PAPUA New Guinea is largely a consumer of innovation, imported technologies and knowledge products. In the interests of our economic future, we need to move up the value chain to be a producer of innovation.
Science, technology and innovation are key forces driving economic growth and development in today’s global economy. This is a challenge for us.
PNG’s comparative advantage lies in its natural assets: its people, natural resources and rich cultural heritage. We need to translate these into tangible products and services to create opportunities for development.
One such endeavor is the biofuel research and development project at Pacific Adventist University. The project was initially funded to support the installation of a processing and testing facility and later to complete the design and installation of the processing plant.
The project produces biodiesel from used cooking oil and the research team is currently testing its quality against international standards in an attempt to commercialise biodiesel as a viable alternative fuel.
A further aspiration is to utilise feedstock from Papua New Guinea to produce biodiesel and ultimately to manufacture and blend the fuel at the university. This would provide significant environmental benefits to Papua New Guinea and stimulate economic growth and employment opportunities.
Additional sustainability benefits include the potential to reduce the emissions and carbon footprints of vehicles and diesel operated machinery.
A couple of years ago I visited beautiful Kokopo to asses a village-based coconut oil project underway in Rabaul and set up a model for both coconut research and its adoption to commercialisation.
Rabaul Virgin Coconut Oil Limited is a community-based business with 16 employees involved in downstream processing of virgin coconut oil.
Samples are sent to Dr Aisak Pue at the PNG University of Natural Resources and Environment to ensure quality is maintained.
This community-based project was initiated as a socio-economic remedy to the victims of the volcanic eruptions that destroyed their livelihood and coconut plantations.
Virgin coconut oil is a high value product. It can be produced economically in village-scale operations.
This project is viable and a very good model for other provinces to adopt in a serious attempt to shift from extractive (brown economy) to renewable resources (green economy).
Last week the media and public went into a frenzy when the management of Port Moresby General Hospital decided to charge patients a K15,000 fee for snakebite anti-venom.
Little did they know there is a team of dedicated researchers who have been trying to address this issue for several years.
Snakebite is a neglected health issue that has seen patient numbers rise to 300-400 cases a year, especially rural people in Central, Oro and Milne Bay provinces.
Most victims of snakebite lack access to safe, effective and affordable anti-venoms and this is compounded by the lack of trained and qualified health workers to manage snakebite cases.
For the last five years, a joint research project with inputs from PNG, Australia and Costa Rica has been addressing this issue.
This project arose because of the very high current cost of anti-venom and the belief that anti-venom raised from the venom of local snakes would be better able to neutralise specific toxins, resulting in improved patients outcomes.
The main achievement of the project has been the development of a new low-cost anti-venom for the treatment of victims bitten by Papuan taipan snakes. This is currently undergoing clinical trials.
I am optimistic that the anti-venom produced by some of our best scientists will be a prescription dose soon. It will substantially reduce current treatment costs, while improving its availability.