Processing of local crops vital

Basic methods of processing common staple crops are vital. Staples such as sweet potato, cassava, taro and banana have high moisture contents and it takes a few days before they start to rot. Processing ensures that these crops are turned into forms that can be preserved and stored over a long period of time, SAMUEL TOPOSONA writes
Freshly grated cassava.

One way of preserving food is to process fresh tuber or root crops into a dry powdery form commonly known as flour.
In this form, about 87 per cent of moisture in raw crops had been reduced.
Flours made from staple crops could be stored for up to 12 months.
Over the years, the National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari) had introduced basic methods of processing of common staples into flour to enhance the levels of nutritional and socio-economic security among vulnerable farming communities around the country.
Such efforts had been undertaken since 2016 through project field days, workshops and our annual agricultural innovations show.
Currently, such programmes were featured in a European Union funded action on climate change resilience project to build the capacity of targeted communities to be resilient during droughts.
Information packages in the form of pamphlets and brochures provided basic food preservation methods such as processing of staples such as sweet potato into flour.
This process involves proper peeling, washing, grating, drying and milling using simple tools such as hand-driven mills or mortars and pestles.
This help to reduce moisture and, thereby, minimise rotting and other damages.
What remained important was that, vulnerable communities in rural areas understood the importance of preserving staple crops by processing them in their own households.
This would cut down on costs involved in buying manufactured flour from retail outlets.
Nari recognised the importance of that and was delivering basic food processing training programmes to farmers through partnership with various community development organisations.
Examples of such engagements included trainings conducted by World Vision in Markham, Morobe, in 2016; the Adventist Development and Relief Agency PNG in Kokoda, Northern, in 2017; and, by the Wild Life Conservation Society in Gembogl, Chimbu, last year.

Packaged sweet potato flour.

Similar work was undertaken through a public investment programme funded project known as PNG preparedness to cope with climate change induced stresses.
More than a thousand farmers, including women, had been trained over the past four years.
They now understood the importance of processing and preserving staple crops as flour and making other value added products out of it.
Such skills could be easily be passed from farmer-to-farmer to mitigate negative effects of climate change.
Flours made from common staple crops would be helpful in sustaining food supplies for households between harvest seasons.
They would reduce the risks of damages and wastages caused by pests and diseases, during drought periods.
To ensure safe storage, processed root or tuber crop flours should be stored inside air tight containers to enhance their shelf life.
Furthermore, processing of staple crops, would help to preserve some nutritive elements.
Sweet potato flour contain nutrients such as beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E.
So a mixture of it with wheat-based flours could be used to make bread and muffins to ensure healthy diets in households.
This could help to supplement vitamins needed, especially during times of drought when the variety of vegetables and fruits was limited. There was opportunity for rural farmers to process and sell sweet potato homemade flour or baked buns and scones made out of it.
Income earned from these could help families to purchase store foods to sustain them in times of stress such as the current Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Communities on the border of Morobe and Madang have shown great interest and were beginning to take initiatives in their own communities by processing home-made sweet potato flour.
A mother from Teptep, Yamoi Mussa, said such training helped to complement women programmes initiated by the local church to generate income their families needed to afford basic goods and services such as education and health.
Processing and preservation of staples remain a crucial skill for vulnerable farming communities.
We understand the need for farmers to be well informed, knowledgeable and prepared for any future disaster.
They should take ownership of such skills and practice them in order to become resilient.

Samuel Toposona is the associate communication and information officer based at Nari’s Mamose research centre in Lae, Morobe.

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