By Des Yaninen

Congratulations to all the new graduates of 2020. I was recently on Ferguson Island in Miline Bay where I met a young man named Paul who was only educated up to Grade 9. He was a leader in the local church there.

He was a missionary and subsistence farmer – until I discovered he was also vanilla farmer with the biggest farm in his village. At a conservative price of K200 per kilo, he will be harvesting and selling over a million kina worth of vanilla next year.

If the price doubles, he will make more than K2 million, if it drops, he will make around K500,000 – still plenty of money for villager who doesn’t have to pay rent, doesn’t own a car and doesn’t have an expensive touch screen android phone – he uses a one bang phone and has to climb up a tree to get reception.

He is part of a vanilla growing project run by the Adcare Foundation there and supported by ADRA and the PNG Spice Board. Over 600 farmers are involved and each farmer stands to harvest between K100,000 to K400,000 worth of vanilla. What is being done differently here is that all vanilla farmers have 10 rows of vanilla tree vines.

The first row is marked for God as his 10% tithe. The bible says if you pay your tithe, God will supernaturally give you a rich harvest and protect your crops from pigs, pests and anything that might harm it. They call it the #GodFirst principle.

Paul doesn’t have a Grade 10 or Grade 12 certificate. Neither does he have a Diploma or a degree. Yet this humble farmer is set to make more than his educated peers. His ambition is to buy a helicopter one day.

Due to the remoteness of his people, having one would help him with his missionary work. At the rate he is going, he will be able to do that pretty soon. A second hand chopper costs around K2 million.

What makes him different? Knowing that he was unqualified, the only thing he knew how to do was manual laborious work. Hard work in the sun. He is a small built person. I see people physically bigger than him begging on the streets of Pom. He worked as an Oil Palm harvester in Alotau before returning to his island to plant cabbage peanut and raise chickens.

He planted 500 cocoa trees but due to the lack of access to markets, he cut them down as soon as the Vanilla concept was reintroduced into the village.

Fortunately, a Miline Bay based cocoa buying agency run by Reuben Aila and his business partner John, is now traveling around the province, fermenting and buying cocoa so Paul and other villagers are also cultivating cocoa again. Personally, I am inspired to set up my own farm back in Sepik.

I will be assisting farmers in Miline Bay obtain NID cards and open bank accounts. When I return we will also be doing financial literacy training. I thank the Adcare Foundation for their work there.

My encouragement to our new graduates is this:

If you have fertile land in your home provinces that is not under dispute, your village has reasonable transport infrastructure and there is effective farmer support provided by either Department of Agriculture or private buying agencies – then go back home. Don’t hang around Moresby or Lae, struggling to pay rent and find a job.

Young people your age and younger are making thousands from vanilla, cocoa and coffee. It’s your birthright. Get out of your comfort zone. Everything has its challenges and there is always a learning curve. Be brave. Try it out. Be persistent. Eventually, you will succeed.

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