By GABRIEL LAHOC
GUEST OF THE WEEK
STEP into Takom Model Farm just before the Mutzing station in Markham Valley, and the picture that greets one there is arresting – it’s almost as if it is the landscape of an Asian country, Thailand or Vietnam.
Its feature is the lush green paddy growing on a 2.5ha field – roughly two-thirds the size of a soccer field.
It is the largest irrigation rice farming in the nation by a local rice farmer.
This automatically makes Awa Mundugan, 36, from Bumbum village, Wantoat, as the leading irrigation rice farmer in the country and possibly the Pacific region, which is relatively new to this method of rice growing.
It is a special feat especially because Wantoat people, who live on the mountains bordering the Markham plains, generally do not grow rice.
Takom Model Farm also has another 2.5ha of upland rice farming, five fish ponds, a chicken and duck coop, and expanding cocoa plot apart from the three family huts.
Upland rice cultivation for domestic consumption is already popular in the Markham district of Morobe province, which has forced local trade stores in the villages to limit and in some areas totally stopping the sale of manufacture rice packets because every family grows and consumes their own rice.
Awa, as he is affectionately known by the agriculture sector in the district became part of this rice growing culture through his marriage to his love, Nancy, with whom he has been with for more than 20 years.
Uplands rice cultivation is similar to corn and peanut planting, and the idea of irrigation rice farming was never a bright idea, until Awa attempted in 2005 at a large swampy patch at Garam area where he grew up.
All farmers are hard workers because of the nature of their jobs, however, Awa literary is one of the most hard working farmers, who is backed up by his committed wife and their children Yanding, 20, Glenstone ,18, Tania, 12, and Reila, 11, and the members of his extended family.
He led the huge task of landscaping the swampy area which took two years to complete, and then boldly approach Felix Song, who is the crop specialist with ROC Taiwan technical mission based at the National Agriculture Research Institute in Lae.
“I heard that there was a Taiwanese specialist who is promoting rice farming in the district and approached Felix with my idea of irrigation rice farming, and told him I have plotted my land area and am ready to venture into rice irrigation farming,” he said.
On inspection, Mr Song’s immediately set up a strong working relationship with Awa, which is still strong to this day, even though there is a language barrier.
“We do have days where we argue about how certain things should go in this rice project, but at the end of the day, we agree on the right decision, because it is right,” Awa said.
The farm’s operation is self-sustaining, with Awa and his farm attendants making use of everything.
With the natural supply of water from the swamp, the water is diverted into the five fish ponds which caters for golden carps and tilapia in various stages of growth, and then diverted into the rice paddies, from which the water level is monitored closely.
No weeding is required, and if there is the occasional presence of water bugs, the fish acts as the repellent by feeding on the bugs.
After the milling of rice from the diesel powered milling machine and filter, the waste product is the perfect biological and nutritious feed for ducks, chicken and fish.
Though it wasn’t his initial idea, Awa is making an impact as a rice extension officer with assistance from the Taiwan Technical Mission and is now teaching the Markham people to venture into irrigation rice farming.
As he calmly puts it with a smile: “Ol Markham pipel i lainim mi long planim rais long graun, na nau mi bai lainim ol long planim rais long wara. (The Markham people taught me how to plant rice in the bare earth, and now I will teach them to plant rice in water.)”