Alakasam, Komgi, Matupit, and Raluana - Commodity

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The ecological diversity in the province of East New Britain provides the people in the various regions with the opportunity to utilize different natural resources which are present in abundance to add value to their communities. The fertile soil, warm temperatures during the day, and prevalence of water from rivers, springs, and rain makes the highlands an ideal region for agricultural crops to flourish. Komgi has taken advantage of this natural greenhouse effect by cultivating cardamom, the seeds of which are dried for use as a spice or distilled for its oil. The crop itself thrives in higher elevations and the community has adapted an effective cultivation process to maximize their output. For a number of years, the community has been selling their harvested cardamom to Follywell No. 6, Ltd. (formerly Pacific Spices) who then processes the product. To increase the output for the community, Komgi, with the collaboration of Follywell, has set up a network of dryers shared among the community. During our stay in Komgi, we stayed at the construction site of what would be the fifth dryer in the cardamom blocks of the community. Currently, three to four farmers share one dryer, providing them with the ability to produce and sell more of their harvest. Cardamom is the primary source of income for the community. A portion of each farmer’s earnings is pooled into a community fund to be used for things like school fees or supplies.

The same idea is utilized by the neighboring community of Alakasam. The community makes the sale of fresh peanuts a lucrative business benefiting the community as a whole having become known for the quality of their peanuts. Michael Guniarik, a member of the village, told us the story of the peanut business while we were staying in Alakasam. In 1993, Michael was walking through the market in the town of Rabaul with his son who kept asking him to purchase some peanuts. He realized there was a high local demand for a crop which could easily be grown on his land at minimal cost. After three months, he was able to harvest an entire plot of peanuts, which he then sold to the other members of the community at the local market. All the other families in the community followed his example and by the end of the year, every family had a peanut plot making it futile to sell at their local market. By 1994, Michael began to search for a way for the community to sell the peanuts outside of the village and found a transport car in the village of Lan, (another Qaqet community), a day’s walk from Alakasam. The people would then transport their peanuts to Lan and the car would take them into town to sell their goods. This became the routine until the community began running into problems from 1996-1998 with the high cost of the transportation and a surplus production that was unable to reach the market because the transport car had other obligations. In 1999, it was decided that the community would work to raise funds to purchase their own vehicle to transport the peanuts to market. The elders and councilors agreed that there would be a community garden made to raise money specifically for the car; families would take turns planting, harvesting, and selling the peanuts; each family would raise and donate 500 kina (equivalent to about US$175); and a community bank account would be created for the funds raised toward the community car. Later that year, the community was able to purchase a green Toyota Land Cruiser aptly named the “Peanut Car”.

Money from the communal garden and the transport of passengers was deposited into the bank account to pay for drivers from Alakasam, fuel, maintenance, and spare-parts. The drivers take six to ten week shifts of driving during which families in the community help with their family food and peanut gardens, collecting firewood, and general housework and construction. This trend has continued to date and enabled the community to acquire a second vehicle, a Diahatsu long base truck in 2009. The peanuts sold by the community of Alakasam are not roasted, but air dried. This technique of air-drying the nuts increases the possibility for spoilage making time to market a paramount concern.

Matupit, the community at the base of the volcano Tavurvur, has been able to sustain its population by utilizing their abundant resources as well. Though the environment does not lend itself to an agricultural cash crop, it does present the community with a viable source of income in the sale of scrap metal and Megapode eggs; both of which are dug from the ash at the base of the volcano. A high level of risk is involved in both due to the instability of the volcanic ash. We were told by our host, Oxy, that cave-ins are not uncommon making digging in the ash a very dangerous job.

Following the eruption of 1994, the area in the immediate vicinity of the volcano was completely destroyed leaving nothing but an expanse of ash roughly two meters deep. However, the people of Matupit have made a business of uncovering scrap metal from the ash-buried area across the harbor from the volcano and selling it for ten toea (roughly US$0.05) per kilogram. Large groups of men and women go to the location of the old shipyard at the original site of Rabaul everyday and dig up old machinery and other metal objects. There are a number of small shelters around the digging area where people take breaks, but the groups work consistently from sun up to sun down.

The same is true for the community members, usually men, who hunt for Megapode eggs directly at the base of Tavurvur. In the morning, as we experienced during our stay in Matupit, the egg hunters take boats across the harbor to the base of the volcano where they dig up eggs for the entirety of the day with a few breaks throughout. Some members of the community even stay in the area instead of in the main village. There is no shortage of nests at the site. In fact, we had to walk around the nesting grounds cautiously so as not to slip off the narrow path into one to two meter deep nests on either side. Oxy, explained that an egg hunter can expect to find anywhere from 10 to 15 eggs in one nest because multiple birds use the same nest, each laying one or more eggs at a time. Matupit is the only community in East New Britain that harvests and sells Megapode eggs not only because the Megapodes only lay their eggs at the base of Tavurvur, but also because the people of Matupit are the only ones who have developed an effective method for digging two meters into the ash and locating the eggs at minimal risk. Each egg is sold at two kina (approximately US$0.90) per egg and customers usually purchase them in groups of four, making the eggs a very efficient source of income for the community. Most customers come to Matupit to pick up their orders as well, cutting down on the transportation costs for the people of Matupit to get the eggs to market. The eggs are so abundant that the community is able to make a profit from the sale of the eggs while still relying heavily on them for their diet.

The environmental effects of the nearly constant volcanic activity have also created a unique opportunity for the coastal regions of East New Britain. The water temperature in the area has increased drastically over time making thermal energy an abundant resource. At the base of Tavurvur, hot springs are not at a shortage and at some points, they reach boiling temperatures. Though there are small areas where the water is relatively cool, the majority of the harbor near Matupit is too hot to comfortably walk in making it another source of this thermal energy.

Date Entered: June 2010