Monday, 23 December 2013

Success stories of socioeconomic research in Papua New Guinea

A recent workshop in Papua New Guinea (PNG) brought Australian and PNG project personnel together to learn from current and recent ACIAR socioeconomic work. Dr Caroline Lemerle, ACIAR’s Agricultural Systems Management research program manager, describes some of the successes of this work...
The sociocultural environment surrounding farming systems in Papua New Guinea is particularly complex, because of the country’s extreme geographic and cultural diversity. It's important to understand the specific sociocultural context to enable new crops and farming practices to be adopted by PNG farmers and to succeed, ultimately improving their livelihoods. This includes understanding farmers' perspectives, resources and decision making, government policies affecting smallholder agriculture, and market factors (e.g. value chains and consumer preferences). We've had some really good outcomes from ACIAR's socioeconomic research, and some examples are given below.

Helping women vegetable producers
Research aiming to improve vegetable production and marketing for smallholders in the Central province identified issues and training needs from farmer household surveys and workshops. The research found that women’s role in the fresh food supply chain, and the difficulties they face, have not been well understood or appreciated. Workshops and training specifically tailored for the women were subsequently used to help address this problem. As a result of being better informed, many of the women who participated have adopted new and improved practices in their vegetable business. This should help them earn better returns for their efforts, and time will tell.

Oil palm fruit
Land-use agreements for oil palm farmers
Other social research to improve incomes of smallholder oil palm farmers addressed issues of land use pressures to enable non-clan farmers to grow palm on customary land belonging to others. Focused in West New Britain province, lengthy fieldwork included farmer meetings, in-depth interviews and workshops over several years with landowners, migrants and government. This helped researchers and stakeholders understand the common causes of disputes between landowners and ‘outsiders’. The collaborative approach has really paid off, resulting in the design and acceptance of an effective land-use agreement. There is now government commitment at a national level to introduce similar agreements wherever land is being transferred to non-clan members for oil palm cultivation.

Sweetpotatoes for sale
Credit for sweetpotato farmers
 Another ACIAR project aiming to improve livelihoods of Highlands sweetpotato farmers identified their top priority was to improve their access to credit. Problems with loan design (from providers’ perspective) and financial management (from farmers’ perspective) then needed  addressing. Farmers, finance providers and researchers were actively involved in coming up with solutions together to improve the situation. Farmers were linked up to credit providers, and also provided with training in financial literacy. The impacts on the community were immediate, with many farmers being able to buy high-quality seeds, hire labour and invest in technology that improved their farm productivity.

Farmers' goals 
These socioeconomic studies and others have shown that PNG farmers’ aspirations and goals are often not the same as perceived or assumed by outside experts. Not always driven by income, farmers are also influenced strongly by sociocultural values such as family obligations. We need to take care to understand the specific context of each situation for the introduction of improved agricultural practices to make a real difference.

Socioeconomic research workshop 
A recent workshop brought Australian and PNG project personnel together to learn from current and recent ACIAR socioeconomic work. Participants examined what methods worked and why, and compared results from projects involving sweetpotato, coffee, oil palm, cocoa and floriculture. It was a terrific opportunity to bring our teams together to swap notes and ideas, and proved a great success in itself. The proceedings have just been published and are well worth a read.

By Dr Caroline Lemerle, ACIAR’s Agricultural Systems Management research program manager

More information
Workshop proceedings: Socioeconomic agricultural research in Papua New Guinea ACIAR Proceedings 141

See more photos from PNG 

Associated projects
ASEM/2001/037 – Improving the marketing system for fresh produce of the highlands of PNG, led by University of Canberra 
ASEM/2006/035 – Improving marketing efficiency, postharvest management and value addition of sweet potato in Papua New Guinea, led by University of Canberra 
ASEM/2006/127 – Commercial sector/smallholder partnerships for improving incomes in the oil palm and cocoa industries in Papua New Guinea, led by Curtin University of Technology 
ASEM/2008/036 – Improving livelihoods of smallholder families through increased productivity of coffee-based farming systems in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, led by Curtin University of Technology 
ASEM/2010/052 – Examining women's business acumen in Papua New Guinea: Working with women smallholders in horticulture, led by University of Canberra 
ASEM/2011/048 – An integrated approach for systemic change and sustained development of the Papua New Guinea sweetpotato value chain, led by University of New England  
HORT/2008/011 – Strategies for using floriculture to improve livelihoods in indigenous Australian and Pacific island communities, led by University of Queensland
SMCN/2008/008 – Increasing vegetable production in Central Province, Papua New Guinea to supply Port Moresby markets, led by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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