Student series – #3 Reuben Sengere

The rise, fall and the revival of the Papua New Guinea coffee industry

In this series we will be posing a number of questions to our past students about their research projects.

Reuben Sengere is a socio-economist with Papua New Guinea’s Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) and an Adjunct Research Fellow in  the Pacific livelihoods Research Group. He has a background in agriculture, science communication and social sciences. He engages in development studies with particular interest in socio economics. Reuben is the Papua New Guinea lead researcher on the project ‘Improving livelihoods of smallholder coffee communities in Papua New Guinea’.

Reuben completed his Doctorate with the Pacific Livelihoods Research Group, receiving a distinction, under the supervision of Professor George Curry and Associate Professor Gina Koczberski. The title of his dissertation is “The Rise, Fall and the Revival of the Papua New Guinea Coffee Industry”. His findings have recently been published in Asia Pacific Viewpoint, titled: “Forging alliances: Coffee grower and chain leader partnerships to improve productivity and coffee quality in Papua New Guinea”.

1) What was the main finding of your thesis?

The approach I took to conduct the research was broad and holistic, where various production systems were considered and key stakeholders were interviewed to ascertain problems causing the decline of the PNG coffee industry. The main findings included identifying the socio-economic and political factors leading to low productivity of smallholders, blocks and plantations, and the problems surrounding relationships between coffee value chain actors. I proposed some strategies that could be used to revive the ailing coffee industry.

2) What challenges do coffee groups face?

The main challenges coffee grower groups encounter are: poor leadership in groups, state agencies failing to provide institutional leadership (lack of regular contact to provide advisory services), state agencies not providing incentive programs through the groups, and the lack of auditing and monitoring of groups. These are some of the problems that have affected collective action of grower groups.

3) Why is your thesis research important?

The thesis provides a way forward for the coffee industry through devising strategies which have been conceived through the analyses of current problems. This study adds to the knowledge of how the social embeddedness of coffee farming influences coffee productivity and production, both positively as well as negatively. Thus, social embeddedness approach provided a useful theoretical framework for investigating socio-economic problems in a transitional economy like PNG.

4) Are there policy implications of your research? If so, what are they?

The thesis is currently informing the new coffee industry strategic plan for the next decade.

5) Please list any research organisations that your work has been associated with.  

I made a presentation on Indigenous Entrepreneurship which was taken from my thesis to an audience comprising of representatives from coffee, oil palm and cocoa industries. They thought my findings were relevant to their industries. Businesses that take into account the indigenous socio-economy are deemed as ‘indigenous businesses’. Indigenous businesses are managed by ‘transitional business leaders’ who incorporate traditional and modern market values in their operations and thus are hybrid entrepreneurs and are more likely to succeed in rural PNG.

I have been asked to make a presentation at the Institute of National Affairs in Port Moresby. Also, the coffee industry is already employing some of my findings to initiate an expanding grower group in the highlands of PNG.

6) Any other information you may wish to add?

I am writing a proposal that focuses on developing an efficient supply chain targeting high value coffee markets and attracting attention of financiers. Also, my key findings have been published in Asia Pacific Viewpoint.


Sengere, R.W. (2016). The Rise, Fall and Revival of the Papua New Guinea Coffee Industry. Doctoral Thesis. Curtin University: Perth.

Sengere, R.W., Curry, G.N. and Koczberski, G. (2019). Forging Alliances: coffee grower and chain leader partnerships to improve productivity and coffee quality. Asia Pacific Viewpoint. doi:10.1111/apv.12222

Photo Credit: Reuben Sengere

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