Virgin Mountain AX1
Ben Akike, a young entrepreneur who is now working with local smallholders to improve quality in the Nori Kori, is the mobilising figure here. Ben is a cherry ‘collector’– a business man who goes from village to village and family to family buying coffee cherry or (as in this case) parchment coffee. Collectors such as Ben are not simply ‘middlemen’. Rather, they perform a vital role in transporting the coffee from the small producers to the dry mill and are also an important link in the quality control chain, as they will not pay good prices for poorly prepared parchment.
Ben takes this one step further. He is building a new wet mill in the region that will receive daily deliveries of ripe, red cherry from smallholders in the surrounding area. Wet milling, fermentation, washing and drying will be managed on site. This will allow far greater control of quality than the more typical scenario, where smallholders pick, pulp, ferment, wash coffee on a daily basis on their own farms, which is then sun-dried on a tarpaulin (or ‘sail’) and then offered for sale at the roadside to ‘collectors’, such as Ben, who pay the price on the day.
Coffee is a major industry for Papua New Guinea involving more than 2.5 million people (or nearly half of the total population). The crop remains the main source of income for many highland farmers. The country currently exports around 787,000 bags of coffee, bringing in $117 million to the economy.