The PNG Prime Minister James Marape recently declared that East Sepik should become the global capital for vanilla production and an international cocoa hub.

East Sepik is Papua New Guinea’s leading grower of both vanilla and cocoa. The region is already one of the world’s major vanilla producers – the World Bank estimates it will soon rank second-largest internationally after overtaking Madagascar. PNG’s cocoa is also rated among the best in the world.

The prime minister said, “I want East Sepik – Angoram, Maprik, Wosera-Gawi, Yangora-Saussia, Ambunti-Dreikikier and Wewak – to become the capital of vanilla, not just for Papua New Guinea, but for the whole world. I also want East Sepik to become an international hub for cocoa. You have the land and organic soil to achieve this.”

The prime minister made his comments while visiting Angoram, where he opened a sports stadium, district office, a BSP bank, and a market. He added that he wanted to turn the vast Sepik Plains into Papua New Guinea’s largest agricultural hub.

“We have the biggest plain in all of Papua New Guinea. This should be the focus to turn the people of East Sepik into becoming economically productive. We want to turn the entire Sepik Plains into an economic hub which will ensure that everyone has money in your pockets,” he said.

Marape added that K2 million in vanilla cuttings and cocoa seeds would be given to Angoram people to engage in large-scale production. He also gave K5 million to Salio Waipo, the MP for Angoram, to complete several projects in the region.

“I want your partnership and your commitment today, people of Yangoru. Young men – drinking homebrew will not change your lives. Going back to the land will change your lives. It is Easter, but do not just carry the cross of Jesus if you are not going back to the land, do not go to church if you do not want to work the land.

“I point you toward agriculture. That’s the easiest and quickest way to put money in your pockets,” Marape said.

He said that Allan Bird, the governor of East Sepik, had informed him about the region. According to Mr Bird, families could potentially earn around K15,000 per hectare of cocoa and K20,000 per hectare of vanilla.

“The people here have more than one hectare of land. Every family has three to four hectares.

“If you put your efforts into commercial agriculture instead of subsistence agriculture, this is in line with the Government’s ‘Take Back PNG’ policy. It is about villagers making money on their own land. Your Government has put in place a policy on price support.

“If the price of cocoa, coffee or vanilla is down, the Government will hike this up through price support. We want people to make money and remain in their villages.”

Image caption: Vanilla in Papua New Guinea