Green Beans from Papua New Guinea
Coffee production in Papua New Guinea is the country’s second largest agricultural export, after oil palm, and employs approximately 2.5 million people. It accounts for approximately 1% of world production, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Coffee is the highest foreign exchange earner for Papua New Guinea, the majority of which is grown in the Eastern Highland Province, the Western Highland Province, and Simbu. With the industry not derived on a colonial plantation-based system, production is largely by small farmers with land holdings that grow as little as 20 trees per plot in “coffee gardens” alongside subsistence crops. Predominantly in isolated places, the product is mostly certified as “organic coffee.”
Coffee production in PNG dates back to 1926/1927 when the first Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee seeds were planted. The Coffee Research Institute claims that coffee was introduced to British Papua in 1890, although it is widely accepted that commercial production only took off in the country in the late 1920s. In Sangara, Papua New Guinea in the foothills in the southeast of the country, 18 commercial coffee plantations were established in 1926, paving the way for commercial production from 1928.
In the 1960s, the infrastructure developed significantly in Papua New Guinea which facilitated a marked growth in the industry, easing the transportation of coffee beans from plantations to the mills to be processed and exported. The coffee industry in Papua New Guinea thrived in the 1970s, benefiting from a slump in production in Brazil on the international market because of problems with frosts. In the 1980s, coffee plantation production declined in Papua New Guinea and decentralized towards localised small coffee farmers who are now accountable for over 85% of total national production. The coffee boom in the 1980s profoundly affected many coffee plantation owners who incurred debts they could not pay off, with the result that many were made redundant. From 1986, a number of cases of coffee rust, caused by Hemileia vastatrix, also affected some parts of Papua New Guinea which had previously been free of the disease.
The coffee industry in Papua New Guinea reached a peak in 1998 when it accounted for about 38% of PNG's non-mineral exports and 13% of total exports. Between 1995 and 1998, coffee production contributed to 42% of the revenue of PNG's total agricultural exports. Since then the industry has rapidly declined, affected by a world depression in coffee prices with prices falling up to 60%. As a result, production slumped by 23% in 2000 and remained stagnant in 2001.
A contemporary problem facing the industry is poor infrastructure and frequent hijacking by bandits which is major issue in Papua New Guinea, with some of the larger coffee producers losing some 50% of their total produce through theft annually. This is an issue of law and order that is creating loss of revenue to the producers through unchecked theft, which is attributed to the inadequate opportunities for the youth of the country to get suitable avenues for education and, more importantly, getting jobs after schooling.
Increased annual production by other competing countries in the world market is also affecting the contemporary industry in Papua New Guinea. In 2009, coffee was reported to be responsible for 18.5% of PNG's agricultural exports and 4.7% of total export revenue, a dramatic fall since the 1990s. In recent years, coordination between the private and public sectors have increased as has a movement towards a greater sustainability, with improved soil nutrition management and retention and education of farmers in prolonging the agricultural productivity of their land.
An estimated 87,000 hectares (210,000 acres) is under coffee cultivation in Papua New Guinea. The majority of the coffee is grown in the highlands, where 70% of the population are dependent upon subsistence agriculture.
In Papua New Guinea there are approximately 2.5 million people employed in the industry, with 280,000 smallholder coffee growers, 660 larger farmers cultivating areas of 1–30 hectares (2.5–74.1 acres), 65 large plantations, 18 registered exporters, 51 registered processors and over 6,000 roadside buyers. However, although 12 provinces are active in the coffee industry, the bulk of coffee (approximately 90%) is produced in the five highlands
In the late 1990s, PNG produced an average of 1.18 million bags annually, of which all were exported. Washed mild arabica highland coffee dominates the industry in Papua New Guinea (PNG), accounting for 95% of production, the other 5% being lowland washed robusta. The robusta coffee is of poorer quality, being darker, more bitter, with less flavour that the Arabic variety is generally used for cheaper instant coffee.
The higher quality arabica coffee is generally sold for making espresso, cappuccino and latte in the European markets of Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy and for American coffee companies such as Starbucks. The vast majority of the coffee sold to North America is grown in the West and East Highlands on estates; mainly Sigri and Arona coffee respectively. The highest quality widely distributed PNG coffee is from the Colbran estate on the Eastern Highlands.
‘PNG’ the marketing label given to the popular brand of New Guinea Coffee is produced in the eastern half of the island state. There are two varieties, though, of this coffee, the one produced by large estates by the wet process (mostly sold in markets in USA) and the other produced by small farmers in their backyards, also by the wet process. The large estate coffees are also of many brands namely the Sigri and Arona, apart from Papua New Guinea, which are all high-grown coffee (wet-processed coffee) with fragrance and “low-key luxuriousness” akin to the type grown in Maritime Southeast Asia.
The coffee grown by the small farmers, which is organically grown, on occasions, do not match with the quality of the estate grown coffee. One of the well established varieties of this type of coffee is the “Village Premium Morobe” produced in the Morobe Province of east-central part of the country.