Tuesday, 2 June 2015

PNG welcomes the ACIAR Commission

From 11 to 15 May, the Commission for International Agricultural Research (the Commission) travelled to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for their 31st meeting. While there, they also met with local stakeholders and visited project sites in Port Moresby, Goroka and Lae. I had the opportunity to travel with them to Goroka and Lae and show them my beautiful country.

The Commission for International Agricultural Research in PNG. Source: John Cook

On the first two days, the Commission met with stakeholders in Port Moresby including H.E. Ms Deborah Stokes, the Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Sir Brown Bai (ACIAR’s Policy Advisory Council representative of PNG) and ACIAR fellowship alumni. 

On the third day, I joined the Commissioners on a blissful Wednesday morning to depart the Grand Papua Hotel in Port Moresby at a yawn-inducing 4am. The flight from Port Moresby to Lae took about 45 minutes and we landed at 7am with a beautiful outlay of the Markham River and plains across the runway as we were greeted with the warm smile of Dr Sergie Bang, Director General of the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) when we came off the plane. The day was warming up as we loaded our bags into the vehicle and out we drove to NARI headquarters for a meet and greet with the staff, in addition to a welcome hot breakfast of omelettes and cereal.

NARI is one of ACIAR’s major research partner agencies in PNG, with a partnership spanning over 20 years. Currently, NARI is leading 12 projects and most of their staff have directly benefited from training benefits. Training benefits were either through projects or directly through ACIAR’s John Allwright and John Dillon Fellowships. At the moment, there are two staff members who are studying abroad, one completing a Masters, the other a Doctoral degree in Australia.

Meeting with ACIAR Fellows. Source: Catherine Marriott

For most of the Commissioners, it was their first trip to PNG, so they were keen to take on the challenge of the rough PNG terrain of the Highlands Highway. As we left the meeting at 9.30am, we then headed out onto the main Highlands Highway for the road trip to Goroka.

Along the way, we had a quick stopover at Ramu Agri Industries Limited (RAIL) where we were welcomed by the General Manager Jamie Graham and his divisional managers. The Commissioners enjoyed the cool calm scenery of endless rows of oil palm and sugar cane with a splash of beef. RAIL is currently involved in ACIAR’s Community Forest project (ACIAR project FST/2011/057) and the Bogia Coconut Syndrome project (ACIAR project HORT/2012/087) and has had a strong relationship with ACIAR, exemplifying private partnerships in research.

We left RAIL feeling full and satisfied after a good dose of Ramu Beef (and I’m sure the Commissioners were impressed at the quality of the steak as well).  It then took us an hour and half to reach Aiyura around 3.45pm to meet NARI’s research team and Dr Mark Kenny and Mr Tom Kukhang of PNG Coffee Industry Corporation (PNG CIC) research team.

Commissioners at PNG CIC. Source: Catherine Marriott

PNG CIC is major research partner working in the coffee industry which ACIAR has had a strong partnership with projects relating to socioeconomics, biosecurity, soil nutrition and other areas relating to coffee. There are currently two projects, one just ended and another currently underway for inception. Their staff has also benefited from the ongoing collaboration. Two of the female officers have been successful John Allwright Fellows who are now undergoing their Master’s degree in Australia whilst another male staff will soon join them in June to start on his Master’s degree. Matilda Hamago who was a John Dillon Fellow in 2014 was there to meet us on arrival. This highlights how ACIAR’s long-term commitment also contributes to capacity building in the organisations’ human resource development. We then left Aiyura at 5.20pm and arrived in Goroka at 7pm with a waiting crowd for a dinner function with stakeholders.

Thursday morning welcomed us in Goroka with a warm and refreshing breakfast meeting with this year’s John Dillon Fellow Fredah Wantum. At 9am, we walked into the PNG CIC head office to a rousing smell of freshly roasted beans lined up for the team. We had the Senior Inspector John explain the production process of coffee and what the industry was doing to help its farmers. We were later joined by the Acting CEO, Mr Anton Benjamin for further discussions on the coffee industry. Time was caught up quickly so we left PNG CIC, but not before loading up on coffee beans and hats.

Goroka markets. Source: Catherine Marriott

We then drove over to the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) and were welcomed by the newly appointed General Manager Mark Worinu. ACIAR’s research partnership with FPDA involves various areas including soil nutrition, sweet potato value chain and women’s business acumen. There are five ongoing projects including partnerships with EU, NZAid and the International Finance Corporation, which working to reduce crop losses in post-harvest production. We then visited the Goroka market looking at the variety of fresh produce in abundance and at a much lower price than you could find in most urban centres like Port Moresby.

With a quick lunch at the Bird of Paradise hotel, we then visited the Book Bilong Pikini library and then headed off to Moxy’s farm to an inland aquaculture fish pond initiated by National Fisheries Authority (NFA) and Eastern Highlands Provincial DAL. The concept started as ‘Fish for Prisons’ program to rehabilitate prisoners at Bihute Jail in the Eastern Highlands Province. Moxy at that time was a prisoner and took part in the training program. When Moxy was released from prison, there was an ACIAR project underway, so he got involved – he dug up fish ponds on his land and the rest is history.

Asaro mudmen greet the Commissioners. Source: Catherine Marriott

What a rousing welcome! The ACIAR Commissioners were met by local Asaro mudmen with bows and arrows welcoming the team into the fish pond site. Shouting and making tribal warfare chants, the group was led to the fish ponds. Moxy fed the tilapia and carp fingerlings which he sells to farmers. He also grows out the fish to sell to locals for cooking. He gave a thank you speech while I interpreted for him. The Commissioners were handed bilums and a good taste of hot tilapia. It was time to leave and as we exchanged handshakes, we were sad to say goodbye. What an exciting trip we had, after the long road trip it was worth the visit to Moxy’s fish farm. Thanks to Joe, Silas, Tony and everyone for making the visit a highlight of the trip!

Blog by Rebecca Bogosia, Assistant Manager, PNG Country Office

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