Williamsons Tea Award for Social Progress
Harrisons and Crosfield
New Britain Palm Oil Development Ltd is a 50/50 joint venture between the Papua New Guinea government and Harrisons and Crosfield.
In the mid-1960s, Harrisons and Crosfield experts found the north coast of the island of New Britain to be suited to growing oil palms. A joint venture, the first oil-palm scheme in Papua New Guinea, was negotiated with the then Australian administration. Work started in 1967, in a jungle area which had previously been logged.
The original plan was to have a nucleus estate, originally of 2,000 hectares, with settlers from throughout Papua New Guinea growing oil palms on two hectares each of nearby land, whose production would be processed by the company. A mill was commissioned in 1971 to process the palm fruit from both the estate and the settlers.
The plantations now cover 7,500 hectares; and 1,681 settlers-from areas short of land-occupy 10,000 hectares, planting vegetables as well as palms. Besides this, 1,092 villagers of the district, have planted 2,259 hectares of oil palms. The original palms are being replaced by a second generation. People from West New Britain now have priority for settlement.
To preserve the fragile soils, the jungle growth is not burned after being cleared. It is piled between the rows of palm and allowed to rot. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops are planted to protect and enrich the soil. They die out when the palms grow up. The area is mainly flat or slightly undulating. Some steeper slopes are terraced. The empty bunches, after the fruit has been removed for milling, are put back on the land.
A second mill opened in 1980. The company has 3,300 employees and about 25,000 people depend directly or indirectly on the oil palms for their living. Settlers had an average annual income of £1,200, over five years to 1988, ten times that of subsistence farmers. Payments to settlers fell after a bumper year in 1985 but have partially recovered.
Besides roads, the scheme has led to the building of the town of Kimbe which has 5,000 residents and is both the provincial headquarters and a port. The company supports schooIs and health and leisure projects. For its employees, it provides health care and, for most of them, homes, water and power. The waste from palm-oil mills can use up the oxygen in waterways and, in excessive quantities, make it impossible for fish to live there. Waste on New Britain is treated and held in ponds. Fishing has not been affected.
Most of the palm oil goes to the European Community where the Lome Convention frees it from the normal 4 per cent import duty. This means that Papua New Guinea gets a 4 per cent higher price in Europe than it would get elsewhere. Growers receive a price based on the world prices for palm oil and kernels, less the cost of milling and transport.
The company trains Papua New Guineans to become managers. A man who joined as afield assistant is now director of smallholder affairs. Eight agricultural students are sponsored each year at universities. After several years with the company, the most promising go on a course in Swaziland in senior management. Half the plantation managers are Papua New Guineans.
The company also sponsors students in accountancy and engineering.