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El Nino affects crops

Highlands

Mother Nature always reminds us of her powerful force – the recent El Niño was one of nature’s warning.
When this phenomenon hit the Highlands region of PNG, it caused a strong weather change, bringing droughts and frosts to the country.
Many were unprepared to lose subsistence farming, the ‘backbone’ of the Highlands region, as a major source of income. One can imagine the devastating impact this had on crop production and, in turn, on communities’ food security.
“When the drought came, my garden was destroyed. The sun destroyed my kaukau   (sweet potatoes) garden,” Elis Alpe, a 70-year old widow from Jiwaka says.
“With my kaukau garden  destroyed I couldn’t find food, water or plants.”
The onslaught of the El Niño necessitated more work in the field of disaster risk reduction.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) mission in PNG, with the support of its donors – the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and the United States Agency for International Development – responded.
Through distribution of seeds for crops such as rice, cassava and corn, many women are now able to view changes in the climate through a more optimistic lens.
In partnership with the Jiwaka disaster centre and the National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari), IOM PNG distributed 1200 kg of drought-resistant seeds in six areas.
He said as a result, communities in Jiwaka and Chimbu have been able to produce 60 tonnes of rice.
“Now, I’m harvesting my first batch of rice,” Elis said.
The sustainable agriculture project has increased food supply with high yields in a short period of time.
IOM’s project targeted water, sanitation, and hygiene (Wash) concerns brought about by the El Niño.
So far, 20 boreholes have been drilled with water containers at strategic locations to reduce the time needed to collect water.
Before this, members of the community would have to walk two to three hours to collect water for gardening. In addition, hygiene kits were provided to affected families, which mitigated the risk of drought-induced waterborne infections.
The project highlighted IOM’s relationship with the Government.
The seed distribution enhanced Nari’s training programme for farmers, which has provided them deeper knowledge on crop diversification and management during disaster situations.
“If the drought returns, we won’t worry or go hungry like we did before,” said Vero, a mother of five.
“We know which crops are good to grow and store during dry season. We’re prepared.”
For the likes of Elis and Vero, the drought has brought them difficult times.
Yet, it has also provided them many opportunities for empowerment.
Once vulnerable, these communities are now much more resilient.

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