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Cape Rodney rubber due for a replant but PNG govt not up to it

The road to Cape RodneyALAN GRANT

I’M CONCERNED about the state of affairs at what used to be called Cape Rodney in the Abau District.

The issue comes down to this: 30 years ago, along with a team of mostly expatriate people of the rubber extension service within the Department of primary Industry, I created a series of smallholder subdivisions in that area.

But now the rubber is a decade overdue for replanting. Except at the later Upulima subdivision, the trees are dying.

I cannot get anyone at the Department of Agriculture and Livestock to respond - even though I have submitted a respectful paper on the subject.

Some 5,000 people are resident in the area, so another social disaster is evolving before our eyes, and all quite unnecessary.

If public servants do their job, I am sure the Asian Development Bank, which funded the first round of planting, would be interested in a rubber replanting aid scheme.

This could be based on the latest clonal material which has already been brought into Papua New Guinea, vastly improving productivity.

If alongside such a project, an investor were to come to develop oil palm on the 20,000 hectares of vacant Amau land across the river from Moreguina, a strong and diversified economy would result.

I ask myself, is this not how employment and rural development are supposed to occur? Yet the government appears to have departed from one of its proper functions of fostering wealth creation in PNG's rural areas.

The township of Moreguina, which our 1970s team had a hand in designing, is now a run-down rural slum without phone, power or water supply. It is a disgrace.

(Incidentally the name Moreguina is not traditional: it was coined by Chris Arnold, head of the department’s rubber section at the time.)


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Thomas Gavia

The current Central Province government has proclaimed it will restore economic stability to the province while neglecting money sources, such as the rubber plantations in Cape Rodney.

There are dozens of unfinished or deteriorated rubber projects that can be remodeled and restructured to better serve the government's objectives.

World production of rubber in 2019 was almost 28 million tonnes while consumption was about 29 million tonnes.

According to a world rubber exports report, PNG exported US$6.6 million of raw rubber products between 2018 and 2019, a 30% decline from the previous year.

Myanmar and Laos have almost the same extraction strength that we possess which they have maximised and earned from $255-275 million in the same period. For both countries, that was a massive 50% increase.

I suggest these rubber projects get a facelift both in function and operation, monetise pricing indicators so farmers can get a fair return for hard work, replant rubber trees to sustain and maintain the project for the next 10 to 20 years and get back the good old Department of Primary Industry officers on motorbikes to manage these projects.

We can still tap into these projects in a bigger way than what we produce and export at the moment.

We can do it, it's just that we need the right people to get in and start resuscitating them from the ground up, not the other way around.

As long as the wheels on the trucks go round and round, rubber will always be consumed!

Hasley Kaipa

Hi, since you guys are pretty much well vested with the history of the place, can I ask some questions that I am in doubt about?

When exactly was this place occupied and under which country`s administration?

Next question is about the land which was commercialised. Are there any existing records showing the group of people or clans that owns these lands used to plant rubber cocoa and coconuts?

Who owns the land where the rubber is grown?

Rod Hale

I worked for most of 1969 at Cape Rodney as Pacific Island Timbers build a timber mill, treatment sheds and a wharf for shipping to Port Moresby.

Is this timber mill still operating? It employed 259 PNG people that year and was a great boost to the local economy.

J V Kenni

Hi, the rubber Industry has decline so badly in the past 20 years. There are a lot of contributing factors but the major one of them is the shift in the farmers attitude in harvesting. Most farmers wanted immediate cash cow. Small job, big money in small time.

Look at the price of the rubber when it was only K0.30. We had two TSR factories up & running, but now that the price is K1.00, people are only tapping trees that are close to their door step, that is where the volume is dropping and factories have to close their doors.

Yes you are correct, all these trees are 30+ years old and needs to be replaced. Government was forcing on non renewable resources, but recently at their Alotau Accord II, they priority is Agriculture, so we have captured Cape Rodney Rehabilitation inside our program.

Hopefully, this get funded, so if you want to be part of this, come to NDAL and see the Rubber Branch.

Wari Iamo

Allan, I totally agree. Am a candidate for Abau Open. I have been passionate about rural poverty alleviation through agriculture and fisheries commodities.

Rubber projects in Aroma and Cape Rodney have neglected. I fail to understand why DAL and Rubber exist. Please get in touch.

Please Allan send me copy of you paper. I like use for my policy messages in rubber blocks.

Bob Bamford

Sadly some of the major problem with the Cape Rodney Rubber Project (Moreguina), since inception, along with that of Bailebo inland from Magarida was the initial settler selection.

Coastal fishing people were never going to be successful as farmers permanently removed from the seat of their traditional social and family settings.

I had this conversation with then District Commissioner of Central Province and Governor General Sir John Guise whilst OIC Magarida around 1975.

I and the team I was with had the same problem when I was Project Manager of the ADB funded CRRDP headquartered at Moreguina 1980-85.

Some block holders were successful but far more smallholders only worked their rubber when prices were very favourable or pressing financial commitments like school fees were due.

Further, some of the lands selected for and sub-divided for smallholder blocks were on land completely unsuited for the purpose as Land Survey records uncovered late in the programme attested. Records not made available at the planning and implementation stage.

Local disgruntlement that led to the burning down of the new TSR Factory did not help. Attempts at Cocoa Development on the Eastern side of the Mori River by the Commonwealth Development Corporation, after considerable investment also failed.

Philip Fitzpatrick

What I was getting at is that any sensible plantation owner would know that his trees have a finite life and would need replacing. It only makes sense that a prudent owner would make provision to replace trees, either from external seed stocks or from their own nursery.

Expecting the government to replace the trees is a bit rich.

It reflects an ongoing problem in PNG where people expect the government to step in and fix something that they are too lazy or stupid to do themselves. This attitude ranges across almost everything, from deteriorating infrastructure to rubber trees.

The last time I drove down to Amau it was patently obvious the trees were getting old and would need replacement.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin

The rubber trees (plantation) between Margarida station and Magore/Nunumai in the Amazon Bay is withering away in the wilderness.

In all of Abau, the constituents are so obsessed with Church Buildings and choirs so the government gives to them what they want.

The people don't ask for hospitals, schools and diversified livelihoods.

John K Kamasua

True Edward. I am with you on your comment.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Maybe Warren Dutton could offer some suggestions here. The people on the Aramia River in the Western Province have their own nurseries where they cultivate replacement trees. I'm not sure how these were set up but new areas are being planted and it could have something to do with that.

Otherwise, it's a familiar story. You only have to look at the ancient coffee bushes in the highlands that haven't been replaced - and coffee seedlings grow like weeds up there.

Edward K Kila

Well the government should look at this as a priority matter because all those rubber trees are too old and we need to plant new young rubber trees to boost the economy and the little run down town.

We need the PNG government to help its own people to work and improve the standard of living rather than borrowing more money from outside.

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