PAPUA NEW GUINEA
GIN & TONIC, LEMON CITRUS, CARAMEL
Farm Name | Lamari River Valley Coffee Gardens
Region | Obura-Wonenara District
Process | Washed
Variety | Arusha , Blue Mountain , Bourbon, Typica
Altitude | 1700-2000m
About the Farm
The Lamari blend is named for the Lamari River that flows through the Eastern Highlands. The remarkable quality of this coffee is a direct result of years of extension services and work with smallholder producer groups on improving picking, pulping, sorting, fermentation and drying practices.
History of Coffee in PNG
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a relative newcomer to the specialty coffee scene. The remote locations of the nation’s smallholders—who produce 85% of total coffee in the country—combined with historically-poor infrastructure has made the transition to specialty difficult. Nonetheless, the country is working towards innovative solutions that will lead to better quality coffee and improved livelihoods for the nation’s smallholder coffee producers.
Coffee’s introduction to PNG is directly related to the country’s colonial past. Emma Coe Forsayth was a businesswoman and plantation owner of American-Samoan descent who lived in the East New Britain Province in PNG. She was known to many of the German settlers in the area as “Queen Emma” or “Queen of New Guinea” for her extravagant parties, funded by her highly successful coconut and cacao plantations. She purchased and cultivated the land with the help of her brother-in-law, the German botanist Richard Parkinson. It is extremely likely that her extensive swathes of land around the province’s capital, Kokopo also contained coffee trees.
The first official record of coffee in the region can be found in an 1890 colonial government report, right in the midst of the height of Forsayth’s commercial power. The news of coffee’s profitability obviously spread quickly because by 1892, there were reports that coffee was also being grown in Rigo, a district nearly 800 kilometers, plus several bays, away.
It was from Rigo that coffee grew its hold in PNG. By 1897, Variarata, a plantation situated outside of Port Moresby and a little northwest of Rigo, had planted 20,000 Arabica trees. Four years later in 1901, soon after the trees began bearing cherry, the plantation began exporting to Australia, where the cherry fetched between 4 and 10 pence per pound (in today’s money, around AU$2.60 to AU$6.49 per pound).
While early plantations like Variarata did find some commercial success, most plantations were intended more as experiments than as true commercial enterprises. It was not until the late 1920s that businessowners made a concerted effort to increase production to commercial levels.
In 1928, the colonial government planted a plot of Arabica at a Department of Agriculture station at Wau in the Morobe district. In 1931, the plantation was sold to a German entrepreneur named Carl Leopold Bruno Wilde. Wilde renamed the plantation Blue Mountain Coffee. Later, he began producing roasted and ground coffee for both domestic and international consumption.
Most plants grown in the PNG Highlands today can be genetically linked to plants that grew on the Blue Mountain Coffee plantation in the 1930s. We can follow these genetic precursors to modern Highland plants as they traveled from Blue Mountain Coffee to another station a little more than 250 kilometers northwest in the Aiyua Valley in the Eastern Highlands. Then, they spread across the highlands over the course of many years as the station distributed seeds to smallholder farmers.
The journey coffee took from Queen Emma’s plantation near Kokopo, which was at least 450 kilometers from the nearest shore on the PNG mainland, to Rigo, Morobe and finally the Eastern Highlands spanned more than 1,300 kilometers and took nearly half a century. But this last stop in the Eastern Highlands offered the perfect climate and terrain for coffee’s development. Coffee growing in the Eastern Highlands benefits from a combination of superb climatic conditions, rich soils and the increasing attention and knowledge of smallholder farmers and has helped coffee from PNG make a globally-recognized name for itself.
Commercial coffee production took off in the post-war years. In just the 14 years between 1951 and 1965, the number of hectares planted with coffee trees grew by over 3,000%: from 147 to 4,800 hectares. Most of this growth was due to smallholder farmers in the highlands, many of whom were receiving seeds from the Aiyua Valley station. While earlier plantations were planted on flatter land, which often lies at lower altitudes, farmers in the highlands cultivate smaller plots and remain minimally mechanized to this day. Today, smallholders grow at least 85% of PNG’s annual production. Most of these smallholders grow Arabica at altitudes exceeding 1,500 meters above sea level.
While these smallholder plots offer many advantages, they also introduced one of PNG’s largest and most persistent problems. Having more small, remote growers puts higher demands on infrastructure like roads and bridges. These roads allow information and goods to flow in both directions: education, inputs and financing flow from urban areas to rural growers while information on harvest conditions and—vitally—physical cherry and parchment move from rural farms to urban commercial centers.
But these systems, tenuous to begin with, break down under poor planning or management. Locally, dirt roads are frequently made impassable by both annual and unpredicted rains. Roads can remain flooded for days or weeks at a time, preventing the movement of both inputs and harvests. High interest rates can drive cooperatives and individual farmers to ruin. And a lack of information about market changes can bankrupt farmers who lack the up-to-date knowledge that gives them bargaining power with those who buy their cherry or parchment.