BY FRANKLIN KOLMA
Appearing evidently disgruntled, Markham Member Koni Iguan asked Minister Benny Allen why talks between the rice giant and the Department of Agriculture were being held with Markham landowners behind the electorates MPs’ back.
Mr Iguan said that it was “very unfair” on him as the open member of the intended rice project area and that the apparent secrecy shown by Truakai and the Minster made him suspicious of their intentions.
“I am not saying that the rice projects that Truaki have started are a bad thing.
“My people have started to grow their own rice and are eating rice grown on their land, this I think is great.
“What I am simply asking is for myself to be included in these talks as these projects will directly affect my people and their land and therefore I have to be aware of projects of the sort,” said Mr Iguan.
Responding to the Markham Member, Minister Allen said that it was not his or the Department’s intention to exclude Mr Iguan and that no offense was meant.
He went as far as apologizing to Mr Iguan for the unintentional discourtesy adding that he would ensure that future talks to do with Markham rice projects included the MP or at least a representative from his office.
Mr Allen explained that the past few meetings and visits to the rice project sites were organized by Trukai who invited him and that these visits were not organized by the Department of Agriculture and Livestock.
He did however mention that rice projects being done in the Markham plains were going exceptionally well and that Markham rice farms were in fact PNG’s first step toward fully nationalizing the production of rice.
“Currently, we are importing 400,000 tons of rice at the cost of K600 million annually.
“Trukai dominates 70 per cent of the rice market. The Rice Policy has empowered PNG rice farmers to produce the other 30 per cent,” the Minister explained.
He said that it was because of this rice monopoly that the Markham rice project as well as other rice projects are now being looked into by the Department with the aim of eventually bringing the ratio of Trukai to locally farmed rice numbers to more reasonable an fairer numbers.