Rice to the occasion

Normal, Weekender

Farmers in Milne Bay are going into rice farming in a big way, writes PAUL MAOLAI

FOOD is the most important of all basic necessities. Yet policies and programmes pertaining to food production and security have been neglected for a long time in PNG.
Papua New Guinea government agricultural policy in the past has stressed the production of export tree crops. Emphasis on food production has, to some extent, been secondary.
The government has only recently come to realise that food production is important not only to improve nutrition but also to replace the very high import bill on food products.
The government is now pushing for increased food security and improving the marketing of local food crops to substitute for imported foods.
Food security exists when all people at all times have access to safe and sufficient food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Food security is not the same as self sufficiency in food. A nation, or a region, may be self sufficient in locally produced food and yet may have inadequate food security.
Conversely a nation may be food secure, but may not be self sufficient in all foods.
Food security is generally good in PNG. There are two major reasons for this:
the introduction and adoption of new species including sweet potato, cassava, Chinese taro, and maize, which offer advantages over other crops; and the development of the cash economy which has enabled many people to purchase food with cash when their own subsistence supply is insufficient.
Despite the sweeping changes that have occurred in PNG, especially over the past century, both rural and urban people are still vulnerable to short term and long term food supply problems.
The Department of Agriculture & Livestock (DAL) in Milne Bay has urged rice farmers in the province to take food security seriously.
Milne Bay DAL principal advisor, Leki Romulars, made the call to participants at the close of a Basic Rice Cultivation workshop held from Jan 13-15 at Bubuleta Farms Resource Center 50 kilometers out of Alotau.
Three Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteers were among a group of 20 Milne Bay rice growers who attended the workshop.
The JICA volunteers were Hiroyuki Yamaguchi based in Buka, Hidekatsu Sekizawa based in Kiunga and Hikaru Suguwara based in Kavieng. The participants received certificates and rice seedlings.
Rice trainer, Faiteli Hezron, the principal of Gayobala training centre at Galubwa village on Fergusson Island said rice is easy to grow.
Hezron who trained in rice cultivation in Japan for two years from 2002-2003 under a JICA scholarship has trained many farmers in the province on rice growing.
He started a rice cultivation school on Fergusson Island training local rice farmers.
Rice farmers on Fergusson Island are believed to have harvested four tons of rice in 2008.
DAL food security coordinator, Kelly Riroriro, who is a strong advocate on local food production is promoting rice growing in the province.
Based in Alotau Mr Riroriro travels to villages to educate people about food security and the National Government’s programmes and policy on food security.
He said in Milne Bay province one person consumed 30 kilograms of rice per year.
Rice farmer, Nimoi Kubu, showed off his plot of land at Watunou village where he grows rice. He said it was a good cash crop to grow.
Rose Levi also from Watunou said she had learnt many useful things to improve her rice growing.
JICA Rice Extension Officer, Yoshinobu Fukunaga, attached to the Milne Bay DAL said this was the first time JICA had sponsored a rice workshop and hoped the farmers will grow good quality rice for their consumption and market.
Mr Fukunaga has traveled throughout the province teaching people how to farm rice.
Topics at the workshop included theory lessons and practical hands on training at the Bubuleta Farms Resource Centre and at model rice farms at Watunou village.
Topics covered included food security, rice presentation, cycle and nutrition, how to plant harvest, thrash, winnow and store rice, how to make a wooden mill and cooking demonstrations in making jam, tapioca bread, peanut butter, coconut tea, brown rice tea stew using local food.
It is estimated that there are 6,000 rice farmers in the province.
The type of rice grown in the province is the Thai Chu Sen 10 or TCS -10 from Thailand.
Though rice has been grown in Milne Bay for a few years now the exact tonnage of rice grown is unspecified.
An equal number of male and female participants was selected from the Huhu and Maramatana Local Level Governments. They came from Ahioma, Gopaia, Watunou, Daduwe, Divinai, Bou, Naura, Sagarai, Huhuna, Porotona and Yapoa.
The workshop was sponsored by JICA at K3, 933-90.
There was also a cultural exchange where Yoshinobu Fukunaga presented a handwritten calligraphy rice paper framed characters to Mr Riroriro showing his appreciation for his extension work.
The Japanese volunteers showed off their guitar and singing skills and put on a Judo demonstration.