The National, Wednesday October 21st, 2015
The October-December forecast of the current El Nino drought is that the situation is likely to peak towards the end of the year and continue well into 2016.
According to PNG National Weather Service’s seasonal quarterly outlook, El Nino will weaken towards the first half of next year after having significantly warmed the Pacific sea surface temperatures in months and with current temperature levels not seen since the 1997/98 event.
With this scenario, PNG is going through the period of an abnormal dry weather with rainfall below a critical level and this is extending over several months now, resulting in major adverse impacts on agricultural production.
It is an extended period where precipitation is less than evaporation.
Communities are becoming vulnerable environmentally and the socio-economically. Food and water requirements across the country are affected.
Relief supplies through processed food rations have been the most common and immediate remedy, which is the
focus of current efforts by authorities.
As the drought is nation-wide, and the situation continues, more relief support is needed.
However the rations are short-lived, as they run out within a short time span.
Communities will need to survive in both “during” and “post” drought periods, even when rains return and the first harvests are made.
When rains do come and when there is hope for return to normalcy, communities will be expected to recover through a number of activities including farming.
As they do so, the adoption of on-farm post-drought strategies for immediate food recovery will be paramount – especially during the period between good rainfalls and harvest of first sown/planted crops.
Through its research following the 1997/1998 El Nino, NARI identified and documented a number of post-drought coping strategies which are available to stakeholders and farming communities.
These strategies and other adaptive mechanisms were published as Drought Response: On-Farm Coping Strategies, NARI Information Bulletin No. 6.
The publication is also available online at www.nari.org.pg, in runtime CDs and in a range of topical information leaflets in Tok Pisin (NARI Tok Tok series).
Further, NARI documented the traditional drought coping mechanisms used by farmers during the 1997 drought.
This information can be found in Indigenous Drought Coping Strategies and Risk Management against El Nino in Papua New Guinea by Sergie Bang and Kud Sitango (CGPRT Centre Working Paper No.74).
Where possible, communities should prepare to adopt such post-drought coping strategies.
Planting of quick maturing crops after the drought is the obvious solution.
The use of early maturing varieties to provide food in the post-drought period is recommended.
In order to do this planting material must be available and should have been preserved though the drought period.
Other important crops that will produce rapidly after drought are maize, beans, peanuts and potato.
Another reason not to plant just sweet potato after a drought is that during a drought nitrogen levels rise in the soil, partly through death and decay of plants, animals and micro-organisms.
Quick growing leafy vegetable crops can use the extra nitrogen to grow quickly and yield well, but sweet potato tends to grow lots of leaves, while tuber production is disappointing.
It is better to plant a crop of maize first, followed by a crop of early maturing sweet potato.
NARI has released a total of 28 technologies of which some are early maturing crop varieties after extensive research.
They come in the form of information packages and planting materials.
For the long term, as strategic preparedness, rural people need to add other crops to their collections that can withstand drought conditions, including cassava and drought tolerant cooking banana (Kalapua and Yawa).
They should also adopt relevant technologies into their farming systems like growing, processing and storage of crops like cassava, maize and beans, and simple irrigation systems.
They should also adopt relevant technologies into their farming systems like growing, processing and storage of crops like cassava, maize and
beans, and simple irrigation systems.
It is very important that over the long term, people are encouraged to plant a wide variety of staple foods, some that mature quickly and some that are tolerant to low soil water conditions. – NARI