The National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari) has been working on a solar rice mill pilot project to increase capacity of local rice production, Nari’s SAMUEL TOPOSONA writes
By SAMUEL TOPOSONA
STATISTICS show that rice is consumed by around half of the world’s population.
However, there is still not enough produced to meet an ever rising demand in many countries.
This is no different in Papua New Guinea.
In fact, the country spends well over K400 million annually on imported rice as local production can not sufficiently meet the current level of demand.
Over the past two years, the National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari) has been working on a solar rice mill pilot project in Morobe to increase capacity of local rice production.
The project focuses on farmer awareness, farmer training, access to land and farmer benefits.
It is funded by the PNG-Australia partnership, through the incentive fund, with the support of Trukai Industries, the provincial government and PNG Women in Agriculture Foundation.
PNG has the potential to develop its own rice industry to reduce cost of importing rice and meet the high domestic demand.
These can be achieved if relevant government agencies and key players within the industry can collaborate to foster development of the local rice industry.
One way of doing this is by conducting awareness on the best practices in rice farming.
Farmers must be informed about rice and the benefits they can receive.
Changing their practice from subsistence farming to semi or full-scale commercial farming remains a challenge for the government and the industry.
Dissemination of information through various information platforms can help farmers to be more informed to discuss issues like providing land for major rice production projects, their roles and how they will benefit.
This has been done through ongoing dialogues between the National Government, relevant stakeholders and customary landowners.
Once clear process and benefit are agreed to and formalised, closer cooperation can be realised for the future in terms of large-scale rice production.
This would go long way in helping us achieve the goals outlined in our national rice policy.
Training is another area that needs to be carefully planned
and implemented to realise the development of the local rice industry.
Rice is an introduced crop, so more training needs to be
undertaken among smallholder farmers in rural areas around the country.
Relevant training will enable the farmers to better understand and apply best semi-commercial practices in growing, processing and selling rice.
This can be addressed by engaging relevant organisations who have the capacity to help farmers improve what they already know and practice.
New skills and knowledge will also shift their mindsets as rice farming is a three-month labour intensive process that needs
appropriate preparation, crop management and post harvest practices to ensure quality rice is produced.
Land is another very critical factor as it provides the basis on which crops can be grown, managed and processed.
However, availability of agricultural land is a big obstacle in PNG as about 97 per cent of land is still under customary ownership.
This makes it more challenging to realise tangible development in sectors like agriculture.
Without the availability of large portions of land, mass production of rice will not be possible to maintain a consistent supply of rice for consumers.
The National Government needs to explore and create good options to free up customary land for positive developments that can also address increasing pressure on land from a growing population of over eight million people.
When farmers are better informed through effective awareness and training processes about the importance of participating in the local rice industry and how they can benefit from it; they would be willing to provide enough land to increase rice production.
Such an approach is currently piloted through the solar rice mill project in Morobe.
Rice growing communities are identified and provided solar mills.
These mills also have the capacity to support the use of other electrical devices processing
vegetables and nuts, besides mobile phone charging and home lighting.
Together with our partners, Nari aims to help address some of the above-mentioned challenges through the roll out of the solar rice mill pilot project.
Nari sees rice as a very important crop that can help sustain our food and economic security during
extreme natural events like droughts.
This is because it is an early maturing grain crop that can produce high yields which can be stored much longer than the common staples.
Therefore, we are keen to continue working with our partners through the solar rice mill pilot project and related programmes to encourage the participation of smallholder farmers in growing the local rice industry.
- Samuel Toposona is the information and communication associate officer with Nari