Melanesians & Australians must safeguard freedom
The mysteriously blank face of DFAT

A solution is available to a run-down Fly

Mouth_of_the_Fly_River
Mouth of the Fly River

STEPHEN CHARTERIS

BANGKOK - I read with interest Professor Howes' assessment of the huge disparity in the provision of services between communities in the Torres Strait Islands and the Middle and South Fly Districts in PNG.

I had the good fortune to visit and work with many communities in Middle and South Fly in 2006 and between 2009-2014 and offer these thoughts.

Communities along the tributaries to the Fly, Strickland and around Lake Murray are for all practical purposes extremely remote.

There are no roads, owing to the near permanently flooded nature of the landscape and families are often days by canoe from the nearest competent health service.

Because of a lack of support and supervision most community health posts and schools closed decades ago when their health workers and teachers returned to their home provinces.

Even if, through arrangements between government and OTML (Ok Tedi Mining Ltd), funds for health and education are available, the logistics of servicing riverine communities in Middle and South Fly - sometimes hundreds of river kilometres distant from the government centres in Balimo and Daru - are beyond their capacity or budgets.

There may be a way to deliver essential services to these remote settings. This involves a close partnership between the government, the communities and their rubber cooperative, North Fly Rubber, which has been working to empower them economically in some cases for over 50 years.

Over the decades North Fly Rubber has established the transport logistics to visit hundreds of remote communities along the Fly, Strickland, Herbert, Lake Murray, and major tributaries the Suki and Aramia rivers

Most importantly it has gained the trust of the communities.

The North Fly Rubber support vessel makes a round trip, all in fresh water, of 2,700 km from Kiunga to Balimo return with a side visit to Lake Murray to support growers and purchase their rubber.

I believe a potential solution to the enormous deficit of services in the Middle and South Fly riverine communities may be for the relevant authorities sit down with the Board of the rubber grower’s cooperative and explore the possibility of adding the delivery and supervision of essential services to their existing scope of operations.

Comments

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Arthur Williams

At the start of the 1980s, Pasuwe Ltd started rubber buying in Western Province when I was area manager at Kawito on the Aramia River.

I did a stocktake at Balimo and found about 10 tonnes stuck together and trodden underfoot in the DPI store. I had to sell most of it cheaply as 2nd class.

I also checked out Kiunga DPI too and there was the same disgusting conditions with about 30 tonnes in similar condition.

So Pasuwe Ltd, the Asia Pacific Christian Mission's commercial company, bought an old K-class wooden boat from Steamships Trading Co to service the Fly River from Suki to Kiunga including Obo.

We bought MV Kuku – ironically Motuan for tobacco which our charter forbade us to sell in our 30 stores. But my boss Alan Judkins and one time NZ navy man said it would be bad luck to change a ship's name.

Pasuwe was the sole distributor for DPI rubber projects along the Papua Gulf coast. Our Gordon's warehouse at Verahe Street had a large dedicated area full of 20 litre plastics containing formaldehyde used in the coagulating process as well as all types of tools used in tapping, wire and cups with separate spouts and the buckets to collect the latex.

Huge manual rollers with differing types of surface and presses.

We were very busy when I became Shipping manager there sending rubber related goods to every rubber project in the Gulf. All this would eventually change when there was found to be no need for the chemical process nor even sheeting.

Pasuwe Ltd had a chain of small trade stores throughout the Western Province and this enabled us to fly or ship in basic foods and clothing which rubber producers could buy with the proceeds of the rubber they sold to our crew on the MV Kuku.

Later in the early 1990's I was buying rubber at my own small store at Taskul, Lavongai island, New Ireland Province and farmers would come with their rubber that had solidified in all sorts of containers from the bottom half of Zixo bleach bottles, to large heavy bucket sized ones.

I stored them at a beachfront yard near the wharf and then transported the clump rubber on a dinghy to sell to DPI in Kopkop, Kavieng, where they had provided a container for me to gradually fill over the weeks before they dispatched it to the Cape Rodney factory in Papua.

It is an excellent cash crop for local farmers that easily fits the traditional village life as tapping can be stopped for days, weeks while attending to custom feasts or any other family events.

Sadly when I again lived at Taskul in 2007 I found almost all rubber farmers had stopped production because nobody would buy their product. DPI had closed its own agricultural station at Taskul so there was nobody willing to assist the poor producers.

Graham King

Hi Steve, the cost of freight to ship the rubber from the factory to Port Moresby is prohibitively expensive. It was once subsidised by the PNGSDP but this ceased when the mine was taken over by the PNG government.

Subsidising the cost of freight would provide a reliable income to many thousands of extremely remote people in the Fly River.

The rubber co-op could be contracted to provide health services in the same villages when buying rubber in return for the freight subsidy. Makes sense to me. But DFAT consultants would be unlikely to agree.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I first saw the old grey North Fly Rubber boat chugging up the Aramia River in 2012 heading for Awaba. It must have come down the Fly River, out to sea and then up the Bamu and then the Aramia.

There are lots of rubber plantations along the Aramia. Quite a few around Kawito and the old SDA mission at Aketa, where Firewall Logistics built a new aid post.

Ex-kiap and then MP Warren Dutton was the motivating force behind North Fly Rubber but I haven't heard from him in several years.

Great people and stunning scenery.

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