Indigenous Kokoda Coffee Initiative–an Inspirational Business Pivot that Benefits Local Indigenous Community

10 November 2020

As a local business and active supporter of all things local and Indigenous, Indigenous Kokoda Adventures is in the beginning stages of an initiative that would see massive support for the local coffee farmers in the Kokoda area as well as the local people in the village of Kokoda and the surrounding area.  The team is excited to share some of the details of what we are planning and while this project is in the very early stages, we are confident that we will be actively moving forward in the near future. 

The Project: 

To establish a coffee mill in the village of Kokoda that would purchase the coffee beans from the local coffee farmers in the Kokoda area employing the local people in the entire process of getting the beans ready for market. 

The Details: 

The Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic. The Track has been closed with no opening date in the foreseeable future. This makes it extremely difficult for the people in the villages along the Track who absolutely depend on tourism for their survival. It truly is a double-edged sword – close the Track to protect the local population but deprive them of any income or, open it and risk wiping out countless people in the villages and communities. Clearly, another source of income is needed for the local people to support them during difficult times such as these. 

Jesse Leta, the founder of Indigenous Kokoda Adventures (IKA), has a vision whereby a coffee mill is established in the village of Kokoda to support his people and provide revenue to them by selling coffee.  IKA has already begun selling IKA branded packaged coffee through one of the local distributors to support the IKA Foundation and provide a stream of funding independent from tourism. We purchase the beans from a local distributor who has purchased them from the coffee farmers. We have already shipped an order to a non-profit in Australia who actively supports local Kokoda businesses and organizations and we have had other local requests for the coffee as well.

However, purchasing the beans and paying someone else to do the processing and packaging increases the cost of our coffee. Jesse felt IKA should have more control over the process and a plan was formulated. During a subsequent business lunch that Jesse was invited to, he was approached by a senior person in the PNG Coffee Industry Corporation who, after speaking with Jesse, was very impressed with what Jesse and IKA have accomplished so far. This person also suggested that Jesse give serious consideration to establishing a coffee mill in the village of Kokoda as there is currently no mill there.  Kokoda is easily accessible by both road and air. The village has a landing strip which makes transporting the coffee out quickly and easily accomplished as well as a road for bringing in any equipment or materials needed for the mill.  This person is also in charge of licensing and made it clear they would support a coffee mill in Kokoda by providing a license, guidance, and technical training for the local people to work there. 

The Impact:

To state that establishing a coffee mill in the village of Kokoda would be advantageous for the local population is understating the impact. The direct impact would be tremendous, providing the local people with a consistent source of income which would benefit their families, communities, and Papua New Guinea as a whole.  Coffee from PNG is always in great demand (Starbucks brings in PNG  coffee to its North American markets on a limited basis and it always disappears very quickly) and coffee is clearly one of those items that are not affected negatively by pandemics and in fact, sales probably tend to increase.

The entire project would benefit the local area from start to finish as well as other communities in the entire southern region specifically the coffee farmers in Milne Bay Province, Central Province, and Oro Province. The mill itself would need to be constructed providing jobs for the local people. The coffee farmers would have a dedicated mill to bring their beans to knowing they would be working with someone who is of the same heart. The mill would provide jobs for those people in the area who either cannot work as guides or porters and supplement income when the trekking season was over or, during times like this. 

We also envision a small area eventually being set up for selling coffee by the cup or bag providing a perfect opportunity for people to purchase directly from the mill location. This would also provide an older school-age child(ren) an opportunity to work behind the counter learning retail and customer service skills. 

While Papua New Guinea has a history of being patriarchal culture, Indigenous Kokoda Adventures understands and acknowledges that it is crucial for families, communities, and countries to educate, train and support girls and women in their quest for equality and respect. We envision many of the positions in the mill being filled by the women in the area providing them with an income not to mention self-respect and that liberating feeling of empowerment that comes with earning a paycheque. 

Having the coffee mill in the village of Kokoda, while very expedient from a transport point of view, also provides a point of interest for visitors and trekkers to the area. The village of Kokoda is at either the beginning or the end of the trek along the Kokoda Track and a cup of coffee to start the trek or to finish it would be more than welcome.  This would be a stop incorporated into our treks to proudly showcase how local people are more than capable of establishing a multi-layered business that benefits so many people on so many different levels.  

Papua New Guinea is an island in the South Pacific that is rarely on peoples’ radar. The tourism industry is just beginning to find its feet and the pandemic has, as with every other tour operator in the world, effectively closed the door for the time being. This project will bring hope and light for a people that sometimes feel forgotten by the rest of the world. It is a community based sustainable project that locals and tourists alike can be proud of and enjoy as a sign of things to come. Seeing what is possible, as with the Indigenous Kokoda Coffee Initiative, can act as an inspiration and impetus for others to know that they too can stand and take their place in the world.

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