Fairtrade ANZ is working with farmers in Papua New Guinea to improve coffee quality and create a sustainable future for the industry.
Coffee is Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) second largest export behind palm oil. The coffee industry employs approximately three million people and will play a major role in the developing country’s economic future.
After PNG gained independence in 1975, many foreign-owned coffee plantations were subsequently abandoned, leaving the local Indigenous population to learn coffee production from the ground up.
“Traditionally, coffee production in PNG was handled by plantations. Indigenous members of the community were picking coffee or occasionally processing it, but all the knowledge stayed with the plantation’s owners,” says Will Valverde, Producer Support and Relations Officer at Fairtrade ANZ.
Blessed with an ideal climate and soil profile for high-quality coffee, many locals seized the opportunity to independently farm coffee with enthusiasm. However, despite coffee production’s importance to the island nation’s economy, there are serious threats to its long-term sustainability.
“Youth are moving from villages into cities and it’s hard to gain access to finance. Most importantly, there is a major lack of knowledge in coffee production,” Will says.
“We look to empower farmers. It’s important to create better conditions for them and give them access to information.”
Will adds that engaging the next generation of farmers while educating consumers is a challenging task, but something that Fairtrade believes it can achieve.
“The key is bridging the gap between farmers and consumers by highlighting the unique and desirable flavour and aroma profile of PNG coffee,” Will says.
Among its many projects in PNG, Fairtrade recently partnered with the Coffee Quality Institute to run a training program for 20 farmers in PNG. The program is based on Q Grader courses on the nexus of agronomy and coffee quality.
“Over the next year we hope to build on this by conducting in-depth sessions on roasting, cupping, and coffee grading,” Will says.
In another initiative, in response to a growing consumer demand for high-quality and ethically sourced coffee, Fairtrade has facilitated an ongoing dialogue between PNG farmers and the specialty coffee communities in Australian and New Zealand.
“Australia and New Zealand are some of the more complex coffee markets in the world, so it’s important to gain their support,” Will says.
This collaboration is having a positive impact on coffee producers across the PNG highlands. According to Fairtrade, many producers are now growing their businesses and reinvesting resources into their local communities, something which gives Will optimism about the future of the nation’s coffee industry.
“There’s a saying in PNG: ‘coffee goes, kapa comes’. Kapa is the iron roofs used for permanent housing,” he says.
“Basically, coffee stimulates the economy and gives people access to basic necessities – like roofing – that we can often take for granted. It’s very rewarding for us, seeing people overcome their challenges. It’s very encouraging.”