Various Smallholder Farmers
Papua New Guinea
Various villages in the Nori Kori Valley
Primarily Typica & Arusha
1,600 metres above sea level
Wet procesed and dried on sails or raised beds
From Kainantu, in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, a rough road passes through the Aiyura Valley and twists through the hills continuing up into the Nori Kori Valley. The coffee is called Virgin Mountain due to this unique and special location, where coffee trees line the hinterlands along the local customary boundaries separating the Kamano/Kafe people and the Gadzup communities. The coffee trees are nestled along primary forest fringes across fertile slopes.
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.
Ben has long been laying the path for his new wet mill venture and provides advice and technical assistance to the farmers from whom he buys. He collects parchment coffee from around 500 producers from three separate communities, and as he travels through these hills, he always takes time to talk to as many people as he can. Community members gather round to listen and share their concerns with him. One of the farmers who works with Ben, named Paiks, is a great example of the everyday reality of smallholder production in the Nori Kori Valley. He is typical of the smallholder coffee farmers in the Nori Kori Valley and surrounding region (except perhaps for his headphones which he never takes off). The village that Paiks calls home is simple, and its residents come from just two large extended families. He is a young man in his 30s but has 3 sons and is already passing on 3 of his 5 small ‘coffee gardens’ so they can take responsibility for their own production and become financially independent in future. Harvesting is typically carried out by him along with members of the extended family. There is no mechanisation and the ripe red cherries are handpicked daily throughout the peak season that runs from May through to August.
After being picked, the cherries are put through a hand-pulper that same evening. Some more modest farmers press the cherries under a large stone to separate the fruit from the seeds, but Ben has tried to discourage this practice. The de-pulped beans are then fermented for 2-3 days in poly bags or plastic containers. With no running water, the freshly fermented beans are washed in plastic buckets with perforated bottoms in local streams and rivers before being dried on ‘sails’. Most smallholder coffee is then offered for sale to local collectors, but Paiks and the other growers in the neighbourhood now sell to Ben, due to the additional advice and services he offers.
During the low season from September to April, Paiks tends his coffee garden, managing the shade cover, replanting, pruning and stumping the coffee plants. When Ben establishes his mill in late 2016, he will be able to centralise the pulping process, bringing the benefits of mechanisation and capability for handing greater volumes and also ensuring more even and efficient fermentation and washing for the coffees produced in the surrounding coffee gardens. This, in turn, will drive up quality, values and livelihoods for these smallholder farmers and their families.