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Papua New Guinea has a Word for excellence--Sigri! Though coffee has not been grown in Papua New Guinea for very long, the Sigri Coffee Estate and it's modern facility are already benefiting from the new market.

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Coffee is a relative newcomer to Papua New Guinea. It came together with the earliest encroachments of Europeans. Along with everything else from the industrialized world, coffee has a history here of a little more than 100 years. Even so, the history of PNG's coffee industry as such is even shorter. It began with Jim Leahy's first crop in 1952.

PNG as a whole began to experience the ways of the wider world in the 1880s, although sporadic contacts with outlying islands had occurred before this.

Holland annexed the Western half of the country in 1852, but this was merely a paper claim. No attempt was made to physically occupy this huge wilderness with its reputation for savagery. Then, far to the west, in 1880, German traders and missionaries from Samoa settled in and around the Duke of York Islands near the present-day township of Rabaul.

The appearance of the Germans so close to the northern coastline of their Australian colony prompted the British to raise the Union Jack at a village near what is now PNG's national capital, Port Moresby. This was in 1884. Boundaries were agreed and the whole country was split 50/25/25 by the three European powers. It was at this time that the seeds of coffea arabica were first brought to the country.

Very little of lasting consequence happened until after the first World War, early in which, Australia invaded and took over the north-eastern, or German, quarter. Australians have a bent for gold prospecting and several expeditions left for the newly annexed, ex-German territory almost as the ink dried on the League of Nations mandate issued in 1923.

The era of efficient civil aviation was dawning but even so, no machine was reliable or powerful enough, or possessed sufficient range to be flown across the unknown area now generally known as New Guinea. It was accepted unquestioningly that the steep coastal ranges simply ascended onwards into the interior to form a high-altitude moonscape of barren rocky peaks and ridges; a cold, mist-shrouded wilderness of little interest other than in terms of its flora and fauna; and of course, the possible presence of gold.

World-Shattering Discovery

Thus it was not until 1933 that two Irish/Australian prospectors, Mick and Dan Leahy, together with Jim Taylor, an Australian government official, made what was at the time a world-shattering discovery. In the interior of today's independent nation of Papua New Guinea lay no rugged, rocky wilderness. In fact, there was very little wilderness at all.

The tiny party of explorers with their entourage of carriers and armed police constables were privileged to enter a wonderland of intra-montane valleys; one of them so broad and so long its end could not be seen in the afternoon haze; valleys which were a patchwork of neat cultivation; fields of foods such as sweet-potato, banana, taro, cucumber and sugarcane; and a thriving, self-confident stone-age population of several hundred thousand people; a people of whose presence the rest of humanity had no inkling whatsoever.

It is here, in the 40-mile-long Wahgi Valley that today's Sigri Estate and its tributary coffee plantations are established.

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Cash Economy Foundation

During World War II the Leahy brothers--there were four of them altogether--played varying parts in the resistance and ultimate overthrow of the Japanese occupation.

During the period, Jim Leahy, the businessman and strategist of the family, decided that coffee could well be the foundation of a cash economy in the Highlands once things returned to normal. In 1952 Jim sold the first crop from his small Erinvale Plantation situated near Goroka in today's Eastern Highlands Province. Jim sold his coffee at a price which was soon the talk of the country.

The Australian administrators of what was now a UN Trust Territory were very wary of allowing a flood of would-be coffee planters to enter the Highlands, but slowly and in accordance with the wishes of the people, areas of land suitable for coffee cultivation were identified. Over a period of some 10 years, about 100 such blocks, each of around 300 acres, were purchased from the traditional owners and leased to approved applicants. Thus began the industry which today comprises the output of a small formal plantation sector with a thriving smallholder or village-based sector which together account for annual exports of just over one million bags.

Heeding the Call

One of those who heeded the call to grow coffee was Tom Cole, an adventurous man who had spent much of his life variously shooting wild buffaloes and even wilder crocodiles for their skins.

The block of land which Tom chose was one of a number which had been identified and purchased from the local tribes along the northern bank of the Wahgi River. The piece of land, about 350 acres in extent, is called Sigri, in common with the small stream which forms its western boundary. The fast-flowing Wahgi River forms the southern boundary.

Apart from medical posts and facilities, the Estate also provides elementary schooling for the children of both workers and villagers and each year a number of older children from the local clans are supported in terms of their school fees through to high-school. There is a village Women's Centre not far from Sigri to which the Estate is a contributor, also. In these ways as well as in the direct or economic sense, Sigri Estate is well integrated into the local scene. It is the company's aim to ensure the ongoing sustainability not only of its own enterprise but also of the micro-economy of the locality.

Great Beauty

Sigri Estate itself lies slightly elevated above the Wahgi and backs onto the foothills of the Northern wall of the big valley: There is great beauty in the environment here.

At Sigri, one encounters an ever-changing pattern of clouds, clouds which alter the shade and depth of color across the valley-floor and the foothills; an ever-changing show of pastels deepening into purples, brilliant greens, tawny browns and back to mauve and misty blues and grays. This is indeed a "Garden of Eden" in terms of its climate, its scenic attraction and its ability to provide for its population.

Only a few years later, in the mid 1960s, a tea-industry was established in the Wahgi Valley. The major player was the old-established islands trader, W. R. Carpenter & Co Ltd. Late in 1967, Carpenter & Co made the decision to enter into coffee production. It was Carpenter & Co's intent from the beginning to create a coffee mark of excellent repute. Tom Cole's Sigri Estate was one of the few existing coffee plantations which had its own small mill in addition to wet processing facilities; and at the same time, Sigri had won several prizes at succeeding agricultural shows for the excellence of its coffee. For this reason Carpenter & Co approached Tom Cole with an offer.

The registered mark, SIGRI, and its colorful Bird of Paradise symbol is synonymous with quality, gourmet coffee equal to the best the world can offer. All coffee bearing the SIGRI name is 100% high grown, washed Arabica and it all comes from the Wahgi Valley, both from the Sigri Estate itself and from Sigri's tributary plantations.

Modern Facility

The coffee-mill at Sigri is one of the most up-to-date in PNG, employing German-made machinery of the Paul Kaack brand. It is designed around a central conditioning section where all dried coffee at the parchment stage is brought and rested for sixteen days.

Cool, fresh air is drawn in each night and forced up through the perforated floors of the bins to add a final loving touch to the painstaking preparation of the raw material. Then comes the hulling and grading process, and finally, hand-sorting. Whilst modern size-grading and density-separation machines are employed, nothing beats the human touch, and every bag of coffee is carefully hand sorted before final weighing and marking.

The Sigri mill is provided with a cupping-room where samples from each day's production and from each lot as it is bagged are roasted, ground and tasted by Sigri's experienced production managers. This process is repeated by the export division just prior to shipment. No stone is left unturned to ensure that Sigri's multitude of customers receive coffee of the specification and high intrinsic quality which they have come to expect.

The Sigri Story

Sigri Coffee Estate in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea was established in the 1950s. The altitude of the Waghi Valley where this coffee plantation is located is 5,200 ft. above sea level, and the size of this estate, and their sister estate, Bunum Wo, which have both gained the reputation of producing the finest quality coffee in the country, is about 1,123 hectares.

In addition, Sigri now fully manages 413 hectares of "project coffee" owned by neighboring local landowners and farmers.

Sigri Plantation enjoys a cool climate because of its high altitude of around 5,600 ft., and has bountiful rainfall, an ideal environment for growing the typica and arusha varieties of Arabica coffees.

The plantations employ about 6,000 people in the peak harvesting season, and about half that number live permanently in company-owned housing on the plantation. It is estimated that for every employee, there are approximately six dependents that rely on the plantation for their livelihood.

Community care

Sigri Plantation also provides employees and their dependents with a free medical clinic on the plantation, pays their school fees and has its own elementary grade school for employees' children.

Sigri Plantation is also active in local community relations and support, including assisting local women's groups, and is in the process of starting up educational workshops to teach subjects ranging from basic health care, to sewing classes. The company employs a full time female community relations officer to oversee local community affairs, in particular with regard to "gender equality" and projects that enhance women's status in the community. Sigri Plantation also undertakes local road and bridge maintenance, and other civil works projects, for the local community.

Environment

On Sigri Plantation, every effort is made to protect the environment by employing good, sustainable long-term agriculture policies. The plantation maintains a medium density shade strategy, which promotes a good even ripening of its cherry. The two types of shade trees that grow on Sigri are casuarinas and albizzas.

Casuarinas are favored by parrots, and two most common kind found on the plantation are the rainbow lorikeet and the double eyed fig-parrot. A total of 160 different bird species have been recorded in the Wahgi Valley, of which 90 species alone have been found on the plantation.

The most common species are honeyeaters, which feed on the nectar from the albizzia trees, brush cuckoo, brown-breasted gerygone, black-headed whistler and the superb and raggiana bird of paradise, which is the national emblem of Papua New Guinea and is depicted on Sigri coffee sacks.

The Wahgi Valley River flows through part of the Sigri Plantation, and the banks of the river there are protected by swamp forests.

Quality Control

Sigri Plantation's main crop harvest runs from April through to September. Quality control begins in the field, and ripe cherries are handpicked and carefully checked for uniformity--it must be red and fully rip before pulping on the same day that it is picked, and then washed in their traditional fermentation method. The coffee is fermented for a total of three days, broken by washing every 24 hours.

The Sigri processing follows this fermentation by a total immersion in water for another day, which creates a superior quality. Gentle sun drying further enhances the quality of the coffee.

Careful conditioning, hulling, grading and hand-sorting follows. This combined with a rigorous quality control and a final hand-sort before packing and shipping provides the roaster with only the finest quality coffees from Sigri.

The strict quality control includes daily and careful cup testing by Sigri Plantations senior management, to ensure that the quality of Sigri's coffees remains consistently excellent.
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Title Annotation:Papua New Guinea
Comment:Papua New Guinea has a Word for excellence--Sigri!
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:1993
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