The National,Tuesday April 5th, 2016
By Seniorl Anzu
Household food security continues to be at risk in many smallholder farming communities in PNG and other Pacific Island Countries. This is largely due to the effect of natural climate variability from the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), prevailing in the equatorial pacific.
Those effects are now exacerbated by global Climate Change and food production in vulnerable parts of these countries is frequently being disrupted by drought conditions interspersed with prolonged periods of continuous heavy rainfall, which are driven sequentially by El Niño and La Niña events.
Additionally, in coastal low lying areas and islands, production is also being threatened by rising sea levels, cyclones and tidal waves, which are causing saline contamination of farmland and destroying food crops and sago planting.
In order to mitigate those effects on household food security, farming communities need to change their traditional farming practices, food use and preparation as well as adopting strategies to diversify access to food.
Between 2011 and 2015, NARI led a regional project on climate change adaptation, funded by European Union. It was titled: “Generation and adaptation of improved agricultural technologies to mitigate climate-change imposed risks to food production within vulnerable smallholder farming communities in Western Pacific countries.”
While NARI was the lead implementing agency, its main partners were the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Solomon Islands), Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Vanuatu), and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU (Austria).
During the five years, a series of field-based research and development activities were undertaken in seven sites in PNG and three sites each in Solomon Island and Vanuatu.
The interventions were focused on building capacities through the generation and application of relevant research aimed at enabling smallholder farmers to better manage risks affecting agricultural productivity and food security.
Interested local farmers benefited in having access to appropriate information and foundation materials; and participating in a series of training and hands-on demonstrations on improved farming techniques.
The interventions were on improved livestock husbandry and feeding systems; crop improvement of staples such as sweet potato; crop diversification through vegetables, yam, cassava and rice; post-harvest and processing of kaukau and cassava; soil fertility improvement and water harvesting methodologies.
A key element of the approach was that farmers were involved in field research from which they could learn and adopt best practices based on outputs on their own farms.
Those who benefited initially have become model farmers in the communities by extending in sharing of information and provision of foundation materials to other new interested farmers.
At a recent closing workshop, component leaders presented the successes and lessons learnt. Model farmers also shared their new experiences and learnings, and how some of them have improved their farm productivity and livelihoods. A wide range of appropriate interventions were introduced to a large number of farmers in some of the rural communities vulnerable to climate change and related stresses in all the three countries.
The PNG sites were Derin and Murukanam in Madang, Kopafo in Eastern Highlands, Alkena and Kiripia in Western Highlands, and Hisiu and Yule Island in Central province. In the Solomon Islands, the project was implemented at Aruligho in Guadalcanal, Buma in Malaita and Hunda-Kena in the Western Province. Sites in Vanuatu were Siviri and Malafau in North Efate, and Middlebush on Tanna Island.
In the dry lowlands area of Hisiu, locals were into vegetable production. With the aid of simple and manually driven water harvesting methodologies, a range of introduced vegetables were successfully cultivated for food and income, even at the peak of last year’s El Nino drought.
When Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu early last year, farmers at Tanna Island appreciated home-made biscuits, crisps and other snacks which were processed from local sweet potato and cassava, and were stored at homes.
And when all food gardens were destroyed by Pam, upland rice varieties introduced from PNG survived. Seeing that, the islanders continued to cultivate more and today there is a group going into rice for food and cash.
Aruligho farmers from Solomon Islands were impressed after harvesting more tuber numbers and bigger sizes after planting just one vine. Traditionally the locals plant more vines per mound but the improved production system has helped them improve yields.
Trials at Alkena have shown that certain varieties can tolerate access moisture conditions.
“With the knowledge gained, I can now grow and harvest more kaukau on the same piece of land and at the same time maintain soil fertility,” says Puofa Pokea, a Alkena model farmer under the project.
Interventions in poultry have been well noted in almost all sites. Bena Bena chicken farmer Banarbas Kriko was impressed in the project’s benefits. Kriko said they usually spend lot of money on commercial feed however with the introduced feeding and management techniques, she is spending less and getting good results – improved performance and weight.
Farmers in Hunda-Kena in the Solomon Island have observed improved chicken performances after applying recommended practices in feeding, fencing and housing. Vanuatu chicken farmer Shem Lok provided a good supply for Asians in Vila before the Cyclone Pam. The Asians supprted him rebuilding his project and he’s back again.
Sumkar farmer Ruth Arek enjoys sales of her ducks raised at her Murukanam home using locally available food resources and technologies.
Pig farmers at Alkena and Kiripia in Tambul Nebilyer have found the ensiling technology beneficial for developing sweet potato silage for pig feed.
The project was rated as a success with opportunities for further collaboration. Not only did farmers benefit in accessing relevant technologies but a lot was also achieved in terms of capacity development in a number of areas include research, human resource, facilities, information and networking.