Lifeline of rural communities

Weekender

By PATRICK MARCO
In PNG, over six million people, approximately 87 per cent of the population, live in rural communities and the majority depend on subsistence agriculture as a means of survival.
Advancing agricultural production has been a high priority of the PNG LNG Project.
While efforts initially focused on establishing food gardens and ensuring food security for resettled households, these have now been expanded to transform gardens into small businesses that include more members of the community. By doing so, strides are being made to build resilience and sustainability within local populations.
The Community Livelihood Improvement Project (Clip), supported by ExxonMobil PNG, works with community groups in the Hela region to deliver skills training and agricultural extension services to women, with a focus on introducing temperate climate vegetables and improved seed varieties.
Clip follows a series of stages that support bottom-up community development that first aim to establish food security at a household level and then to generate small-scale enterprises to advance production further.
Key activities of the programme include on-site field education, farm management practices, component integration practices, life skills development, and food garden assessments to close out knowledge gaps.
Through advancing agricultural skills and practices, Clip then promotes the establishment of agricultural and poultry enterprises that enable women’s groups to enter the market place, helping to stimulate micro-economies.
“By actively working with community groups to identify business ideas and develop business plans, while also providing relevant skills training, we can help transition subsistence production into more market-oriented and small enterprise endeavours,” says Owen Hughes, Australian National University Enterprises and coordinator of the Clip programme.
Creating markets is an important component of the programme and the Clip team has worked to secure a market with Alliance Group, the catering company that provides for the project’s upstream facility, Hides Gas Conditioning Plant (HGCP) site.
When produce is ready for sale, it is harvested and displayed at a market day where Alliance Group is able to purchase a variety of locally grown vegetables for use in the camp.
“Before this initiative, there were almost no economic opportunities for women,” comments Tai Himu, leader of the Kapote Women’s Group.
“In the past year, three bakeries built and maintained by women’s groups have been burned down due to tribal violence, making it difficult for us to engage in economic activities. The market with Alliance Group has been stable and it offers us a platform for economic advancement.”
Tai explains that the income earned from their agricultural and poultry enterprises has had a positive impact at the household level.
Income is used to support education, nutrition and healthcare, which in turn has far-reaching impacts within the community. In addition, the involvement in economic activities has helped to build confidence among the women, balancing out some of the gender balance challenges that are prominent in the area.
This notion is shared by other women’s groups in the area who all comment to the changes the program has helped to bring.
“We had our doubts at first because this is a new way of doing things,” comments Pastor AkiloPayale.
“But when we saw their crops growing, we started to change our mind. In the past we weren’t very interested in women’s activities but now we are seeing the value they can bring and we are trying to support them where we can. Some of us are even getting involved in the activities ourselves.”
The magnitude 7.5 earthquake experienced earlier in the year had a severe impact on agricultural production, with gardens and infrastructure completely destroyed.
The Clip team is now helping to re-establish those gardens, distributing cuttings and seeds to women’s groups to restart activities. Plans are also underway to introduce new technologies, such as solar incubators, to help improve production even further and continually build resilience at a household level.
“We have become lifelong friends with ExxonMobil PNG,” says Tai.
“The livelihoods team has been here from the beginning, they have gone through many of the hardships with us, and I know they are committed for the long term.”

  • Patrick Marco is a media and communications advisor at ExxonMobil PNG Ltd.

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