Pt 2: Last week we discussed some challenges in the value chain of bulb onion, Irish potato and sweet potato
(kaukau) in the Highlands. Today, we present some opportunities identified under the Nari-EU RED 2 project which could address some of the challenges.
By Rodney Aku
The market potential for sweet potato in PNG has improved significantly in recent years due to a vibrant existing informal value chain system from the increasing demand in urban centres, especially Lae, Madang and Port Moresby. High prices for rice, flour and other cereal products also influence consumer demand for sweet potato as it is cheaper.
The pathogen-tested (PT) technology offers huge opportunities for farmers to improve tuber yield and quality. This enables access to clean sweet potato planting materials from Nari and FPDA. Training and awareness will allow farmers to understand the essence of using clean planting materials for improved sweet potato production in rural settings. Farmers in Hagen Central, Asaro (Daulo), Ifiyufa (Goroka) and Tambul find PT materials important in supporting food security, income and livestock feed. A group of women farmers in Minj (Jiwaka) have testified about high yields of good quality, marketable tubers.
Market diversification and processing opportunities make kaukau a staple food, animal feed (leaves/tops/roots), dried chips and starch production. Kaukau also has a huge potential for industrial uses – jam, flour, noodles, pickles and brewing of soft drinks. From Nari’s research output as an ingredient, kaukau can be processed into animal feed for broiler chicken and silage for pigs. The sweet potato silage improves digestibility of feed, maintains good growth of pig and potentially improves carcass quality and economic returns. It can be stored for up to seven months with simple equipment and at a relatively low material cost.
Nari in partnership with FPDA has been supplying disease free Irish potato (sequoia); plus blight tolerant varieties – CIP E2, CIP E11, CIP E20 and CIP E24. These were recommended for farmers after extensive screening trials for blight resistance and fungicide application for blight management, as well as undergoing pathogen-testing procedures. With improved yields, as a result of clean planting materials, farmers are now seeking markets. Furthermore, Nari also has identified fungicides for managing the Potato Late Blight disease.
Like kaukau, the market potential for Irish potato in PNG is vibrant at the informal sector and has improved significantly in recent years due to the mining boom and increased urbanisation demand as a result of consumer trends which favour potato-based fast-foods and snacks. It sets a great opportunity for the farmers and the players along the potato supply/value chain.
In many urban areas, potato fries/chips are replacing traditional and staple foods like kaukau, taro and bananas, even rice, especially among the children and youths. Potato may be cooked in many ways – boiled, steamed, baked or roasted, and fried; as well as being a satisfactory component in stews, soups, and in mixtures with meats and other vegetables.
Demand for potato from coastal cities, especially Lae and Port Moresby, has increased as a result of these factors. The value chain of potato has the potential in PNG to further develop into French fries/Mashed potato in formal marketing systems and crispy chips for food processing companies. In addition, it can be a valuable starch ingredient in other food products, beverages and sweets.
With the opportunities available for the clean seed system and fungicide use, the use of high-quality seeds of robust and market-preferred varieties is obvious. The potential to increase and optimise potato productivity, simultaneously improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in potato-growing regions of PNG is apparent. An opportunity exists for Nari and FDPA as partners in the potato industry to increase the number of certified seed growers and improve seed supplies. In addition, it enables the provision of training and dissemination of information on production techniques, harvesting maturity, curing and packaging/handling in transit.
Similar to kaukau and potato, the bulb onion demand throughout PNG has increased as a result of urbanisation and economic growth from uncoordinated buyers (local buyers/wholesalers) and markets in major towns and cities, including mining industries. The crop has great potential to generate income for farmers and other players along the supply/value chain. Bulb onion has low perished ability, hence quality is maintained; whilst wastage is low and returns are optimised.
The demand for catering has prompted fast-food outlets, hotels, shops, institution and restaurants to buy more bulb onion. As in value addition, dried or fresh, raw or cooked; onions are a foundational part of in a variety of soups, salads, breads, and casseroles. Onion also has an important role as a medicinal herb, and is claimed to minimise high blood pressure and other heart diseases due to its favourable action on the elasticity of the blood vessel.
FPDA researchers have identified varieties giving acceptable yield in the highlands areas which are traded locally. FPDA has been strengthening capacity building and farmer empowerment through trainings conducted on agronomy, crop management, handling and quality management, book keeping and marketing; as well as arranging markets for farmers. The bulb onion project in Gembogl by FPDA and Oxfam has helped farmers improved their livelihoods and socio economic needs from the crop’s returns.
Nari has wide experience in sweet potato and Irish potato research in PNG highlands. Research and development work on bulb onion by FPDA has set the pace for new innovations. Improved interventions with better coordination will help players benefit the most along the value chains of these three crops. – Nari