Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Socioeconomic research in PNG is changing lives

PNG smallholder farmer
Last month, ACIAR’s Agricultural Systems Management program manager, Dr Caroline Lemerle brought together the many researchers involved in socioeconomic aspects of agricultural research in Papua New Guinea (PNG). At the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) Headquarters in Lae, 40 researchers represented 8 ACIAR projects, past and present. Over two days, participants discussed their projects, the constraints they faced, the outputs they achieved and the lessons learned.

The projects covered a range of commodities, including vegetables, coffee, floriculture, coffee and oil palm, across a range of geographies such as Western Highlands, Central Province and New Britain. Over the two days participants compared constraints faced in East New Britain with those in the Highlands, and the lessons learned in coffee and oil palm with those in sweetpotato and vegetable crops.

ACIAR's PNG Country Manager, Ms Emily Flowers commented that 'it was great to see socioeconomists, and people working with socioeconomic teams, all together in one room for focused discussion. The cross organisation/commodity/sector involvement made for really rich, open discussion and some fantastic insights'.

Workshop participants at NARI, Lae
Some projects were able to share success stories, such as the one currently working on women's agribusiness in Central Province. Organised community groups gained access to banks through arranged partnerships with local banking institutions very early in this project. The immediate positive impact for farmers is access to credit in order to purchase stock, seeds, or technology that will increase the quality and quantity of their product.

Other teams discussed the obstacles faced in achieving similar goals in Highland provinces due to the remote location of communities in relation to banks, as well as social and cultural attitudes of the communities towards borrowing and saving money.

There is sometimes little or no infrastructure for PNG farmers,
especially in the highlands region
Many of the projects represented at the workshop work with smallholder families and small communities to enable them to earn a better income from their products. The research involves looking at the economic constraints to the uptake of new technology, and the social factors that inhibit market access. In more remote areas of PNG, little to no basic infrastructure makes access to larger markets almost impossible. So it’s imperative that smallholder farmers in these regions achieve a healthy livelihood for their families within their own communities. The disparate geographies make it difficult to develop a ‘one-size fits all’ solution for all smallholders, as what is successful in the lowlands may not work at all in the highlands.

'We were reminded of the importance of understanding the communities we work with to tailor solutions to their needs; that we become better researchers in the process of understanding and working with them.'
NARI Scientist, Dr Norah Omot.

Caroline, Norah, Emily and the other participants consider the workshop a great achievement. One project leader emailed within a few days of the workshop’s conclusion to tell us her team had taken what they learned at our workshop and applied it to their own project workshops in Rabaul and Mt Hagen to great effect.

The PNG meeting’s success will guarantee that another similar workshop will follow in the coming years. In the short term, a technical proceedings report will be published by ACIAR — it will include the comparative discussions held over the two days as well as separate papers submitted by each project prior to the workshop. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed and website for notification of its completion!
By Janet Williams, Program Support Officer for Agricultural Systems Management

More information

ACIAR projects:

Improving the marketing system for fresh produce of the highlands of PNG

ASEM/2006/035 Improving marketing efficiency, postharvest management and value addition of sweet potato in Papua New Guinea           

ASEM/2006/127 Commercial sector/smallholder partnerships for improving incomes in the oil palm and cocoa industries in Papua New Guinea

 ASEM/2008/036 Improving livelihoods of smallholder families through increased productivity of coffee-based farming systems in the highlands of Papua New Guinea

ASEM/2010/052 Examining women’s business acumen in Papua New Guinea: Working with women smallholders in horticulture    

ASEM/2011/048 An integrated approach for systemic change and sustained development of the Papua New Guinea sweetpotato value chain      

HORT/2008/011 Strategies for using floriculture to improve livelihoods in indigenous Australian and Pacific island communities     

SMCN/2008/008 Increasing vegetable production in Central Province, Papua New Guinea to supply Port Moresby markets

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