Restoring PNG’s Garden of Eden

Normal, Weekender

One-stop farm enterprise promotion centres that provide a totally integrated advisory service for rural farmers will transform and revitalise the whole nation’s agricultural output, writes SCARLETT EPSTEIN

Yes, once in this land where the Birds of Paradise fly, we had a flourishing Garden of Eden.
The fertile volcanic soils provided a rich food bowl that fed the nation. The joy of the harvests was reflected on the lavish sing-sings and feasts that were the hallmarks of the once thriving rural countryside. Alas, no more! Plenty has given way to poverty, joy to despair. The outside world regards us now as one of its poorest peoples.
A recent newspaper article titled “Support vital to drive agriculture forward” declared that “Agriculture oriented organisations are set to bring change to Papua New Guinea and aim to support smallholding farmers, especially in remote areas as there is an information, knowledge and skills gap among farmers and villages”
The author recommends laudable drastic changes to be urgently implemented in what were described as “crucial aspects” of rural development. These stressed the importance that needs to be attached to so-called PPP’s, or Public-Private Partnership arrangements to ensure “Crop Quality Control” and the establishment of a “Representative National Agricultural Council” charged with the responsibility for agricultural policies and programs.
But there are two critical links missing: the involvement of the voluntary PNG NGOs and, vitally, input from the smallholding farmers themselves.
Here’s an excellent example: the relationship established between an East Sepik women’s group of vanilla growers and PEGS-PNG that underlines the need of working with rather than for villagers. However well qualified macro-agricultural experts may be, they often know very little about how smallholders themselves prioritise their needs. The East Sepik vanilla growers have explained that they need advice and help relating not only to their cultivating activities but also to their rural living conditions in general.
Securing an export market for the organic vanilla they are producing they rank as their top-most requirement. But the newspaper article just teases its readers: In its reference to “Production and Marketing” it says “marketing requires a very different set of skills from what most farmers have” but it offers no clues as to how such expertise can be made available.
So, here’s a practical invitation; PEGS-PNG is prepared and willing to meet the vanilla growers requirements by creating an OSFEPC, a One-Stop Farm Enterprise Promotion Centre, a truly novel initiative  that will provide in the one location, i.e. a local style cost-effective building,  a totally integrated advisory service  for rural communities within easy reach such as:
*     Crop production
*     Post harvest processing, grading and packaging
*     Farm management
*     Marketing, packaging, storage, transporting etc
*     Off farm skill training
*     Natural health remedies and primary health services and
*     Any other advisory service vanilla growers may require by basically building on already locally available skills.
Those who have these skills will be offered training to make them more efficient and also how to convey their expertise to other members of their community.  The establishment of OSFEP will not only provide income-earning opportunities for vanilla growers but will also strengthen community ties.
Some of the benefits to be derived from the pilot one-stop farm enterprise promotion centres would include :
1)  Speedy rehabilitation of vanilla production in the East Sepik
2)  East Sepik’s successful participation in the global economy
3)  Strengthening of the role and status of East Sepik female vanilla growers
4)  A reduction not only in rural to urban migration but also in urban crimes
Once a pilot OSFEPC has been successfully trialled in the East Sepik, it can be used as the model to transform and revitalise the whole nation’s agricultural output and the restoration of the rural lifestyle once so loved and now so dearly missed.
Adam and Eve lost their Garden of Eden, but with determination and effort, the people of Papua New Guinea can regain theirs.
But who’ll take up the invitation to get things going? If it appeals to you, please contact Mr Paul Hukahu, the Executive Director of PEGS-PNG. (mobile no. 71208244, e-mail: [email protected]).