Update from Bougainville

CUFA’s CEO, Dr Peter Mason, recently visited CUFA’s projects which form part of the Bougainville Youth Initiative funded by the Australian Government.  These are his reflections on the visit.

A hunger for opportunity is the best way I can encapsulate the people of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.  It was demonstrated in every CUFA project that I had the privilege to visit in August 2016.  The hunger manifested itself and was stated in different ways throughout the CUFA projects.  The younger people are colloquially called “the lost generation”, but what I saw was a generation taking control of their destiny and the opportunities available to them.

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Above: Peter with some of the Hagogohe villagers

Straight off the plane and a short drive from Buka to Hagogohe, I found a group of very proud and inspiring young people undertaking their second class in financial literacy and life skills.  Each presentation saw participants clearly articulate the need to build their confidence.  Older people in the community served generously as mentors to the younger participants.  We were fortunate to have the Member for Hagogohe, Hon. Robert Hamal Sawa and the Hagogohe Council of Elders Chairman, Albert Lahin, attended and gave uplifting talks to not only motivate but highlighted the opportunities that the Autonomous Bougainville Government was providing to the youths, particularly through the development of cocoa nurseries and plantations. Jordon, CUFA’s trainer, was particularly adept at getting the group energised and focussed on the task at hand with continual words of encouragement and praise for the work of the participants. The next day on the way to Arawa in Central Bougainville, we stopped off at Rotokas which was around an hour off the main road from Buka to Arawa.  First, we picked up CUFA’s trainer for this area, Steward Pombre, a small but powerful dynamo of a man with a determination to create and achieve better outcomes for his communities.



Above: Bougainville lush countryside

This CUFA project location was extremely remote and pushed our Land Cruiser to its limits on the mountains we climbed and the rivers we crossed (‘wet crossings’ as they are known).  Water gushed through the doors as we got deeper and deeper into the river crossings. Once we arrived at Ruruvu Village in Rotokas we were met, greeted and given access into the village by the Village Chief.  We were not disappointed with our reception.  Young people, from primary school-aged children to the young adults in Stewart’s classes, lined a pathway to their village to welcome us.  What we heard at the reception were many young, highly intelligent men and women who had bold and actionable ideas to improve their livelihoods and help their families.  The Village Chief spoke of the desire of many of the older community members to mentor the younger people in agriculture and saw the work of CUFA as the vehicle to coordinate this desire.  They were excited by the opportunities CUFA’s micro-enterprise training offered the young people.  By developing the skills to manage sustainable small businesses in the community, young people will be empowered to participate in their communities and in the region’s developing economy.

Organic farming

The area around Rotokas is rich and abundant with crops like pumpkin, taro, cassava, coffee, cardamom, vanilla pods and cabbages bigger than I’ve seen before.  These crops often provide young people with enterprise opportunities. We visited a cabbage nursery that the young women in the program had built and which now generated a small income from seedlings sales.  From a 1 kina packet of 100 seeds, the young women were able to sell seedlings for 1-1.50 kina each, or grow and sell the cabbages for 8 kina each . The group and I also had the chance to visit a cocoa nursery built by both young people and the elders.  The cocoa seedlings waiting to be grafted onto older root stock, which I was told ensures that the cocoa beans grow quicker and with greater resilience.  I was reminded of the ingenuity of the local people at the plantation who showed us the grafted trees that were now producing cocoa pods.  I noticed that between each of the cocoa trees were banana trees.  I asked why and the Village Chief demonstrated that the banana trees provide shade for the cocoa trees, and of course, bananas are an additional cash crop. CUFA pays the local community to cater for the lunches of the participants, and for our visit the community cooked much of the lunch in an ‘umo’, a fire pit containing hot stones. When the stones were hot enough, banana leaves are layered over the stones and taro, sweet potato, chokos and meat were cooked.  As one of the women said, “give it 1-2 hours and everything is cooked and has a delicious flavour due to the leaves and smoke”.  She was not wrong! It was an incredible feast.


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Left: The traditional “Umo” lunch; Right: A CUFA project officer having a look at the organic farming

 Young women’s copra co-operative

Day three took us a short distance up a mountain to a young women’s copra cooperative that has only been in operation for little over a month.  We were privileged to witness the first truckload of copra being sent to market.  The cooperative was founded by eight women who had been abandoned by their husbands who had created second families with new wives. With children to feed, clothe and education, the copra cooperative was a way of creating financial independence, so that the women no longer needed to rely on their relatives for support.  Nellie Onabake, another of CUFA’s dynamic staff, encouraged the women to establish the cooperative and has helped them create this business in record time. In under a month and with Nellie’s help, the women have sourced a regular supply of copra from farmers further up the mountain.  When the farmers sell their crops individually, they receive 0.90 kina per kilogram of copra.  In contrast, the women are able to pay the farmers 1.10 kina per kilogram because they sell it to the middlemen at the docks for 1.50 kina.  The cooperative has one male member who also has a small utility truck.  His job is to load and transport the copra. Later that night I was told that the women were ecstatic as they had made 900 kina on their first delivery.  Initially, they were going to divide the funds to each of the members as a dividend but had unanimously decided to reinvest their profit back into buying and selling even more copra than originally planned for the next delivery.  This small cooperative demonstrates that the young people of are innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach to life and with new micro-business skills can create new opportunities for themselves.  Nellie provided the foundation for budgeting and business planning with the women, and with her encouragement and guidance, the farmers and the women in the cooperative are all benefiting.

Pelle village

We then travelled through the Panguna mine site to reach Bana District and in particular Pelle village.  We were generously greeted with chains of flower necklaces along with pipe music from bamboo flutes and dancing. Telfer, the CUFA trainer for this region has a strong educational background in agriculture and is an excellent training.  This was demonstrated in the classroom, as each of the groups presented budgets that highlighted their knowledge of income, expenditure and how to manage money. It was clear from this session that each participant has a dream to establish their own micro-enterprise, often chicken-raising.  The participants have costed their group enterprise and have started to save towards the materials they need.  The village savings group has significant funds already, so the group is close to building the chicken enclosures and purchasing the feed and they have costed the broiler chicks they will buy.  I asked why they don’t purchase ‘layers’ (chickens that lay eggs) and a young man responded, “why would we do that? There is a big market for chicken meat and nobody eats eggs (apart from in baked goods)”.  It was clear that they had researched their market and had planned carefully.

As CEO of CUFA, I am extremely proud of the work the Bougainville team, led by CUFA Country Manager Yaman Kutlu, has been able to achieve in little over a year.  Vocational training, in particular has been a focus of the program, along with financial literacy, life skills and microenterprise training.  With over 100 people already placed with employers, after finishing their vocational training at the local vocational colleges, I am confident progress is being made that will benefit Bougainville for generations to come. With further project expansion planned for Buin District in South Bougainville and several more staff to join the CUFA team in coming months, the project goes from strength to strength. While Bougainville faces many challenges over the next few years as it works through issues of identity, peace and independence, one thing is clear: the youth of Bougainville are active agents in positive changes in their communities. They have the capacity and the entrepreneurial spirit which will see Bougainville thrive.


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Left: Peter with the CUFA team and its supporters; Right: A glimpse of the village savings group started by CUFA

The activities implemented are part of the Australian Government’s support to CUFA under the Bougainville Youth Initiative (BYI). The Australian Government continues to provide support to Bougainville under BYI to encourage youth participation in Bougainville’s economic and social development. CUFA has worked extensively in the Pacific, with over 20 years’ experience in Papua New Guinea (PNG). During this time, CUFA has built a number of strong relationships with local civil society organisations which represent a number of industries across PNG.

Through these networks, CUFA will engage up to 10,000 youth between the ages of 15 to 25 in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville over two years.

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