THE European Union funded Support to Rural Entrepreneurship, Investment and Trade programme (EU-Streit PNG) continues to reach out to remote communities in the Sepik region for all to benefit equally from cocoa, vanilla and fisheries value chain activities.
From April 20-23, 2021, Streut-PNG officers were in Black Water Lake area of the Karawari LLG along the Sepik River to conduct a successful four-day ‘vanilla cultivation, husbandry and processing training’ which attracted 100 rural farmers from 20 villages.
Covid-19 measures and guidelines were equally observed during the four days, with mandatory use of facemasks, social distancing and regular hand washing and sanitising by participants.
Located in the Angoram District of East Sepik, Karawari borders the highlands of Papua New Guinea. With zero road access and no all-season airstrips, the only means of travel is either by foot and dugout motored canoes or traditionally built rafts for about six hours down the mighty Sepik River to Angoram station or preferably Tambunum waterfront which is much closer. It’s a mere bush track, hence, following the announcement, hundreds of participants walked for days from as far as the border of Enga, to observe and take part in the training.
Like other farmers in the Sepik, the knowledge they have been using to cultivate this popular vanilla crop was mainly from observation, hence the four-day training was the first formal learning opportunity under EU-Streit PNG for these remote river communities.
The training was held in two sessions, theoretical and practical, focusing on cultivation practices (site selection, space marking and planting), husbandry/management practices (shade control, looping, mulching, pollinating) and processing/curing practices (killing, drying and packaging). However, the training emphasised more on the practicality of the skills learnt and acquired.
As seeing is believing, the Streit programme gives more time on the practical sessions of the training where farmers can actually see hands on demonstrations on all aspects of vanilla production from planting, management to processing/curing.
During the training, women and youths were encouraged and empowered as well to take lead in the vanilla business.
“I see vanilla has a good value and it’s easy to transport. My people can transport it from the village to the market with lesser [transport] cost unlike cocoa,” said Tombe Pasu, director of Karawari Tropical Vanilla (KTV).
Karawari LLG has a population of about 15,000 people and their diet comprise of sago and fish mainly, while cocoa is their traditional source of income. But like other parts of the Sepik, the pod borer pest cut off this lifeline and many ventured into vanilla as an alternative source to support their livelihood. Additionally, the high cost and inconvenience of transporting heavy cocoa bags make vanilla an ideal cash crop for these fishing communities. Vanilla cuttings can be distributed easily as well throughout the LLG.
Accompanying the EU-Streit PNG team were Charlie Wemon the Angoram District Department of Agriculture and Livestock officer, and a representative from the East Sepik governor’s office, Jason Handikiang.
During the closing, Handikiang thanked the European Union for funding the rural agriculture development programme for supporting smallholder cocoa, vanilla and fisheries farmers. He also acknowledged the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO) for leading the EU-StreitPNG programme implementation on the ground in close collaboration with other sister UN agencies and local partners.
The vanilla training is pulling together a high interest among Sepik women and youth who are usually left behind in programmes of this nature. So far a total of 919 farmers have attended six trainings which included demonstration sessions. The trainings were conducted in Wewak, Ambunti-Drekikier, Angoram (East Sepik) and Vanimo (West Sepik) and 375 were women and youth representing a high 41 per cent of total participants.
The training with introduction of proper tools and equipment to process quality beans for an improved income and livelihood are the first formal learning opportunities under EU-Streit PNG. Trainings are conducted in collaboration with provincial Department of Agriculture and Livestock.
Dr Rabi Rasaily, senior agricultural officer (cocoa, vanilla and energy) for the programme says: “Vanilla is a lucrative industry in the Sepik, but unlike other cash crops, the lack or absence of quality control measures and established market linkages resulted in the drastic drop in street buying price per kilogram from K1,000 and above in 2018 to between K65 and K100 today. Hence, the intervention with these first formal trainings is to help return the quality and high price that was once enjoyed by thousands of rural families as an alternate source of income, apart from cocoa and fisheries, also supported under the programme.
In addition, the need of the hour is to support the Spice Industry Board to provide national guidelines on quality certification systems for all the actors along the vanilla value chain that is accepted by import countries.”
The EU-Streit PNG is the largest grant-funded programme of the European Union in the country and the Pacific sub-region, which focuses on supporting smallholder cocoa, vanilla and fish farmers in the 10 districts of East and West Sepik Provinces. The programme is being implemented as a United Nations joint programme under the leadership of the FAO of the United Nations, partnering with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The FAO and the other four UN agencies operate in collaboration with the Government of Papua New Guinea.
- Article and pictures by EU-Streit PNG.