“Start at the bottom and climb your way up. That is the best way to build a successful career. If you go straight in at the top you miss out on the basics and never fully understand your work.”
This is the philosophy of Amnon Ricanati, an Israeli, whose first job was driving a tractor on a chicken farm.
Since then he has scaled his way up the agricultural career ladder, running farming enterprises everywhere from Hungary to Liberia. He is now the general manager of Ilimo Poultry in Port Moresby, one of Papua New Guinea’s leading agricultural businesses.
“Initially I had wanted to be a sculptor but I soon discovered it did not pay the rent,” explained Amnon. “I was brought up on a corporate farm in Israel and decided agriculture was a more practical career for me to follow. I have no regrets.”
Last year Amnon was headhunted to run Ilimo by Agridev, an international company formed by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture.
This Port Moresby posting is Amnon’s most challenging to date. Despite a degree in animal husbandry and a formidable amount of farming experience under his belt, Papua New Guinean agriculture is a whole new world to him.
“The philosophy here is very different,” he admitted. “Things move at a slower pace than in more modernised countries but the locally grown products are excellent and the agricultural potential is severely underestimated.”
Ilimo Poultry Products, formed in 1971, is spread over an immense area of 1,500 hectares. On this land there are several different enterprises, but poultry dominates. Over 4,500 tonnes of chicken meat is produced each year on the farm.
“The poultry part of the set-up encompasses all aspects of chicken manufacturing,” said Amnon. “We breed the chickens, hatch them and deal with the meat production right from the slaughtering stage through to packaging. We also have a separate enterprise for the egg-laying hens. All the poultry products are sold in our farm shop and at food stores all over town.
“Big scale poultry farming is a scientific and sophisticated business. New technology is being developed everyday and we have to move with the times. Innovation is a priority at Ilimo and we are currently building a chicken shed to test out a new feeding and ventilation system.”
Another Ilimo innovation is the development of a hi-tech feed mill. The mill, which has only recently started operating, is capable of processing up to 28,000 tonnes of grain a year. In the long run this will help to substantially cut Ilimo’s feed costs.
“The feed mill blends different types of grain together,” said Amnon. “This way it can produce food mixtures for many different types of livestock – whether chickens, cattle or pigs. It is a very exciting project which I hope will boost not only local employment but the country’s economy as a whole. The more products that can be processed in Papua New Guinea itself, rather than being exported, the better.”
Despite his degree in animal husbandry there is one creature at Ilimo that Amnon had never encountered before his arrival in Port Moresby – the crocodile. The lush, swampy land that runs alongside the River Laloki is ideally suited to both salt water and fresh water crocodiles .
Ilimo capitalised on this and started farming both types of crocodile back in 1982. They now boast over 1,000 crocs and during the next four years plan a radical increase of up to 30,000.
“The weather and the environment is perfect for crocodiles here,” said Kambut Kamon, the crocodile farm manager. “It is tropical but not too dry. Another advantage is we can feed them the chickens. “Crocodiles are very much an up-and-coming market in this country. The meat is popular locally and their skins make lucrative exports.” Ilimo employs over 400 staff of which only six are expatriates. All the employees receive comprehensive inhouse training but those who show particular potential are sent on training courses abroad to develop their skills.
“Educating the national people so they can manage their own businesses is essential,” said Amnon. “That is the key to the success of this country’s future. Agriculture is full of fertile opportunities and will provide the key to this country’s long term prosperity. Ilimo is glad to be part of this. I am very optimistic for the future, both for the company and for Papua New Guinea’s agriculture in general.”