Port Moresby transforms into a farming city

Normal, Weekender

PORT Moresby’s looking so green and pretty after all that rain over Christmas and New Year and is going to be like that for at least the next three months.
During the brief respite between the December to March period,  rain comes down in buckets and vegetables – especially corn – abound all over the capital city.
These create queues at many gardening shops in Port Moresby, such as major agricultural supplier Brian Bell.
As early as 7am, a long line of people gather in front of the Brian Bell Plaza at Boroko to buy their supplies of seeds.
During this period, vegetable gardens can be seen all over the city, including precarious hillsides.
Vegetable gardens are sprouting up all over the city and its perimeters and markets are chock-a-block with green leafy vegetables, complemented by fresh fish and other seafood, wallaby, deer and bandicoot.
It reminds me so much of my late wife Hula, someone who was so passionate about being self-reliant, about growing our own food.
In Goroka, where we lived for almost five years from 1998 to 2002, my wife and I grew our own potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbages, tomatoes, and a whole range of other highlands vegetables.
All we need to buy was some steak or pork (or in real Highlands style, lamb flaps) and coleslaw for a salad, and that’s all that we needed for a delicious meal.
Moresby and its at times hard and rocky soil didn’t deter Hula when we moved to Port Moresby in 2002.
Wherever we lived, she somehow managed to grow our own vegetables such as tomatoes, silverbeet, Chinese cabbage, cabbage and chillies.
Hula also grew local favorites such as aibika, aupa, peanuts, cassava and bananas.
Regular watering and compost, and after about three months, we started to reap the fruits of what we sowed: tubs of tomatoes, silverbeet, Chinese cabbage, chillies, cucumbers and other garden-fresh produce.
We would have made a killing had we gone to market, but this was strictly for family consumption and for distribution among close friends.
All forms of gardening are rewarding and satisfying.
But vegetable gardening, largely because the gardener can be in charge of the whole operation from seed collection to consumption, is possibly the most-rewarding.
In addition, well-grown home-produced vegetables cannot be matched for flavour and nutritional value.
With care, considerable savings – especially in a city like Port Moresby – in the family’s food budget are possible.
The point of all this is that, contrary to what many people think, the majority of fresh produce in Port Moresby is supplied by local sources and do not come from the Highlands
This includes those from the many hillside gardens popping up everywhere, settlements and surrounding areas such as Laloki, Bomana and Sogeri.
The Fresh Produce Development Agency dropped this bombshell recently with its recently-released ‘Feeding Port Moresby Study’, which shows that Port Moresby supplies most of its fresh produce.
Other key findings were:
* The volume of fresh produce being supplied from the Highlands into Port Moresby appeared to be decreasing while supplies from Central Province and NCD are increasing;
* Increasing amounts of fresh produce marketed into Port Moresby were handled through middlemen, rather than by grower-vendors themselves and their wantok networks. However, some farmers still preferred to sell their produce themselves at the open market;
* The annual volume of fresh produce imported into Port Moresby in 2007 was estimated to be just under 7, 500 tonnes, comprising 2,500 tonnes from international air and sea arrivals; 3, 500 tonnes from domestic sea arrivals; and 1, 430 tonnes from domestic air arrivals;
* Fresh produce production in the peri-urban areas was approximately 8, 500 tonnes during the dry season from the six surveyed settlement areas, which translated into a total production of 50,000 tonnes per year from all settlements;
* Most fresh produce was sourced from Central province and the NCD and very little was sourced from overseas or the Highlands. The total supply of fresh produce to Port Moresby was estimated at 57, 780 tonnes, with 7, 430 tonnes (15%) coming from overseas and rest of PNG, and 50, 350 tonnes (85%) from peri-urban production;
* Annual demand for fresh produce in Port Moresby was estimated to be around 140, 500 tonnes;
* Shortfalls between estimated demand and supplies were significant in volume and likely to come from Central province and home gardens;
* Facilities in the six open markets in Port Moresby are of poor quality, with common complaints from the vendors being lack of shade; poor water and sanitation facilitation facilities; and the need for benches to better look after their produce during wet days;
* Temperate vegetables continue to be supplied from the Highlands, however, green leafy vegetables and perishable fruit vegetables were supplied from NCD. Hardier crops such as sweet potato, banana, taro and yams come from Central province;
* Buyers and re-sellers stated that graded products (even if only by appearance) sell better;
* Buyers tended to buy on short notice and formal supply arrangements were rare, Buyers prefer carton packaging for leafy vegetables and bags for sweet potato and potato, with some limit on size/weight; and
* Imported produce were only relied upon by retailers but not to wholesalers or hotels and restaurants except in the case of some fruit produce.
“The increase in peri-urban production has vastly improved Port Moresby’s capacity to feed itself,” according to the study.
“There are several reasons for the increase.
“Firstly, there is emigration of more-experienced and innovative farmers, especially from the Highlands, into Port Moresby.
“Secondly, horticultural techniques have vastly improved and the use of fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides has allowed huge increases in productivity.
“Finally, in recent years, weak PNG currency, which increases the price of imports, has also increased the demand for cheaper, locally-grown food and has helped to spur local production.
“Peri-urban producers have several advantages over their Highlands and rural counterparts in supplying the Port Moresby market.
“Firstly, peri-urban producers tend to be better informed and better linked to the market than farmers in the rural and more-remote areas.
“Seeds and other farm inputs are cheaper, fresher, of higher quality and more-accessible.
“Peri-urban producers are better equipped, as the cash flow from off-farm incomes enables purchase of agro-chemicals and better equipment.
“Proximity to the market and the city enables farmers to spot and respond to price signals.
“However, there are concerns over land tenure and food safety associated with the use of contaminated water and soil for food production.”


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