It was truly a boost for the Kokonas Indastri Koporesen’s (KIK) Stewart Research Station in Murnas, Madang as it hosted two ministers on the 20th of June 2020. The research facility was privileged to have the Minister for the Department of Agriculture & Livestock (DAL), Honorable John Simon who was accompanied by Sumkar MP and Minister for Correctional Services Chris Nangoi, whose electorate hosted this important government entity.
The minister’s visit was part of his wider inspection and consultation with various key agriculture agencies throughout the country as the Marape-Steven Government realigns its development strategies with the sector, to unleash its full potential. Unlike other visited sites, the minister was impressed and expressed appreciation for the contributions of the Madang-based Stewart Research Station especially in its mandated research and development role.
“As the minister responsible for the sector, I thank you. You’ve done well with the available limited resource,” Simon said.In fact, little is known and appreciated of the usefulness of the gene bank situated at Murunas; an international facility that supports the coconut industry in the Asia Pacific. Over the years, research and development has received little from the government – a fact even Simon highly acknowledges and wants to redress adequately during his tenure as the minister for agriculture and livestock.
“So we need to find these things and fine tune them, so that there is continuity in the industry. To drive through and see plantations been run down; whether its coconut, coffee or cocoa…it’s just (a) waste. They should be producing, they should be increasing.”
It seems the Stewart Research Station is likely to get the attention it deserves from the highest level of government, again thanks to the minister’s visit. This is evident as Simon pledged the National Government’s support through his capacity as the minister responsible. “I am very pleased with the way Murunas is running. But if you haven’t got funding from us, from the Government, we need to sit down and look at something.”
Simon, also the MP for Maprik, a vibrant economic hub of East Sepik, boasting a rich history of international vanilla trading decades ago, indicated that the agriculture sector plays an important part in nation building now more than ever. It is a National Government realization that strongly leans towards the fact that agriculture is a sector involving the bulk of rural Papua New Guineans thus meriting support by all means.
“You see, the prime minister said something to all of us; don’t look for money here. Go out and try to get your sectors to raise money for yourselves. And for you to raise funds to support your research and development, I have no problem with that,” Simon assured.
Indeed the coconut industry is bombarded with pests and diseases hence the minister encouraged KIK staff at the Stewart Research Station to ensure their focus remain steady on research and development.
The prospect for development and expansion is immense; from research, inter-cropping and farming systems, to value-added coconut products. Dr. Eremas Tade, General Manager Research & Development highlighted various achievements of the research center. The successful discovery of the Bogia Coconut Syndrome or BCS vector is one notable. According to Dr. Tade, this is achieved through partnership withthe Australian Center for International Research (ACIAR).Further support would be necessary for other threats such as the Guam type aggressive Rhinoceros Beetle which has unfortunately been detected in Madang as early as last year.
Honorable Simon and Nangoi were further informed of the prospect of the coconut industry and the various products now available in the world market. Newly appointed Chief Executive Officerof KIK’s business arm, the Coconut Resource Limited (CRL) Mr. Uron Salum, in a presentation provided figures for coconut producing countries that are harnessing the full potential of the industry; from the sweet kulau (unripe coconut) juice, to coconut timber. Countries like Philippines and Indonesia are generating millions from the coconut industry, setting precedence for Papua New Guinea which has vast potential to be on par in such production scale. It only requires drive and commitment from all levels, Salum stated.
ICT expert and long-time KIK research partner, Dr. Donson Kaku also highlighted current technological interventions in research & development. Kaku had over the last eight years, developed and piloted a coconut counting system at the Stewart Research Station’s international gene bank – arguably the first of its kind in the region. And with the blessing of the KIK management, the system had been trialed in Central, Gulf and Morobe in 2019. The DAL minister upon knowing, highly acknowledges the use of cutting-edge technology to enhance research.
Even the coconut industry hierarchy highly appreciates the minister’s visit. KIK Acting Managing Director Alan Aku said: “I appreciate the minister’s time with KIK. (Our) new management aspires for change.”
With a K126.5 million generated through export revenue, and approximately three-hundred and eighty million nuts consumed annually, at a value of K380 million, the industry is worth K500 million. The coconut industry deserves appropriate government support.
KIK Chairman, Kili Tambua shared similar sentiments and commended Simon and Nangoi for visiting Murunas. For the Member for Sumkar, the minister’s visit is a ‘win win’. Nangoi, a staunch supporter of copra, the sole income earner for his Sumkar constituency, forthrightly declared his intentions of supporting Simon in parliament when he submits for the National Government’s financial support towards the coconut industry. Nangoi further expressed trust for Simon, somewhat reaffirming Prime Minister James Marape’s confidence in a MP with a strong background as an agriculture entrepreneur.
“He (PM Hon. James Marape) knows who you are, your background. That’s why we’re here to serve the people.”
If all goes well, the Murunas facility will be the envy of others, at least that’s according to the agriculture minister after visiting the Stewart Research Station’s farming systems, the international coconut gene bank, and the Dylup plantation. It appears, Simon is encouraged by the general upkeep and various developments taking place at the Stewart Research Station. In the last two to three years, houses have been renovated and built; old fleets of cars have been traded for new; and off course an overhead water storage facility erected. Collectively, such is an indication of maximizing minimal resources for greater efficiency, the minister said.
From the board and the management of KIK, all good deeds don’t go unnoticed. It is rewarding to have two reputable ministers visit Murunas. It is anticipated that at least for now, two prominent voices can drive home what the organization had long wanted to raise to the National Government for the industry’s development.