Papua New Guinea

Fascinating Facts About Papua New Guinea

May 12, 2020

Native Vanilla is located in the lush, incredibly diverse island of Papua New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific. Founded by Dan Edmiston in August 2017, the company brings top-quality vanilla products to market that are organically farmed and sustainably sourced from rural growers in Papua New Guinea.

Edmiston found himself back in Papua New Guinea after a long absence from his childhood home when he identified a need to help micro farmers on the island get a fair price for their vanilla beans as well as the need to produce a high-quality dry-cured vanilla bean for the global markets.

Native Vanilla has grown into a successful brand and is traded on five continents with a growing footprint. Its coverage includes North America, Asia, Australis, Africa, and Europe. Native Vanilla’s mission is to promote sustainable farming rather than subsistence farming in the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

Native Vanilla’s roots are deeply embedded in the rural communities where Papua New Guinea’s ‘black gold’ is grown, and Edmiston remains committed to supporting the micro farmers and improving the quality of life of the widespread farming communities.

Where is Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea is located in Oceania in the southwestern Pacific, due north of Australia in the great Pacific Ocean. Oceania is a region made up of thousands of islands throughout the Central and South Pacific Ocean. It includes Australia, which is the smallest continent in terms of total land area.

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, which is the second-largest island in the world. As well as the mainland, Papua New Guinea includes the islands of New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, and about 600 small islands and archipelagos.

Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea are classified as continental islands, meaning they were once attached to a continent before sea-level changes and tectonic activity isolated them. Continental islands are characterized by spectacular highlands, which are known as fold mountains.

These unique folded mountains were created as tectonic plates pressed together and pushed land upwards. New Zealand and Papua New Guinea also have volcanic features as a result of tectonic activity. 

What is the difference between New Guinea and Papua New Guinea?

New Guinea is one of the largest islands in the world and is located in the eastern Malay Archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Ocean bounds it to the north, the Bismarck and Solomon seas to the east, the Coral Sea and Torres Strait to the north, and the Arafura Sea to the southwest.

New Guinea is divided into two parts for administrative purposes. Papua New Guinea makes up the eastern half of the island of New Guinea; the other half is called West Papua and is being occupied by Indonesia. There is currently a global campaign exposing Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua and is supporting the road to self-determination for the West Papuan people.

In 1971, the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was renamed Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea has had its independence from Australia since 1975. The Independent State of Papua New Guinea became a member of the Commonwealth in 1975, and Queen Elizabeth II of the Royal British Monarch continues to act as its head of state.

Elections in 1972 resulted in the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Papua New Guinea became self-governing on 1 December 1973 and achieved independence on 16 September 1975. ( Source: Wikipedia )

Despite having gained its independence, the island continues to enjoy a close relationship with Australia. The majority of Papua New Guinea’s funding comes from the government of Australia, through the Department of Foreign Affairs in trade. Some AU$ 4 billion in international aid is donated each year to the islands of Oceania, and Papua New Guinea receives most of it.


Continent: Oceania

Official name: Independent State of Papua New Guinea, Named after the country of Guinea in Africa

Official language(s): English, Hiri Motu, and Tok Pisin

Cultural diversity: 800 languages and over 1000 distinct ethnic groups

Religion: Predominantly Christian

Population: Estimated to be 7 866 753 (as of January 2017)

Distribution: Only 18% of its inhabitants live in urban centers

Size: Land area of 462 840 square kilometers (178 700 square miles), 54th largest country in the world in terms of land area

Capital city: Port Moresby, known as Pom City or Moresby

Major towns: Lae, Mount Hagan and Wewak

Terrain: Mountainous with coastal lowlands and rolling foothill, 77% of Papua New Guinea is covered in tropical rainforests, 5150 kilometers (3 200 miles) of coastline, surrounded by coral reefs

Fauna and flora: Estimated 11000 plant species, 250 mammals and 700 bird species

Climate: Subtropical with average temperatures of 22-25°C, highs of 32°C

Leadership: Prime Minister James Marape (since May 2019)

Currency: PNG Kina

Time zone: (Greenwich Mean Time) GMT+10

National sport: Rugby League (unofficial)

Rich natural resources

Papua New Guinea is a country of immense biological diversity and is rich in natural resources. It’s famous for its stunning beaches and vibrant coral reefs, active volcanoes, towering granite Mount Wilhelm, dense rainforest, and spectacular hiking routes such as the Kokoda Trail.

The country’s natural resources include minerals and renewable resources such as natural forests, marine, and crops. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has one of the world’s largest major natural stocks of tuna.

The major mineral commodities produced in Papua New Guinea are silver, gold, and copper. The economically-important industrial minerals of the country include phosphate rock deposits, limestone, sulfur, silica, pozzolan, graphite, diatomite, and asbestos.

vanilla flower
Vanilla Flower

Diverse fauna and flora

Papua New Guinea is one of the least explored nations in the world, and it’s believed that there are still many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.

The highest mountain in Papua New Guinea is Mount Wilhelm, which stands at 4 509 meters (14 793 feet) above sea level. The island is one of the few regions close to the equator that experiences snowfall, which occurs in the most elevated parts of the mainland.

The island is home to the third-largest rainforest in the world, after the Amazon and the Congo. The world’s only known poisonous bird, the Hooded Pitohui, is found deep in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.

Famously, the continental island is home to the largest butterfly in the world known as the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. This incredible butterfly is native to Papua New Guinea and has an average wingspan of some 25 centimeters (9.8 inches).

Fauna and flora under threat in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is rich in flora, fauna, and natural resources. It is not surprising considering the islands have existed in isolation for thousands of years. A significant threat to the rich botanical glory of Papua New Guinea is logging and sea-bed mining.

Logging and sea-bed mining have, in recent years, slowly eroded the islands’ natural resources and threatened the independence of women under Papua New Guinea’s matrilineal system, where sustainable agriculture and customary laws come secondary to major investors.

Cultural diversity

Papua New Guinea is regarded as one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries on the planet. The nation has at least 800 languages and 1 000 distinct ethnic groups.

It’s believed the indigenous people settled on the island over 50 000 years ago, and there’s evidence of agricultural cultivation that dates back at least 9 000 years ago.

A large proportion of the population practice Christianity, which was introduced to the island by missionaries in the 1940s. The rural communities are deeply traditional and still worship various spirits and their ancestors.

Sadly, Papua New Guinea is tragically burdened with extreme poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and an almost non-existent healthcare system and a deeply entrenched gender equality and violence against women.

People of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world. The ocean region has 600 islands that are home to communities that have inhabited the islands for over 1 000 years. At least 852 distinct languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, and there are as many distinct ethnic groups with their own cultures and customs.

The traditional cultures and languages of Papua New Guinea have survived purely because so many of the communities live in relative isolation on islands that are untouched by commercialization and modernization.

The majority of its inhabitants live in remote villages in the isolated mountainous interior and have little contact with each other, let alone the outside world. These rural communities live within a non-monetarized economy that is almost entirely dependent on subsistence agriculture.

Gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea has come under much criticism because of its history of violence against women that stems from the rural people’s belief in witchcraft. Sorcery-related violence is still happening in some of the more isolated areas, where women are six times more likely to be accused of witchcraft/sorcery and punished for it. Extreme sorcery-related violence ranges from rape and sexual assault to inhumane treatment, torture, and even murder.

Sorcery-related violence against women is illegal, but customary law makes it hard to punish the perpetrators, and there is little justice available to survivors and affected family members. The Australian Federal Police described gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea as a pandemic, where close to 70% of women in the rural communities have suffered violence metered out by their partners or husbands.

The women of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea suffers from gross gender inequality, but several communities are matrilineal. It means the women are the traditional custodians of the land. The land titles are passed down from generation to generation via the women who have a higher status in society over the men on the islands.

The women in Papua New Guinea are incredibly hardworking, resilient, and resourceful. However, they are still extremely vulnerable in a society based on old but entrenched social beliefs. An organization such as the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) plays a vital role in addressing the prevention of violence against women in Papua New Guinea and strengthening their rights and participation in the leadership of the country.

IWDA is the leading Australian agency that is entirely focussed on women’s rights and gender equality in the Asia Pacific region.

Shared customary law

Over 85% of the population of Papua New Guinea live in rural areas that are often isolated by treacherous terrain and limited transport options. Many of these rural communities still function through a cultural system known as ‘wantok’ (meaning ‘one talk’). They share customary laws and practices that are partially recognized by the constitution of Papua New Guinea.

Vanilla farming in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea produces some of the finest dry-cured vanilla beans in the world. This sought-after spice is used to flavor food, beverages, and perfumes. It’s extracted from orchids of the genus Vanilla and primarily obtained from pods of the Mexican species, the flat-leaved Vanilla (V. planifolia).

The word vanilla is derived from ‘vainilla’, which is the diminutive of the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning a sheath or pod). Roughly translated, vaina means ‘little pod.’

There are two commercial types of Vanilla; Bourbon (Vanilla planifolia) and Tahitian (Vanilla tahitensis). Both species are grown in Papua New Guinea. Bourbon vanilla is a higher yielding, contains more vanillin, and has broader market appeal. Tahitian Vanilla needs a shorter period to induce flowering and is suited to a wider range of environmental conditions.

In Papua New Guinea, Vanilla is grown successfully from sea level to 600 meters altitude, although it can be found at over 1 400 meters above sea level.

The hot and humid temperatures of the island are conducive for optimal growth, which is enhanced by the fact that rainfall on the island is distributed throughout the year. Two dry months are needed to slow vegetative growth and induce flowering.

Vanilla world consumption

Vanilla is a small niche market. World consumption varies from between 1 800 and 3 000 tonnes, where production varies from between 1 200 and 4 000 tonnes. The vanilla market is characterized by extreme price fluctuations, made up of high price peaks, and prolonged troughs of relatively low prices.

Madagascar produces between 60 to 75 percent of the world’s Vanilla, and the vanilla market is susceptible to events in Madagascar.

For instance, a severe cyclone that disrupted vanilla production in Madagascar in early 2000 triggered a rapid rise in world vanilla prices. Vanilla farmers around the world frantically planted and rehabilitated vanilla plantations on the back of these high prices only to find in July 2004, the vanilla market’s price levels collapsed. Vanilla prices continue to rise and fall quite dramatically.

History of Vanilla in Papua New Guinea

Vanilla is quite a recent addition to Papua New Guinea’s agricultural mix. Where once only a few hundred micro farmers were growing Vanilla on the island, there are now more than 50 000 people making their living from this highly sought-after but unpredictable spice.

Vanilla farming has been practiced in Papua New Guinea for a long time. Still, it was only in 1993 that the industry took off when Allan Bird of Bangui Bio Products Ltd. planted Vanilla on a large scale near Maprik in East Sepik Province.

Bird encouraged local farmers in the surrounding villages to also plant Vanilla and set up the cooperation of sorts to provide the critical mass needed to grow the smallholder-based business.

A massive incentive for micro vanilla farmers in Papua New Guinea is the strength of the US Dollar against the local currency (Kina). Another positive for rural farmers is Vanilla does not require large areas of land to produce a good income.

The orchid that produces the vanilla pod is now planted extensively in all the lowland and island provinces. The only drawback is that many of the vanilla-producing areas are not suitable for the Bourbon variety, and Papua New Guinea has not reached production levels, the likes of which you’ll see in Madagascar, Indonesia, and Tonga.

Farm to market

Papua New Guinea is the third-largest producer of vanilla products in the world (after Madagascar and Indonesia). Production of Vanilla in Papua New Guinea represents about 10 to 15 percent of the world’s output.

A slow curing process develops the distinctive flavor and fragrance of the high-quality Vanilla produced on the island. It’s very labor-intensive and can take between three to six months for the vanilla bean to reach perfect maturity.

The Vanilla micro farmers do their curing in their remote villages. Everybody in the growing area participates in the laborious harvesting and curing process and collectively contribute to the wealth of the area.

Dry curing by the villages initially lowered the quality of Vanilla produced by Papua New Guinea. However, the island farmers have benefited from extensive training and learned better farming and curing methods in recent years to ensure they produce vanilla products of the finest quality.

Price regulations and buying

In the past, the vanilla industry in Papua New Guinea was mostly unregulated, and the traders and exporters paid the same price for vanilla production regardless of its quality. It meant there was little incentive for micro farmers to adopt correct curing techniques.

Today, the bulk of vanilla exporters on the island apply strict standards and pay significant price premiums for quality vanilla beans. They also conduct their farmer training programs, which have resulted in a vast improvement in the quality of Vanilla that comes out of Papua New Guinea.

Vanilla is bought by the buyers over three months, starting in February. Transactions are typically on a cash-on-delivery (COD) basis. Large volumes are purchased directly from the bigger farms.

The vanilla market in Papua New Guinea was under-regulated for a long time, which left micro farmers vulnerable to unscrupulous buyers and vanilla agents. Today, the micro farmers of Papua New Guinea are supported by companies like Native Vanilla that promotes sustainable farming, as opposed to subsistence farming.

Future prospects of vanilla production

The high price of Vanilla on the global market and the intense competition to supply the market has helped increase the buying price, and the micro farmers have benefited from this. However, there is still much to do to regulate the vanilla market in Papua New Guinea as well as improve the level of production to enhance the best quality vanilla.

The United States, France, Germany, and Indonesia are the main markets for Papua New Guinea’s vanilla production. Growers are starting to get the picture that the higher the quality of their dry-cured vanilla bean, the more they will be paid.

Vanilla is the perfect spice product to produce in a country like Papua New Guinea with its poor infrastructure and isolated villages. The spice is non-perishable when cured, which means that it can be brought in from remote locations with poor or non-existent road access.

The most crucial concern for micro farmers is to perfect the dry-curing process so that the vanilla beans are not overdried or under-dried, so they either lose their flavor or go moldy.


Weather In Papua New Guinea

The climate of New Guinea is tropical, with mean annual maximum temperatures ranging between 30 and 32 °C (86 and 90 °F) in the lowlands. Daytime temperatures in the highlands generally exceed 22 °C (72 °F ) year-round.

The southeast trade winds blow for about seven months each year, and rainfall on the southward-facing slopes of the central highlands frequently exceeds 7 620 millimeters (300 inches) annually. For this reason, the Fly-Digul shelf and bordering highlands of Papua New Guinea are one of the world’s wettest places and also one of the least-inhabited.

The central highlands receive rain throughout the year, totaling between 2 540 mm and 4 065 mm (100 and 160 inches).

Is it safe to visit Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea is one of the most beautiful island destinations you can visit in the world. Most of the island is uninhabitable and untouched by modern development. The breathtakingly-beautiful hiking trails that the island is renowned for and vast natural wilderness appeal to nature lovers and the most extreme adventurists.

However, traveling around Papua New Guinea can be dangerous, and you must make your safety a priority. The island is no different from any other developing and impoverished country in the world, and you need to use your common sense and local knowledge to stay safe in Papua New Guinea.

Levels of crime and violence in Papua New Guinea are high and have remained consistently so over more than a decade. Violent crime, such as robberies and assaults, appears to be increasing as a proportion of overall crime, and that crime is on the rise in known “hotspots” such as Lae and the National Capital District (NCD). (Source: The World Bank )

Be careful of trespassing

In Papua New Guinea, there is no such thing as public land. Every acre of space belongs to someone, whether it’s a tribe or family. Before you go off exploring or hiking through mountains and valleys, ask a local or a guide where you may go.

Hire a guide

Tourist guides are held in high regard by the locals, and you should travel around Papua New Guinea with an established tour operator. A local guide will help you make a good impression on the tribal villages and will steer you away from any situation that could escalate into a life-threatening situation.

It’s hard to explain just how far removed from the Western way of living it is in Papua New Guinea. There is limited tourism infrastructure, and roads connect very few regions on the island. Internet connectivity is minimal, except in the bigger hotels in Port Moresby.

Find yourself a reputable tour guide, and your trip to Papua New Guinea should be free of any unpleasant incidences.

Avoid walking around at night

Papua New Guinea has a reputation for high levels of violent crime. Although it is isolated to localized in-fighting and community disagreements, you don’t want to fall victim to dangerous crime on your trip.

The ‘baddies’ are called ‘razkols,’ and they are gangsters that take to the streets at sundown. They’re opportunist criminals looking for easy pickings from unsuspecting tourists. Don’t walk around at night on your own and be vigilant during the day when you’re out and about on the streets of Papua New Guinea.

Don’t flash cash and keep valuables out of sight

The same thing you’d do in any underdeveloped, poor country; don’t look like a rich tourist. Armed robbery and violent attacks on tourists are rare in Papua New Guinea, but petty, opportunist crime is quite common in the big towns.

Be careful where you put your wallet because pick-pocketers will take it off you; keep valuables like laptops, cameras, and expensive mobile phones out of sight or leave them in a safe in your hotel; don’t carry large amounts of cash on you and don’t wear expensive jewelry.

Take out travel insurance with medical cover

It’s highly recommended that you take out proper travel insurance with medical cover for a holiday to Papua New Guinea. Sanitary conditions are not on par with Western standards, and access to good healthcare facilities is problematic, particularly in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.

If you fall seriously ill or are badly injured, you’ll have to be flown out of the country to somewhere like Australia for urgent medical attention.

Transport in Papua New Guinea

Your options for reliable transport in Papua New Guinea are relatively limited. Getting around the island can be challenging, and flying is often your best option. Several reliable domestic airlines and charter companies operate in Papua New Guinea that serves the provincial capitals and regional towns.

Public motor vehicles (PMVs) are like the popular African mini taxis and are the most common modes of transport to travel from large towns to remote country destinations. They are privately-owned minivans, trucks, or buses.

Many tourists visit Papua New Guinea for beach holidays and scuba diving. Find a reputable boating company if you’re traveling anywhere by boat because there have been a few very unpleasant incidences with pirates harassing tourists and locals off the coast.

Medical facilities and healthcare in Papua New Guinea

Healthcare in Papua New Guinea is poor to non-existent in the remote areas and the country as a whole. Medical facilities are essential, and you’ll only find hospitals in the capital of Port Moresby and the large towns. These are merely just adequate for routine procedures and some emergencies.

Doctors and hospitals in Papua New Guinea expect cash payments upfront for medical services, particularly from tourists. Pharmacies are typically small and not well stocked. You’ll find a few in the urban centers and at missionary clinics on the island.

You may well need to be evacuated from Papua New Guinea for a medical emergency, and this will put you back several thousand Australian dollars. It’s highly recommended that you take out proper travel insurance with medical cover before arriving in Papua New Guinea.

Malaria and tropical diseases in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a high-risk malaria region, and tropical disease is common and rife. It’s highly recommended you take anti-malaria tablets if you are visiting the island. Get advice on what vaccinations you need for Papua New Guinea from a travel clinic or online from a reliable source.


Malaria is a life-threatening infectious disease that can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. Malaria is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito that carries the Plasmodium parasite. The parasite is released into your bloodstream when an infected mosquito bites someone.

Once in your bloodstream, the parasite travels to the liver where it matures. After several days, the mature parasites re-enter the bloodstream and begin to infect your red blood cells.

Within 48 to 72 hours, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, which causes the infected cells to burst open. The parasites continue to infect your red blood cells, causing symptoms that occur in cycles that last two to three days at a time.

You must be prescribed the right anti-malaria tablet for the region you are visiting. The prophylactic drugs for malaria are not guaranteed to be 100% protective and must be combined with other protective measures to prevent being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Preventative measures include covering up exposed skin with long pants, socks and shoes, and long-sleeved shirts when mosquitos are most active, which is between dawn and dusk. Use a quality insect repellant that contains DEET and sleep under a mosquito net at night.

Tropical diseases

Travel with a strong antibiotic cream that can be applied to minor cuts and scratches. Because of high temperatures and poor sanitation in Papua New Guinea, it’s quite common for them to become badly infected. If possible, travel with a broad-spectrum antibiotic as an added precaution.

Common travel illnesses experienced in Papua New Guinea include skin infections, vomiting and diarrhea, and malaria. Travel with a first aid kit with medicine for chronic vomiting and diarrhea.

Infectious disease in Papua New Guinea includes HIV, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date for these common infectious diseases.

What vaccinations do you need for Papua New Guinea?

You must see a travel doctor or clinic for advice on vaccinations you need for Papua New Guinea before you depart for your holiday. You will receive valuable information on which immunizations and booster shots you need for a holiday to Papua New Guinea.

The CDC and WHO recommend these vaccinations for travelers to Papua New Guinea:

  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Typhoid
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Rabies (speak to your doctor about rabies in particular)
  • Meningitis
  • Polio
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)
  • Pneumonia

Food and drinking water

Avoid drinking untreated or unpurified water on your trip to Papua New Guinea. You risk contracting a disease from dirty, unclean water that carries giardia, shigella, cholera, and typhoid.

The water is supposedly safe to drink in the capital city and large towns but rather be safe than sorry if you are prone to travel diarrhea, and drink bottled water. Keep the medication in your first aid kit for diarrhea and vomiting, such as Lomotil or Imodium.

Be strict about washing fresh fruit and vegetables with clean water in case the product has been watered with dirty water containing traces of the above. It’s recommended that you stick to eating cooked food prepared in sanitary conditions. Avoid eating street food that is prepared in very unsanitary conditions.

Here is also a great infographic about vanilla production:

vanilla beans

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