Fairtrade is providing small-scale producers in Papua New Guinea with access to advanced training to improve the quality and consistency of their coffee.
Not long ago, Papua New Guinea was one of the leading suppliers of coffee to Australia, providing more than half the nation’s imports. However, after PNG gained independence in the 1970s and quotas and duties were lifted off other origins in the 1980s, Australia began looking elsewhere to source its coffee.
This led to a decline in PNG’s coffee production, a drop Fairtrade says is falsely attributed to the nation’s coffee quality. Due to this, its single origin potential is often overlooked.
Fairtrade works with smallholders and cooperatives in PNG to improve their farming practices and the reputation of their coffee. In June 2019, Fairtrade arranged for Hernando Tapasco from the Coffee Quality Institute to travel to PNG to share his extensive and scientific agronomy knowledge with producers.
Hernando, who has a background as a producer in Colombia, considers PNG coffee different to any other country’s.
“You can find spice notes like cinnamon, cloves, and coriander seeds, or flavours like caramel, vanilla, and sugarcane. Then in another region of PNG, you can find citrus or lemongrass. It’s very difficult to find this [array of] flavour in other countries,” Hernando says. “In my country, the classic Colombian coffee has a bright acidity, clean cup, and chocolate or hazelnut tasting notes. For me, [PNG has] more complexity in the flavours.”
Despite this diversity, Hernando says PNG appears to only grow a few varieties of coffee. He names Mundo Novo, Red Bourbon, and Caturra in particular.
“These are traditional varieties and [have] the micro cultures to obtain top quality,” Hernando says. “The environmental conditions too – high altitudes with different temperature ranges – produce good, green berries with dense flavour. The coffee in PNG is definitely very exotic for me.”
While PNG is capable of producing interesting and high-quality coffee, Hernando says its producers are lagging behind other countries due to a lack of access to information.
“The people here use different customs and traditions, and their technology is not necessarily the biggest and best equipment,” he says.
“They have good environmental conditions that can produce top quality coffee, but it’s necessary to share more information with small producers. Colombia has knowledge it can share with PNG and other [producing] countries, and vice versa.”
Hernando and Fairtrade Producer Support and Relations Officer Will Valverde ran intensive training sessions with a group of Fairtrade-certified producers during his trip. These courses covered best practices in coffee picking, drying, fermentation, and storage, as well as education on why these processes are used instead of just how to do it. Hernando says much of this information was new to the producers.
“It was like a revelation for them, and for me, it was also very exciting because it’s almost like travelling to another planet where things are done differently. When I was picking with the producers, it was fascinating because they did it completely differently to how we would in Colombia,” Hernando says. “It’s definitely difficult to produce top quality coffee in PNG. They need more access to information and for consumers to be aware of the importance of supporting them.”
He adds that the producers take pride in what they do and are willing to work hard to improve their coffee quality.
“This is my first experience working with Fairtrade, but I can already see the producers are very interested in and curious about new knowledge,” Hernando says.
The main hurdle he had to face was the language barrier, communicating the detailed information to farmers in a way they could understand.
“There are many institutions, scientists, and researchers in different countries, but unfortunately, they’re rarely willing to travel to other regions to communicate their inventions or discoveries,” he says. “That’s why I’m grateful Fairtrade gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with the producers of PNG.”
One of the farmers who participated in Hernando’s training was Badi Darepi of the Nenuma cooperative. He says the sessions will help him enlighten his cooperative about best farming practices.
“Fermentation [knowledge] is very helpful. The farmers are already doing some of these processes themselves, but they don’t really know why they are doing it or how it works. Now, we can share this information and think one step more scientifically about the processing,” Badi says. “The training provided us with confidence. It really explained the process of fermentation, as well as cupping. Coffee buyers would tell us our coffee has these different flavours or notes, but this session really taught us what this means.”
Lina Nolo, the women’s representative of the Keto-Tapasi Progress Association cooperative at the training, says the experience will improve the coffee her cooperative produces.
“I thought that we were making an organic, nice, clean coffee, but after the training, I realised that we haven’t looked after some of our coffees as carefully as we could have,” Lina says. “Especially the ripeness. We’d pick the coffee [too early], but I now know what colour we should be looking for. I’ll teach [the rest of the cooperative] how to use the equipment, properly dry their coffee, and all the other processes.”
She says it’s important smaller producers share this information with each other.
“Our group always encourages one another,” Lina says. “I am very interested in going back to teach my old mama. Our only resource is coffee, nothing else, so we need to make the best quality possible.”
James Nop of the Untpina cooperative says the smaller farmers he works with in particular will benefit from the information presented at the training.
“Untpina is not a big cooperative. There’s a small number of farmers we’re trying to develop,” James says. “The training that I attended today with my colleagues and team members, I will bring back and teach to them.”
Hernando says he’s thankful to Fairtrade for their invitation to PNG.
“For me, it’s very important to share as much information with producers as I can. PNG coffee is definitely very good, but it’s not only because of the environmental conditions. It’s the people too. They’re very kind, friendly, and want to do a good job,” Hernando says.
This article appears in FULL in the October edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.
For more information, visit www.fairtrade.com.au
Images: Josh Griggs/Fairtrade ANZ