| My Land,My Country
LAE - Two years ago, we were passing through from Western Highlands and stopped by at Jerry Kapka’s coffee factory along the Chuave section of the highway.
Mr Kapka is the owner of Kongo Coffee, one of the biggest brands in Papua New Guinea.
We had stopped for a coffee. But it so happened Mr Kapka was there and the five minute chat turned into a three hour discussion about his life and work.
Jerry Kapka has come a long way.
Twenty years ago, the Kongo brand was unknown. While his people grew coffee, they had very little say over prices which were controlled by companies established long before Papua New Guinea’s political independence.
It was an uphill battle.
A price war began between the small under-resourced coffee start-up and large companies owned and operated by foreigners.
Among other strategies, Jerry Kapka offered a higher price for beans from village farmers, sometimes doubling the price.
“I went to the growers and asked them how much they wanted. They named their price and I said you got it.”
Coffee growers flocked to Kongo Coffee.
He then expanded his reach into the Eastern Highlands and eventually wrestled a sizable market share.
As the afternoon chill set in, I took another sip of the strong Mt. Elimbari blend in the fading light and pulled over the hoodie as I listened to his story.
Inside his factory, Mr Kapka showed me his fully automated processing line. It is an investment that he has added to over the last 10 years. The centrepiece is a machine that identifies and removes low quality beans.
Mr Kapka has always prided himself on producing quality. While his primary business is coffee exports, his packaged coffee blends have become a much sought after item on the international market.
He scooped up a handful of beans of various sizes rejected in processing.
“This is what they buy from us to make instant coffee. Don’t buy instant coffee,” he laughed. “It’s low quality stuff.”
The conversation with Jerry Kapka went on for another hour until 7pm when we left for Goroka.
The discussion about low quality beans and instant coffee stuck in my mind. Jerry Kapka was the second person to tell me about this.
The first was Michael Toliman, a good friend and patriot, who keeps a copy of Papua New Guinea’s ‘National Goals and Directive Principles’ beside him always.
Michael, a former Coffee Industry Corporation extension officer, spent about a decade working with coffee growers in Boana in rural Morobe. They developed the Neknasi Coffee Cooperative and began exporting to Australia.
He told me that Papua New Guineans don’t really appreciate their own world class coffee. Instead they choose to buy cheap instant coffee power imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
As for me, I’ve always appreciated good PNG coffee.
The first time ever, I got a taste of it was from my dad’s office percolator in Goroka when he was Deputy Administrator.
The caffeine gives me headaches these days. But it doesn’t stop me drinking coffee.
Every blend has a story. A story about people, their struggles and their successes.
Kongo Coffee is the story about how a small PNG company took on the big guns in the industry and gave a better price to the people who deserved it.
There are many names today – Neknasi, Menyamya, Awute, Kainantu, Sigri, Elimbari. Each have a story.
My conversations with Michael Toliman and Jerry Kapka gave me a better appreciation of who I am supporting whenever I buy a K50 Goroka coffee pack or a K14 Elimbari blend.
Buying a cappuccino, latte or an espresso from a café that serves PNG coffee is the best thing you can do for PNG coffee growers.
That money trickles back into the growers at Mt Elimbari in Simbu or Asaroka in Eastern Highlands or Hagen Central.
Papua New Guineans who have money to spare, go buy good PNG coffee. You’re supporting your people in rural Papua New Guinea.