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Council Chairman Prof Kola passes on

NARI staff were shocked when news reached them that their Council Chairman Professor John Kola passed away on May 23 2016 at the University of Goroka where he was the Acting Vice Chancellor. Late Professor Kola collapsed at around mid-day at his family home at the university campus and was rushed to the Goroka Base Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

The passing of the late professor was deemed a great loss to the agriculture sector and Papua New Guinea.

Despite his distinct achievement as the first Papua New Guinean to achieve a doctorate in the field of chemistry, he was strategic and instrumental in key developments in the agriculture sector.

Late Prof Kola held high profile positions of several agricultural agencies during his career. He was a Director for the Cocoa Coconut Institute (CCI), Secretary for the Department Agriculture & Livestock (1996-97) and Chairman of the NARI Governing Council for 13 years from August 2003 to May 2016. He was part of the Council since NARI's origin in 1997.

Amongst staff that paid tribute on his untimely passing were both the current and former Director Generals of NARI Dr Sergie Bang and Dr Raghunath Ghodake.

According to Dr Bang, Dr Kola set high standards in science as foundation for research with NARI to improve food and nutrition security, income generation and socio-economic development in agricultural communities in PNG.

“Hence, he also was keen for NARI to demonstrate commercialization of agricultural technologies released so farmers could benefit in the value chains developed from farm to market.

He said Dr Kola was also an advocate for small-medium farm mechanization as an incentive to attract youths into agriculture production and marketing for gainful employment. He believed this transition is necessary to increase agricultural productivity and production, given PNG’s high annual population growth (3.2%) with huge numbers of school leavers of about 60, 000 every year.

Dr Raghunath Ghodake had a long association with late Dr Kola initially in DAL then in NARI. According to Dr Ghodake, Dr Kola was passionate about science and technology as a key contributor to the socio-economic development and prosperity of PNG.

He said, “This passion was embedded in him throughout his professional career. He fulfilled this passion as Secretary for DAL from 1996 to 1997. This is reflected through important policy directives during his tenure which led to the establishment of both NARI and NAQIA. This happened in a record time of less than six months, including having NEC endorsement and legislation by parliament.”

He said late Dr Kola was very instrumental in ensuring NARI became a leading agricultural research institute in the Region.

Dr Ghodake further reiterated that Dr Kola not only stepped in and filled in very ably the large shoe left behind by the late Sir Alkan Tololo but also steered the NARI Council very competently in providing congenial and created enabling policy and strategic environments for the institute to grow and perform.

Deputy Council Chairman Joseph Tomerop highlighted Late Prof Kola’s achievements at his funeral in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, as someone who was inspirational and advocated for NARI to become a leading agricultural research institute to serve rural communities in PNG.

Mr Tomerop said the Late Prof’s leadership stood the test of time when the national government in 1997 intended to abolish NARI and NAQIA established under his leadership as the DAL Secretary.

Late Prof Kola understood the role of research in agricultural development and provided visionary leadership and constructive guidance to develop NARI.

Deputy Director General Dr Akkinapally Ramakrishna also paid his respects saying he was pleased to have worked alongside Prof Kola under his leadership when NARI was faced with challenges.

Dr Rama said, “He (Prof Kola) strongly believed in passion for profession, perseverance to overcome obstacles and reach goals and prodding of young professionals with high moral and ethical standards. NARI succeeds today because of the vision of its founders.”

Senior scientist Elick Guaf who attended Kerevat National High around the same time as Late Prof Kola described him as very humble student with good leadership qualities.

“He set goals with sincerity to serve the disadvantaged. He was also a brilliant scientist and patriotic Papua New Guinean. He carved NARI out of DAL and was involved in the management of the board since the passing of pioneering Council Chairman Sir Alkan Tololo,” said Elick.

Billy Pitalai an ancillary staff said, “Late Prof Kola was a very good and humble leader. He treated everyone in the work place as equal.”

Research and Development Coordinator Ofara Petilani from the Islands Regional Centre (IRC), Kerevat, best described Late Prof Kola as someone who encouraged hard work and perseverance.

“Don’t be downhearted, we will work together to rebuild,” said Prof Kola after the administration building was burnt and work commenced on building a new office.

“Every time he (Prof Kola) came to Kerevat he would request to organise and pay for fruit seedlings to take home. He possessed true leadership, honesty, commitment and encouraged others to work hard. As a Papua New Guinean he has achieved a lot and others can also do the same despite the many challenges,” Ofara said.

Sainian Tobel, Executive Officer to NARI, said he was always passionate about one thing and that was farming.

She said, “He loved his farm and always wanted to trial out any new innovation or technology introduced by NARI and had a very good working relationship with all staff of the institute.” She said he achieved a lot during his term as chairman with a lot of infrastructure built including the Alan Quartermain Hall, Western Pacific Guesthouse, and Raghunath Ghodake Biotechnology Laboratory among others.

"He worked hard and was passionate about his work and those who worked with him. He was very fair with all staff,” said Ken Sanau a long time ancillary staff.

Ken said late Prof Kola’s leadership will be missed by everyone who knew him. Under the chairmanship of late Professor Kola 28 new and improved technologies were released, and adopted widely by farmers in PNG and the Pacific Region.

Under his leadership, NARI had an impeccable financial accounts record since its establishment in 1997.

The late Prof Kola leaves behind a leadership legacy for the agriculture sector to pursue and prosper in the near future.

May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

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