Empowering Rural Coffee Growers: The Rise of Farmers in Wabag District

By: Roselyn Erehe April 15, 2024

A member of the Wabag District Coffee Growers Cooperative Society showing the fresh coffee beans from her coffee harvest in Enga Province-PNG. -image provided by WDCGCS

In a significant move aimed at uplifting rural economies, the Coffee Industry Corporation Limited’s (CIC’s) Strategic Business Plan for 2020-2024 aims to hike production of coffee by 10 percent and improve the quality of coffee beans by 20 percent.

The CIC SBP focuses on enhancing the livelihoods of coffee farmers, boosting their income, and raising their production, aligning with PNG’s Vision 2050, ‘Take Back the Economy’, with special focus on agriculture.

This initiative seeks to empower coffee growers, particularly in rural PNG areas like Wabag District in Enga Province, to enhance their production and ultimately improve their living standards sustainably.

Established in 2017, Wabag District Coffee Grower Cooperative Society (WDCGCS) was registered into SME business through coffee (parchment) purchase and marketing. It sought to help rural farmers and coffee growers to sell their produce at convenient, affordable prices at the community-village level.

WDCGCS supports raising coffee production to generate higher cash incomes into the rural population at the community household level.

Initiating Progress

The WDCGCS has taken proactive measures to foster coffee cultivation in the region. It includes the establishment of a semi-improved coffee nursery dedicated to raising quality coffee seedlings.

These seedlings are then distributed among coffee growers across Wabag District, with the aim of supporting planting efforts and boosting coffee production over the next 3-5 years.

During an interview with PNG Business News, WDCGCS Chairman Mr Kandes Nyia shared the cooperative’s aim to promote coffee, provide quality coffee using modern machines, and secure quality markets for Wabag District coffee growers.

“By this year, we aim to market quality coffee from Wabag District. More coffee planted means more income for our people,” he added.

“Coffee will help the people in Wabag District raise their standard of living, by providing an income and at the same time providing youth empowerment opportunities.”

He emphasized that coffee also plays a role in that its trees prevent soil erosion and improve soil fertility.

“People must be motivated to work the land providing garden tools, equipment and agricultural equipment to work,” Mr Nyia added.

He said such initiatives must get support from agencies, business sectors, and the government, which will help communities develop and participate in projects for the development of rural areas in PNG.

Proposed Projects

To further amplify their impact, WDCGCS is proposing two key project components:

  1. Expansion of Coffee Rehabilitation/Nursery Projects: This involves the establishment of three new coffee rehabilitation/nursery projects, encompassing new coffee planting and management, rehabilitation of existing coffee gardens, and streamlined coffee buying and marketing processes.
  2. Creation of a New Coffee Market: The cooperative aims to introduce a modern coffee market equipped with a main coffee warehouse to serve as a centralized hub for rural coffee growers, providing them with a secure and convenient platform to conduct trading activities at fair and competitive prices.

Community Support and Funding

The initial stages of these projects have been made possible through support and funding from various sources, including the Wabag District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) funds, which underlines a collective commitment to realizing long-term development goals and fosters sustainable livelihoods within the community.

WDCGCS act as the coffee buying and marketing agent, and its service providers as indirect beneficiaries in the value chain. The project is currently progressing to grow another 50,000 coffee seedlings, which is the required package through its DSIP funding volume. This would supply another 200 growers into the next phase of planting, the cooperative said.

The project has established a foundation to buy more coffee seedlings and a technical framework to support coffee production and management, and to promote high-quality and quantity coffee production for high incomes in both the urban and rural household population. 

Vision and Impact

Since its establishment in 2017, WDCGCS has been dedicated to promoting coffee development in Wabag District. Its objectives encompass not only raising coffee production but also promoting quality cultivation practices, engaging unemployed youth in agriculture, and providing a strong marketing avenue for local coffee beans.

Empowering Communities

Operating across 20 Local Level Government (LLG) areas within Wabag District, WDCGCS actively involves over 200 registered farmers, including 150 males and 50 females, with a special focus on engaging youth in coffee cultivation.

By strategically establishing its headquarters in Birip village, WDCGCS has positioned itself as a pivotal player in the region's coffee industry, catering to the needs of both growers and consumers alike.

Addressing Challenges

Despite the region's rich coffee-growing potential, challenges such as inadequate market infrastructure and safety concerns have persisted. The absence of a modern market facility has not only hindered economic growth but also posed risks to farmers' safety and well-being.

Through the proposed initiatives, WDCGCS aims to mitigate these challenges by establishing modern market facilities equipped with essential amenities and safety measures.

Looking Ahead:

As WDCGCS continues to expand its operations, its focus remains steadfast on enhancing coffee production, promoting sustainable rural development, and improving the overall quality of life for coffee growers in Wabag District.

With ongoing support from government entities and funding agencies, the cooperative is confident with realizing its vision of establishing Wabag coffee as a premium brand on the global market.

Appreciate the process

The ‘coffee seed to coffee in the cup’ mantra is a long process many often do not appreciate and consider. In PNG, the coffee process is usually done manually and often takes 3-4 years for the coffee to reach the target market.

The manual process takes longer and includes planting seedlings, to harvesting the cherries either strip picked or selectively picked, and the method of processing the cherries to prevent fruit from being spoilt is done either by dry method or wet method.

The coffee beans are then dried and milled and brought to the markets for sale. Exporting, testing, roasting the coffee, and grinding or brewing coffee are the final stages for consumption.

PNG’s coffee industry is gaining recognition for its distinctive and unique flavors from the coffee beans grown in the Highlands region of PNG. Indeed, the manual process often used in PNG reflects the time, effort, and patience in bringing out quality in the coffee beans. Thus WDCGCS’s aim is to export their own coffee around the world.

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