The rich volcanic island of Papua New Guinea is home to some truly unique coffee.
Papua New Guinea is a unique island nation, situated on the eastern reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. Home to nearly 7 million people with 800 different languages – PNG is truly a nation secluded from the rest of the world, and a land of tribes. There are two hubs for coffee production in this unique origin – Goroka in the Eastern Highlands and Mt. Hagen in the Western Highlands. Throughout the land between these two central cities, you will find collections of hidden coffee gardens, grasslands, and plantation blocks dotted between braiding rivers, surrounded by towering mountain ranges. This area is Wahgi Valley, and the source of this coffee.View Coffees
Place In World For Coffee Exporter17th
Sacks (60kg) exported annuallyApprox: 787,000
Percentage of world coffee marketLess than 1%
Other major agricultural exportsSugar, Soybean, Wheat
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?2.5 million
Typical varieties producedTraditional strains of Typica, Bourbon, Arusha, Blue Mountain & Mundo Novo
Key coffee regionsEastern Highlands, Western Highlands & Simbu/Chimbu Province
Typical harvest timesApril - September
Typically availableFrom November
The Unique Beginning
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.
The crop was introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 19th century and is directly linked to the country’s colonial history. It is likely that coffee was first grown in PNG by Emma Coe Forsayth – ‘Queen Emma’, as she was affectionately known by the German colonists – a businesswoman and plantation owner of mixed American and Samoan descent. Emma had set up large cocoa and coconut plantations in the Kokopo district in the East New Britain Province (ENBP) with the help of her brother-in-law, the German botanist and planter, Richard Parkinson. It is probable that her vast plantation included coffee, as well.
The first official record of coffee’s growth in the region was a colonial government report, made in 1890. Two years later there were reports that coffee was also being grown in Rigo – in the southwest. It was here that coffee visibly took hold. By 1897, 20,000 Arabica coffee plants had been planted on the plantation known as ‘Variarata’ plantation (near what is now a national park) outside of Port Moresby. By 1901, the plantation had begun exporting to Australia, fetching a price between 4 pence and 10 pence per pound.
Explosion of Coffee
Though they did yield some commercial success, most of these early plantings were experimental. It was only in the 1920s that efforts to ramp up production were truly made. For the most part, these early plantations were of Robusta; however, in 1928 an experimental plot of Arabica was planted at the colonial government’s Department of Agriculture station at Wau in the district of Morobe, east of the Owen Stanley mountain range. This plantation was sold in 1931 to the German entrepreneur, Carl Leopold Bruno Wilde. He re-named the plantation Blue Mountain Coffee and began to develop production further, eventually roasting and grinding the coffee to sell domestically and overseas. It is from this plantation that much the coffee currently produced in the Highlands of PNG derives.
From the Blue Mountain plantation, the coffee was carried to a colonial research station in the valley of Aiyura in the Eastern Highlands. Over the years, the station distributed seeds throughout the highlands, and it was from these beginnings that coffee – finding itself in a climate and terrain perfect for its development – truly made the majestic highland country of Papua New Guinea its home.
Commercial coffee production in PNG really picked up in the post-war years. Between 1951 and 1965, areas planted under coffee grew from 147 ha to 4,800 ha (a growth of over 3000%). However, although PNG still boasts large plantations similar to its beginnings, the introduction of coffee to the highlands opened up the industry to smallholder farmers, who have been responsible for making PNG one of these most notable producer countries in the world. Today, smallholders account for at least 85% of the coffee grown in the country, the majority growing Arabica (95% of the country’s production) at altitudes of 1,500 metres and above.
Paving the Road to the Future
Some of the greatest challenges to PNG’s coffee production have been rooted in the overwhelmingly small-scale nature of its production. Lack of basic infrastructure, such as roads, and limited access to training and technical inputs limited PNG’s production for many years. The Coffee Industry Corporation Limited (CIC), PNG’s coffee board, has worked to regulate the industry, facilitate sustainability and quality measures, and provide research and extension services to the coffee farming community. This has resulted in the overall increase in quality of PNG coffees in recent years and PNG’s increasing participating in specialty markets.