Two local newspapers printed a story from our blog!

Yay!

So we got our stories from our blog published in the local newspaper! The story on https://lopoki.com/manus-agarwood/ was published in The National newspaper on Friday June 25, 2021 in the newspaper’s Weekender magazine.

Full page story in the National newspaper – Friday 25 June, 2021

This other one below was published in the Post Courier newspaper on the 18th of June, 2021. It follows the side of the newspaper page. Although they didnt include the ending part of the story maybe due to space limitations, we are happy that it still got coverage in the newspaper

A story on the side of the page in the Post Courier- Friday 18th June, 2021.

This publishing by newspapers is great for a small blog like Lopoki.com because we can reach a more wider audience than what we are used to. So a very big thank you to the two newspapers for helping us.

Happy reading!

New beginnings, new gardens

So I started my new project which was a garden. My parents have planted kaukau, tapioca, bananas and pineapples all over the place. There are some gardens here and some gardens there. So I decided that I should do mine as well and contribute to the household as well.

There is this mountainous area beside the house. It is very steep but it would be a great place to plant something. I first started by cutting the shrubs at the edge of the mountain and then into the smaller trees. Although this mountain looks like a forest, it isn’t. In 1997 during the El Nino season, fire raged through much of the forests here. I used to live on the coast and during evenings, we would look up to the mountains and see fires on the mountain tops. In the distant, the looked like fiery orange embers like eyes of something malevolent lurking, waiting for an opportunity to strike. The fires burnt through the old trees and now, new ones have grown. Most are softwood so it was easy to chop down using an axe.

After chopping down the shrubs and trees, we left them for a while to dry up. After a couple of days, when some of the shrubs and leaves were dry, we burnt them. As the place cleared up, I began cutting the fallen trees to clear the place. The idea is that once we clear the placed the place and removed the debris, we can start planting something.

Chopping the small tress after burning some of the shrubs
Dad already surveying the area….maybe thinking about placing his new pandrol…hehehe
So we filled the bag with pineapple heads….
…..and now planting some of the pineapple heads in the ground.
Standing where the garden is and looking back to the house. Its not even far at all

My father has already decided that one part of the mountain should form a road from the top of the mountain down to the bottom of the mountain. I don’t know what he is up to but there is no use arguing with an old man. He has already planted pineapples to mark his road. I’m doing my bit to clear the fallen trees and shrubs and hopefully start planting some banana trees. Hopefully when my kids come for the holiday break, they will have some kaukau and pineapples by then.

I will keep up updated on my progress.    

A call for technical advice: Resilient Manusians having a go with Agarwood but need technical assistance

Manus, an island province of Papua New Guinea with a land area slightly smaller than the island nation of Samoa, has had its fair share of challenges. Manus, located just two degrees south of the Equator, is often associated with its colourful garamut dancing, unique green snails, fried sago and fish but recently has been in the mass media due to the controversial Australian Government funded detention center. Even now, with the announcement of the Australian Government funded AUD$ 175 million re-development of the Lombrum Naval Base, the Manus name is getting all the talk again.

But away from the all the limelight and the hype these past years, it has been the ordinary farmer, fisherman and market mamas living in rural villages who have been resilient through it all. The simple Manusian is helping himself and herself in the best they can on their land and the sea they live on. I was fortunate enough to meet one man and his wife who consider themselves as ‘mangi na meri ples’ who are making the best of what they have. Mr. Micheal Ngai Popen 52, and his wife Christine, 42 are simple villagers who live in Liap village on the northern coastline of Manus. Liap village is around a 45 minute boat ride from the main town of Lorengau. Most of the villagers live on the coast but have their gardens in the bush and tropical forest mountain areas. Liap is one of ten villages in the Kurti language group area in the Pomutu Drehet Kurti Andra (PNKA) Local Level Government area.

Almost ten years ago, Mr. Popen planted seeds of Agarwood and today he has a plantation of around a 1000 trees. He is part of the Wapomo clan and started planting the trees as part of his clan’s income generating project but over the years everyone’s interest has faded and he and his wife are the only ones who have cleared and tended to the trees all these years. His plantation is among the lush and tropical rainforest of the Manus hinterlands island around 200 meters above sea level.

Michael Ngai Popen and wife Christine stand in the middle of the plantation

So what is Agarwood? According to published research (Tan et al, 2019), agarwood is a resinous part of the non-timber Aquilaria tree, which is a highly valuable product for medicine and fragrance purposes. The formation of agarwood is generally associated with the wounding and fungal infection of the Aquilaria trees. The resin is secreted by the trees as a defense reaction and deposited around the wounds over the years following the injury, where the accumulation of the volatile compounds eventually forms agarwood. Published research by Ismail et al (2015) point out that Agarwood oil extracted from the tree is estimated to cost between USD126 to USD633 per 12 milliliters and the wood prices for low qualities are estimated to cost USD19 per kg and up to USD100,000 per kg for superior quality.

Since the Popen family lives on the coast, he and the wife make the three hour walk up the mountains every other couple of weeks to make camp. They stay for a few days to clean, prune the trees and at the same time make their gardens for food as well. The trees are lined in neat rows of 10 and 12 trees spaced 3 meters apart in two blocks of land and a fresh water runs on the side.  They are some young trees that you can wrap your arms around but others are much bigger with most trees above 10 to 15 meters in height.

Mr. Michael Ngai Popen explaining how he looks after the trees.

While Mr. Popen and numerous other Agarwood farmers like him in Liap and Manus are eager to cash in on the demand for this ‘wood of the Gods’, issues around sustainability, conservation and ability of trees to produce the valuable resinous wood are also key emerging issues. Mr. Popen and wife have realized this and now wish to move along this path to ensure the tree is protected and sustains the family and clan group into the future.

He said: “Mi mangi ples na mi nogat bikpla save lo displa samting. Mi laikim husat man igat displa ol technical save lo displa Argawood lo plis kam helpim mi, family blo mi na clan blo mi Wapomo. Lo kisim gutpla save em bai cost money tasol mi nogat displa olsem na tokim mi tasol na bai mi wokim” ( Iam an ordinary villager and I have very little knowledge on this process. Whoever out there has technical knowledge on this Agarwood, please come and help me, my family and my Wapomo clan. I know technical knowledge costs money which I don’t have but just tell me and I will do it).

Mr. Michael Ngai Popen and his wife Christine stand in front of their garden hut while the Agarwood trees are in the background

Mr. Popen is a resilient man. To me, being resilient simply means being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Manus is a difficult place to do business or even start one. There are high transportation costs, government funding constraints, a growing young population without formal jobs and even rising law and order issues. But amongst it all, there are people in the rural areas who are giving it their best shot. They are resilient because no matter the situation everywhere they turn, they have decided to look back to the land and sea to support them. They are not giving up. 

There is very little data on how many farmers like Mr. Popen are in Manus and how many tress there are but they need sound technical assistance. They need technical advice in terms of growing, pruning, infecting, grading, markets, sustainable practices and forest conservation. Like many rural areas of Papua New Guinea, often good and sound knowledge on agriculture, sustainable forestry, environment conservation are lost in the urban areas and do not make their way to where it most needs to go – to the people who are resilient.

How it starts: The beginning of a simple fishing canoe from a softwood tree

Using canoes for fishing and travelling has been happening for a long time in Manus island. Many families living along the coastline and surrounding islands have one or two small canoes to help them with daily chores such as transporting firewood and even for journeys to places afar. Some are intricately made while others are just produced quickly to serve a certain need.

Today my brother began started the canoe making process. He cut down the tree in the forest. As it typical of canoes, they are made from a lightwood ‘noe’ as it is water resistant and light. The tree is just at the back of the house so it was easy to cut down.

Once the tree was cut down, he began the shaping process. In this case, he begins to bring a shape in his mind to the tree trunk. He begins the shape by cutting the edge into a pointy end. So using the axe, he methodically chips away the end of the trunk until a sharp or pointed edge appears.

He then begins to cut a rectangular shape on the top of the trunk. Again using the axe, he cuts into the softwood, every step digging into the middle of the trunk. Eventually he will dig into the tree trunk forming a hallow shell. He may need a different too than the axe. For now, the axe is utilized to slowly form the shape. One the shape of the canoe is realized, he will carry the canoe to the house where there is a clearing or a shaded area where he will slowly carve out the canoe.

It will take a few more weeks before the canoe is finalized. I will let you know of its progress.