Lessons from abroad can help smallholder farmers

Focus

Improved methods of producing and selling staple crops are needed to sustain food and economic security in our country.
YAPO JEFFERY from Nari explains more on this issue.

Improved methods of producing and selling staple crops are needed to sustain food and economic security in our country.
This is very important for crops like sweet potato whose production and supply have been affected in recent years due to ongoing environmental and climatic issues.
We (the National Agriculture Research Institute) -Nari have tried to address these by dealing with the crop’s value chain – from introducing disease free or pathogen tested (PT) varieties and new farming methods all the way to the harvest and sale of yields.
These are being undertaken through an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project called “Supporting commercial sweet potato production and marketing in the PNG highlands”.
The project has been running for the past three years in partnership with the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) and Central Queensland University.
Part of the project’s capacity building programme has seen 14 model farmers from Eastern Highlands, Jiwaka and Western Highlands travel to Australia in May to visit commercial sweet potato farms in Bundaberg, Queensland.
Among them were four women.

A farm manager explaining ridge planting patterns and systems to participants.

The visit focused on learning ideas that can help the farmers maintain crop quality standards throughout the production process.
The participants learnt from observing and participating in specific techniques such as multiplying and planting PT sweet potato seeds as well as grading, packing and selling harvested yields.
These engagements gave them a better understanding about crop quality as the single most important requirement to maintain throughout the value chain of a commercial sweet potato industry.
The farmers are excited but they do acknowledge that it may not yet be possible for them to apply new ideas gained from the trip.
This is because in order to attain high product quality standards’; it would require much investment before they could be able to have access to specialist tools, processes and manpower needed to effectively manage all aspects of the value chain.
Despite these limitations, the farmers are beginning to apply certain manual techniques they learnt to achieve high quality tuber production. Such skills include doing tuber sprouting to get more quality vines; pruning vines and leaves (top biomass) to allow mature tubers to harden before being harvested; grading and packing of tubers into required categories; and using organic methods for managing soil, pests and diseases.
We are also helping the farmers to develop these skills through other two ongoing projects.
They are concerned with developing locally relevant methods of sustaining soil fertility and crop protection for intensive sweet potato production.
These projects have established trial sites with selected farmer resource centres and communities in Western Highlands, Jiwaka and Eastern Highlands.
In Eastern Highlands, three Asaro valley communities of Meteyufa, Nipuka and Kuka are actively involved.
Farmers in these villages have been trained on how to obtain improved sweet potato yields from using organic fertiliser options to manage soil structure, increase nutrient levels and control pest and disease cycles.
Furthermore, farmers associations have been provided improved sweet potato varieties through farmer resource centres.
They are supported by partners like FPDA and provincial governments to supply fresh produces to selected markets in urban centres.

Participants practicing in collecting sweet potato vines.

These opportunities are not yet well established but the farmers are contented to work closely with concerned stakeholders to gradually make improvements overtime.
Model farmers who visited farms in Australia have expressed great appreciation for the experience and insights gained.
One of them was Agnes Merep, the president of South Waghi Organic Food Farmers Association and the caretaker of Minj farmer resource centre.
Merep said that the trip motivated her to start establishing sweet potato markets for her group in Jiwaka and to slowly build-up capacity to eventually supply quality sweet potato throughout the highlands and other parts of the country.
Through her resource centre, over 100 women farmers from North and South Waghi, have already been trained and presented with seeds of improved sweet potato varieties.
We are encouraged by such stories to continue working closely with model farmers and key partners.
Together, we can develop schemes to help improve the whole value chain so that quality sweet potato can be planted, harvested and sold to be enjoyed in every home, across the country.

  • Yapo Jeffery is a junior scientist in soil and water management based at Nari’s Aiyura Research Centre in the Eastern Highlands

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