The National, Wednesday January 20th, 2016
By Seniorl Anzu
PUBLIC-funded and sponsored extension efforts in PNG have not been effective in liaison and delivering extension services and agricultural technologies to the rural communities. In some areas, such services are totally non-existent.
On the other hand, substantial progress has been made by research and development (R&D) institutions in the agriculture sector. These institutions are mobilising and developing improved agricultural technologies and new knowledge that can have tremendous potential to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability in response to changes in market forces, institutional arrangements, policies and the environment.
NARI has been promoting the ‘Resource Centre’ concept as an innovative approach to find alternative, cost effective and efficient ways of reaching and linking people to address the core challenges of information exchange, technology adaptation and transfer, and innovation by farmers.
A resource centre is an arrangement or conduit that can be established and developed to improve the exchange of information and the adaptation and transfer of technology to agricultural and rural communities. The rationale is a bridging of the gap between farmers, communities and researchers to help empower farmers and their communities with improved skills, techniques, materials and knowledge for decision making and development.
A resource centre is identified through an agent or co-ordination group and a location within a fairly homogenous agro-ecological zone (uniform resource endowments and socio-economic parameters), generally a local level government jurisdiction or similar within a district.
The main modus operandi suggested is to work through networking with collaborators, partners and donors, including provincial extension officials, LLGs, district agencies, NGOs, church groups, schools, private sector agencies including farmers themselves and research organisations. Local authorities and farmers should take ownership of the facility and continue to sustain its functions with ongoing support from other stakeholders.
The arrangement for collaboration and partnership is formulated and established through a formal agreement among selected agencies to serve as the co-ordinating agency group with specified roles, responsibilities and accountability.
Since 2004, NARI has been involved in establishing community based resource centres in various parts of PNG, mostly involving districts, NGOs and development partners. Most of these were undertaken through projects in partnership and with support from various stakeholders.
Among those districts were Kairuku-Hiri and Abau (Central); Kiriwina-Goodenough and Rabaraba (Milne Bay); Popondetta (Northern); South-Fly (Western); Kabwum (Morobe); Mbuke Island (Manus); Ialibu (Southern Highlands); Jimi (Jiwaka); Gumine (Chimbu); Bena (Eastern Highlands); and Duke of York Island (East New Britain).
Through these centres, foundation materials of a wide range of improved agricultural technologies and practices with information packages have been disseminated. Resource centres have become the hub for multiplication and distribution of materials. Such include seeds and planting materials of new and improved crop varieties and smallholder livestock species, associated training programmes and advisory services. Much of the material multiplication was done in demonstration plots at the centres.
The main activities envisaged are:
- Identification and assessment of constraints and opportunities (rural appraisals);
- planning research and development activities for the area;
- provision of knowledge on improved technologies, techniques and practices, and information on markets and marketing, through various media;
- provision of foundation material of improved technologies and practices;
- demonstration of improved technologies and practices;
- training in various aspects of the implementation of improved technologies and methods in agriculture;
- advising on and addressing any specific development, disaster or emergency issues (pest or disease outbreak, flooding, droughts, frost etc.);
- consultancy and feasibility studies for special projects; and,
- Provision of contacts and linkages as and when necessary.
In this approach, the human resources in local areas such as DPI officers, farmers, private sector persons, NGOs, churches etc can be effectively utilised for realising development. Private entrepreneurs can take up responsibility for the supply of improved materials and inputs.
Funding and policy support could come from the district joint budget priority and planning committees, local members of parliament and provincial assemblies. This could be linked to the use of development funds under the district development authorities.
With a recently approved drought recovery project, NARI will use identified resource centres in 30 districts to multiply and distribute early maturing crop varieties to farming communities.
The resource centre approach should improve capacity for participatory research and partnership development among farmers, the private sector, NGOs, extension agents, policy makers, planners, researchers and other development actors.
As development proceeds, it should be feasible to have solar powered, satellite-linked computers in the command areas of resource centres. These can facilitate communication through email with R&D institutions and provide limited access to the Internet.
Such technologies were tested lately through a climate change awareness project in Duke of York, Bena, Gumine and Ialibu. While it is yet to ascertain the impact of ICT use in rural agriculture development in PNG, the approach received much applause in bridging rural divide.
Although the concept is mooted as agricultural resource centres at this stage, the centres could also cater for needs in other areas such as health, education, community development and other social services.
There are already some practices of resource centre in different forms by various organisations for different purposes. For example the Trukai-Unitech collaboration for smallholder rice development in the Naweb district of Morobe is nothing different to the mooted concept. And there are more.
Given the many development challenges, the resource centre ideology does stand to offer stakeholder engagement for the common good.