Leading agricultural commodity export earner at K2.6 billion per annum, oil palm, will come under the close scrutiny of the Government under the separate ministry created for it.
This is according to the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape, MP whose government is keen on elevating the industry to an entirely new level including achieving growth, production and establishment of more onshore processing facilities to replace direct raw exports.
The Prime Minister said the oil palm industry was critical to economic and infrastructure development and growth of the country due to the nature of its requirements for quality roads and connectivity especially in the rural sector where no such services exist.
Prime Minister Marape said about19,877 households (2011 National Population Census) are engaged in oil palm cultivation to generate income which supplements and sustains their subsistence livelihoods.
He said until recently oil palm was only grown in the provinces of West New Britain, New Ireland, Northern and Milne Bay Provinces.
However, the industry has now expanded to East New Britain and the mainland provinces of Morobe, Madang, East Sepik and West Sepik Provinces.
The Prime Minister said current and initial statistics indicate that estate milling companies have a total planted area of 133,854 hectares, which is 67 per cent of the total oil palm hectares planted in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Marape said this means that village oil palm blocks or smallholders cultivate the balance of the total planted area with 66,813 hectares, thus giving a total planted area of 200,667 hectares in the country.
He said with new areas being planted over the last few years this has increased the hectarage to about 248,667 in total.
Even then Prime Minister Marape said this was only four per cent (4%) of the total moderate-highly suitable areas for oil palm cultivation in Papua New Guinea.
Prime Minister Marape said the Government’s new focus now was out of critical concern for oil palm that were over-aged beyond their economic life occupying an expanded area totaling about 14,000 hectares which is about 20 per cent of total crops grown in the initial five producing provinces.
He said the new Minister for Oil Palm’s target is to now establish tangible development strategies to resuscitate and rehabilitate these once high yielding areas with highly productive species in order not only to retain, but to surpass their original productivity levels.
Mr Marape said at the same time oil palm feeder and access roads that deteriorated in the provinces concerned, due to lack of repair and maintenance over the past 25 years, have to be urgently rehabilitated.
Prime Minister Marape, however, emphasized that initial action had already been taken including the Government’s funding of the rehabilitation of 219 kilometres of roads since 2019-2022 costing a total of K28 million.
He said this may have contributed to increases in FFB production from 688,189mt in 2019 to 768,128mt in 2021, an increase of 11.6 per cent.
Prime Minister Marape said the elevation of the industry to a new status, and under a new Minister, will provide the formal consultative mechanism between industry and government to boost and enhance this important economic commodity.
He said this will include revision of the existing legislation governing the industry which must pave the way forward in a fast-changing world of economics and technology.
Mr Marape said it was against this backdrop necessitating the creation of new Oil Palm Ministry which will provide strategic focus to:
• Strengthening the collaboration and partnership between Government, partners and the private sector by restructuring the current OPIC operations, incorporate regulation and R&D functions;
• Increase planted areas and initiatives for expansion of smallholder sector;
• Increase opportunities for downstream processing and value addition; • Increase smallholder productivity level from current 11.72mt to optimal level of 25-30mt per hectare; and
• Increase rehabilitation of oil palm roads to improve market access, production and higher returns on investments.
Mr Marape said the Government stands ready to ensure the country realized its full potential in the industry over the long term and beyond.