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Friday, September 19, 2008

Cassava project brings development to Central province


The nursery site with young cassava plants which will be later planted in the blocks.

By SALOMINA DIMARA
THE Central province is set to become a major producer of an income earning product that can bring in millions of kina from a humble crop known as the cassava.
The 20,000 hectares of land for the cassava bio-fuel project is located along the Magi Highway beginning at Saroakeina and stretching all the way out towards the Launakalana station.
There is interest among landowners to extend the project across to the Abau side.
Changhae Tapioka (PNG) Ltd the developer of the multi-million kina cassava bio-fuel project is looking at exporting its first lot of cassava chips to South Korea in the next year to be processed onto ethanol or bio-fuel and the next five years will see the establishment of its own ethanol factory on the cassava estate.
Signboards along the highway advertise the project which has brought major infrastructure development into the Rigo district.
The first “Cassava Bio-fuel Project” signboard is located at Kwikila at the corner of the junction that leads to the provincial government offices and the road that leads to Kupiano.
The other larger one welcoming everyone is erected at the top of the Bannon Bridge where the mighty Kemp Welch River flows past Saroakeina village.
The third signboard is clearly positioned at the front entrance to the cassava projects nursery and multiplication site.
The cassava project has become very popular among the villagers, most of whom are engaged in subsistence gardening, fishing and hunting to survive.
Economic activities involve trade stores and the sale of garden produce and betelnut at Kwikila or in Port Moresby.
Changhae Tapioka (PNG) Ltd is set to bring about tangible economic developments and benefits to the Central province. With the new environmental trends for cleaner source of energy, cassava has been identified for the production of ethanol as an additive to petrol. The ethanol from cassava can also be used in the manufacture of liquors and spirits. Hence cassava is also emerging as a potential high value cash crop.
The Changhae Group in South Korea is one of the leading manufacturers and consumers of ethanol.
With a projected internal requirement of about 70,000 tons of cassava and capability to find markets for an additional 70,000 tons, Changhae Tapioka (PNG) Ltd is the gate way to international markets.
PNG has the right climate and soil condition for this particular crop and more local farmers need to be encouraged to boost the cultivation of cassava.
The PNG Government is aware of the potential of this particular crop and through its Green Revolution Policy has resolved to engage the private sector in a mutually profitable private/public partnership This is also consistent with governments policy on poverty alleviation and rural empowerment.
The Government is fully supportive of this project after the signing of an MOU in 2005 and since than have identified and made available suitable agricultural and industrial land for cassava cultivation and ethanol production which will be the cornerstone of the projects success.
Already 20,000 hectares of land has been acquired in the Rigo area for development of the cassava bio-fuel project and this has steadily been in progress since the ground breaking ceremony officiated by the Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare in Bore last year.
Operations have been progressing steadily and part of the company’s incentive to provide job opportunities, training, and community service has fallen into place. The company is currently developing its estate and nursery from the 100 hectares that have been allocated for this purpose from the 20,000 hectares acquired.
Over 40 staff are employed on the estate with more to join as the estate expands.
Also there to conduct hands on industrial training are eight students from the University of Technology in Lae, Morobe province.
The third year Agriculture Science students from different parts of the country were happy to be attached to the project and contributing to the pioneering of this agro-industrial project.
The students are on a three months industrial attachment at the project site.
Their training consists of project management (practical and theory) and research methods. In order to carry out their research the students were allocated blocks to develop.
“The project plan we chose was to engage in project management practices and as such four hectares was allocated to us to develop and manage,” said Enara Enara, team leader of the students.
Planting materials (cassava stalks) were also needed for their blocks and the students managed to obtain this from local villagers in Maopa and Gavuone where two of the students came from.
Awareness was done about the value of the crop and what benefits it can bring for the villagers with this new industry and the local villagers were willing to help by supplying the planting materials.
The company also assisted the students in purchasing basic food items such as bales of rice, flour, sugar, and packets of tea. These goods the students exchanged with villagers for cassava stalks.
“We were not expecting such gifts as this. All we wanted was to help supply the students with their planting materials as we know that the cassava project will bring a lot of development to the Central province,” said Lua Teru from Gavuone village.
The students managed to obtain 18,000 cuttings of cassava stalks totaling more than the target number of 16,000 which they had estimated to collect from the two villages.
They attributed this to the general interest of the villagers after learning about the cassava bio-fuel project.
The local village women also provided the students with valuable information on their gardening methods and the different varieties that were available, which also came in handy for the student’s research project.
“We were able to obtain 7 different local varieties, some with fast high yielding rate, effective planting methods from the local gardeners for fast germination, advantages and disadvantages of cassava with other crops and major diseases that affect most cassava along the Central province” said Enara.
Changhae’s nursery and multiplication site is basically to produce planting materials for the plantation and the students input into this project were welcomed by the company.
Travelling along the highway to the cassava plantation is easily accessible as it is sealed all the way except for the deteriorating condition of some of the bridges along the way which have been long overdue for repair.
Recently two of the bridges along the highway within the vicinity of Saroakeina were reconstructed by workmen from the cassava estate.
Equipment such as generator, oxy, power drill and grinder were provided to make the job efficient and by afternoon two of the bridges had their old rotting timbers on the railway replaced and bolted with new timber.
The first bridge usually a nightmare for the travelling public had its base bolted with timber on its iron as well as the cross sections at the bottom replaced with new timber.



* The writer is the Information Officer- Changhae Tapioka (PNG) Ltd.

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