Surrounded by loamy grasslands, volcanic foothills, and limestone river basins lies Unen Choit, a small coffee cooperative home to around 1,200 coffee farmers in Papua New Guinea. Accessible by boat or plane only, this remote cooperative found in the Morobe region is where coffee production all began when it first arrived in the country.
Papua New Guniea Highlands
Introduced to local farmers in the 1920s by missionaries, coffee seeds were planted in order to give locals the power to earn a living and provide for communities in the area. The small seeds quickly spread throughout the country with around 12,000 trees covering 45 hectares in each of the coffee growing regions that we know today.
For farmers of Unen Choit, selling coffee has been a long and tough road due to a myriad of factors which are heightened by their geographical isolation. Farmers face ongoing challenges in accessing labour, transportation and infrastructure, but historically the isolation has also impacted their understanding of best practice farming methods to increase coffee production, consistency and quality sought by coffee roasters and consumers alike.
Molock Terry, Manager of Unen Choit says that in the early days, elders in the area were not thinking about the bigger picture when supplied with coffee seeds and were instead too focused on collecting coffee beans for money, which meant that the coffee trees soon became wild and unusable for many years.
It was not until 2008 when Molock heard about Fairtrade and the work they were doing to help grow sustainable coffee farming communities that he was able to mobilise local farmers to work together. Forming a cooperative enabled the farmers to work towards becoming Fairtrade and organic certified.
Coffee producers in PNG drying beans
Since forming a cooperative the farmers have undertaken training workshops on the importance of organic and Fairtrade, were given support on how to follow the model and how to grow sustainable quality coffee.
They were also connected with other cooperatives in the country such as the Highlands Organic Agricultural Cooperative (HOAC), with producers able to discuss the benefits they had seen from Fairtrade over the years including the connection to buyers across New Zealand and Australia.
Coffee Cooperatives attending Fairtrade training workshop in PNG
In 2016, Unen Choit officially became Fairtrade certified. Molock says this was a very proud moment for the cooperative.
“We see Fairtrade as our Government, because nothing from the PNG government supports us like Fairtrade does.
Fairtrade is our partner, we are given the information and training we need to sell our coffee and we are also given advice around how much our coffee is worth,” says Molock.
Travelling to New Zealand for the first time, Molock has spent the last week educating coffee roasters on the history of coffee in PNG as well as the profile of beans Unen Choit is producing in the hopes of securing long term relationships with buyers and coffee companies interested in sourcing from PNG.
The photos below were captured during Molock's tour of New Zealand, which included trips to roasters in Auckland, talks at Victoria University and MFAT in Wellington as well as cupping ceremonies at Canterbury University and meet and greets with roasters in Christchurch.