Friday, March 25, 2011

Magical Tambul, Western Highlands

Last time I visited magical Tambul, Western Highlands, was in September 2009 when I travelled there for the opening of 12 new potato screen houses belonging to the Fresh Produce Development Agency.

Magical sunrise in Tambul
Last Friday, I again found myself travelling to Tambul, this time for the National Agriculture Research Institute’s field day at its highlands regional high altitude research centre.
The cold, fresh, Mt Hagen air hit my face as I stepped off the plane to be met by NARI staffer, Kennufa Mou, who was to drive me to Tambul.
Memories of another day came running back as I had, during my stint with the Coffee Industry Corporation from 1998-2002, driven so many times around the highlands.
Mou, during our drive up to Tambul, briefed me on developments there, including the sealing of a 17km stretch of the Tomba-Tambul road by Dekenai Construction Ltd, which is expected to be completed by July and open up a whole new world of opportunities for Tambul people.

Project signboard along the Tomba-Tambul road
The long and winding road takes in montane forests thick with trees, alpine shrubs, and icy-cold mountain streams tumbling down the mountainsides.
These streams join rivers such as the Lai in Enga which flows on to the mighty Sepik River, while others join the Kaguel, which flows down south to join the Purari in Gulf province,
As we round another bend, the panorama of the Kaguel valley, Tambul and majestic Mt Giluwe towering in the distance, unfolds.

Mt Giluwe towers over Tambul
Mt Giluwe is the second highest mountain in Papua New Guinea at 4,368 metres (14,331 feet), after Mt Wilhelm, and is specifically in neighbouring Southern Highlands.
Tambul, situated to the west of Mt Hagen and bordering Enga and Southern Highlands provinces, is famous for its fresh vegetables.
In fact, it is the single biggest producer of fresh vegetables in the country such as potatoes, broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower.
Brocolli farm belonging to the PNG Bible Church

Its people are some of the hardest working who still value their subsistent way of living.
Tambul station is about 2,224 m above sea level at the foot of Mt Giluwe, and was established as a government patrol post in the 1950s, with the first highlands highway passing through it in the 1960s to Mendi in Southern Highlands.
Believe it or not, ice and snow are regular occurrences here, and the place is freezing cold.
Tambul is already contributing in a big way towards development of agriculture in this country, with the research station.
It also has some of the best services found in a rural area such as good roads, health, education, mobile phone, district treasury and internet to enable local people and NARI scientists to be in touch with the world.
Take your laptop with you, plug in your modem, and you’re in touch with the world from this rural part of PNG!
Tribal fighting and law and order issues have been kept to a bare minimum, and local people respect government facilities at the station.
I spent an enjoyable Friday afternoon with NARI staff including programme manager Johannes Pakatul, as well as my former Aiyura National High School mate, scientist Kud Sitango, who showed me around beneath the towering presence of Mt Giluwe.

NARI agriculture station manager Johanes Pakutul in  a wheat field
Dinner is further down the road in a real ‘Little America’, reminiscent of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Ukarumpa, Eastern Highlands.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you were in America as the PNG Bible Church mission station has well-kept old style missionary houses in picture-perfect settings.

Picture-perfect missionary house at Tambul
The church runs a Bible school, Christian academy and vocational school as well as a guest house known as Frank Ward Pioneer Home, which offers excellent facilities at only K70 per night, including a warm fireplace to sustain you on those chilly Tambul nights.
“I enjoy doing this very much,” Pastor Rambal Poponawa of the PNGBC tells me.
Pastor Rambai Poponawa at the guest house at Tambul

“I want to see beauty.
“We want to create an atmosphere in which people can feel the presence of God.”
The amazing thing is that the school is entirely self-funding, mainly from the sale of fresh vegetables to established buyers in Port Moresby.
“Our church is financially independent,” Poponawa adds.
“The main funding for the school comes from the sale of vegetables.”
That night, even under three blankets, the freezing cold seeps right through to my bones!
Early last Saturday morning, NARI staffer James Laraki and I take a walk around the station, absorbing the sights and sounds of this mountain paradise, before the field day.

Another Tambul sunrise
This event coincided with the 46th NARI council meeting which was held at Tambul last Friday, however, a lower-than-anticipated crowd attended.
An icy-cold typical Tambul downpour also cut short the event and had visitors running for cover.
With the theme ‘Enhancing sustainable farming for rural farmers’, the event provided an opportunity for the people of Tambul and visitors alike to learn about activities undertaken, meet scientific and technical staff, tour the grounds and facilities, and gather information on other activities NARI undertakes throughout the country.
This event provided the chance to people to find out more about the research and development activities undertaken by NARI in the high altitude highlands region of PNG and how they can source and adopt them.
After the field day, I venture to the immaculate residence of local MP and Civil Aviation Minister, Benjamin Poponawa, where he is talking to local villagers.

Tambul-Nebilyer MP and Civil Aviation Minister Benjamin Poponawa.
“Tambul is the food basket of PNG,” he tells me.
“But there is no incentive for people to work in their gardens.
“My people of Tambul-Nebilyer are running PMVs in Port Moresby and Lae.
“We have to bring them back.
“We need funding assistance to support our programmes.”
Poponawa says that in 2009, while opening the district treasury, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare made a commitment of K5 million to the district but this had not been forthcoming because of “bureaucratic red tape”.
“A lot of programmes will go ahead if there is no bureaucratic red tape,” he adds.
“We have to make rural communities all over PNG attractive,
“One way is through assistance to agriculture programmes.
“Our district has gone out of its way to get agriculture experts from Israel, who will be arriving soon.
“Our major objective in the district is road infrastructure.
“Once that is in place, all services will follow through.”
Apart from the national government-funded Tomba-Tambul road sealing, Poponawa’s joint district planning and budget priorities committee has allocated K7.5 million funding for the 22km Tambul-Piambil upgrading, 10km Tambul-Upper Mendi, 7km Tambul ring road, 7km Pokerapul-Sisinpi, 10km Highlands Highway-Porabruk, and 12km West Kambia.
He is mindful of the new opportunities the liquefied natural gas project in neighbouring Southern Highlands will bring to his people.
“Tourism, especially through Mt Giluwe, and vegetables are a pot of gold that the people of Tambul are sitting on,” Poponawa says.
“NARI, however, is concentrating on research and development, and this is where extension services need to come in.
“We need to put up a cool room here for vegetables, as the LNG project is just around the corner, in Southern Highlands.
“The majority of people have land which they can utilise to grow vegetables, however, we need to look for markets for these people.

Potato field at NARI's high altitude research station
“Tourism is also something that we can tap into.
“Guest house operators need to be trained.”
Driving out of Tambul on a cold Saturday afternoon, after talking with Poponawa, I thought long and hard about the example Tambul has set for the rest of PNG.
Civilisation is here, in rural areas such as Tambul, not in the towns and cities.


  1. Looks a beautiful place Malum. I only wish I could get to some of these places in PNG but it seems I'm bound to only get to see POM and Lae.

  2. It is indeed a very beautiful place, Jason, with peaceful and law-abiding people!

  3. Bro Malu,

    As you indicated via email, I visited your blogspot. Iam really reminded of my home-sweet-home that you visited and displayed in the media. Thanks alot for all these. Justin L Talopa.

  4. Malum...i can see that the place has definitely changed for the better and the road works will greatly opened the opportunities and the potential of the area.

    I was there in 1990 to cover one of the peace ceremonies after years of tribal conflicts. it seems that peace has now prevailed and all the better for the tambul people

    Jack Nambari

  5. Cool, travelling there tomorrow from Canberra. Timely reminder, chief. SA

  6. Malum, I would like more information on potato screen houses mentioned in first paragraph of this post.