s newest agribusiness organisation, Grow PNG, held its first working group in February this year with the aim of being an honest broker in Papua New Guinea’s agribusiness sector: an organisation farmers and landowners can approach to help maximise the potential of their land; and which investors can approach to identify business models that work.
‘One of our challenges is to encourage farmers to think of farming as a business,’ says Grow PNG’s Executive Director, Ivan Pomaleu.
‘Someone said to me that, with agriculture in PNG, you have to convince gardeners to become farmers – and that is an important point. And wrapped in that one point alone is a lot of work, including the small contribution that I am making.’
‘One of the key issues with landowners is pointing them in the direction of: “What key questions should you be asking to those who want to partner with you?”‘
Based in Lae, Grow PNG was formed at the end of 2019. It is a subsidiary of Grow Asia. The south-east Asian parent organisation came out of a meeting of the World Economic Forum to help further the United Nation’s agenda of sustainable agriculture and is part-funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Landing on the key issues
While there are plenty of challenges in PNG agribusiness, from infrastructure to increasing crops and yields, the February working group found they needed to start at the beginning.
‘Land issues came out as the biggest challenge to moving forward,’ says Pomaleu, who is a former Managing Director of PNG’s Investment Promotion Authority and was also PNG’s APEC 2018 Ambassador.
Grow PNG now has three priority areas that it is working on:
- A land agreement guide – ‘This is a document which we hope will become a reference for the purposes of advising landowners, business and those interested in conducting consultations,’ he says. ‘One of the key issues with landowners is pointing them in the direction of: “What key questions should you be asking to those who want to partner with you, questions that open up opportunities?” This guide aims to be an industry-neutral manual to help people get the land into use ‘putting everyone on the same page’.
- Creating a land database – ‘One of the things we wanted to do was to create a database of all the state leases, and we are working closely with the Lands Department to do that,’ Pomaleu says. ‘What it does is that it gives a starting point to have a conversation with those who hold the titles to the leases on the possibilities that can happen on that land.’
- Understanding current land disputes – ‘We are going where no one has dared to go,’ Pomaleu jokes. ‘We are having some conversations with the district courts in Morobe Province and they have been kind enough to share with us a list of ongoing land disputes; we probably don’t have power to compel anyone to move quickly on those but what we can do is highlight the areas that are a priority and encourage the system to focus on those and try to seek a resolution.’
The Markham Valley is already home to palm oil, rice and sorghum but it has also been home to a peanut farm and there is potential for grazing livestock. So it was an obvious choice as a base for Grow PNG.
‘The decision for Grow PNG to focus primarily at the Markhams for a start was really a decision that was taken on the basis of long and loud conversations about Markham being the potential food bowl of this country,’ Pomaleu says.
‘If you take a drive along the valley you know the potential there. You just need to build the evidence around that conversation and that is what we are doing.’
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