16 Nov 2021

Oil Search and Kumul Petroleum: Community development in PNG

Hela, a province in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, is an area host to many natural resource projects. Despite its natural wealth, a significant part of the population are subsistence farmers who subside on a staple diet of tubers such as sweet potato (kaukau) and cassava, which are high in starch but low in protein. One of the best available sources of protein is pork, but access is often insufficient due to high costs. As such, it’s a combination that can lead to malnutrition.

Business for Development, an Australian not-for-profit, in association with local operators Oil Search, Kumul Petroleum and five local land cooperatives, formed Wonderland Agristock Ltd, sharing a vision to develop a community enterprise program in Hela with a strong social development component. The Community Enterprise Program took shape as a locally owned and operated agribusiness following an initial pilot project near Port Moresby that helped to lay the groundwork for the team.

Business for Development Chief Executive Officer Karen James (aka KJ) explains to APPEA that while there were logistical challenges associated with development in the region, the pilot’s success helped to lay the groundwork that allowed the team to expand to Hela.

“That pilot confirmed that we could formulate stockfeed from raw ingredients in the Highlands, which meant we could have an actual livestock program in Hela,” KJ says.

“Most livestock businesses fail because stockfeed is too expensive, so the work funded by Oil Search to do that pilot was absolutely critical to this program, and they have continued to support the program through Phase 1.”

The team created Wonderland Agristock Ltd to realise their ambitions for a hybrid commercial entity with a community development component built primarily around pig rearing.

The piggery concept was chosen in part because most of the country’s pork is imported, making it an expensive choice in a country where roughly 37.5% of the population lives below the National Poverty Line.

The recently completed first phase of development has focused on refreshing the soil, building a greenhouse, and growing tubers such as kaukau and cassava to be graded and used as either produce or stockfeed.

Logistical challenges, including the unexpected development of COVID-19 in early 2020, have largely been surmountable, KJ says, thanks to the strength of the project’s core team.

“All of the governance, leadership and accountability we have has created the momentum to enable us to work through systemic changes and complex social issues and achieve a vision that is big by design,” KJ says.

Phase 1 of the project has proved successful, attracting around 2,000 participants, most of them women, and the second phase of the project is now in progress.

Phase 2 focuses on the development of the piggery itself, which is expected to be complete by 2022. Future plans are also in place to expand the project to other provinces too.

Overall, the Hela community enterprise project as envisioned through Wonderland Agristock Ltd offers considerable potential to develop opportunities that play to local cultural strengths while helping to lift the area’s overall standard of living.

“The inherent design of the program plays to the strengths of the family farming model, the understanding of the vegetables that need to be grown for the stockfeed, and the rearing of pigs – those are the three main ingredients,” KJ says.

“The design of the project plays to the strengths of the culture.”

For more information about the Hela Community Enterprise Program, visit businessfordevelopment.org/community-enterprise.