Story and pictures by PISAI GUMAR
MOST women and children in rural areas of Morobe have never held bank cards of their own.
Only few people who operate trade stores, trade buai, cocoa or coffee do have savings accounts and bank cards to swipe at shops or automated teller machines.
It is therefore quite a novelty for rural folk to own accounts and swipe cards after an SMS alert in a cell phone or transfer money using SMS banking.
It was an inspiring moment in Wandumi in Wau, Morobe to witness parents and pupils at the outskirts of the township to displaying their bank cards in the vegetables garden.
These are fresh produce farmers and their children, many of whom were born unto the life-cycle of alluvial mining that has been there since the colonial era.
It is quite a challenge to change mindsets in Wau to leave alluvial mining for farming plots and turn a new leaf. The school pupils’ bank cards speak volumes.
It is evident that vegetable farming is not only the backbone of these villages but a lucrative business available to them and most rural communities in the country.
If all necessary backing is given the Goroka-based Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA), villagers will no longer rely upon government grants for a sustainable livelihood.
FPDA has proven that families can live sustainably on farming and it intends to go a step further in turning farmers into millionaires in the small-to-medium (SME) sector soon.
School children in Wau proved to FPDA value chain and innovation manager Noel Kuman the results of vegetable model farming skills taught since 2013.
The acquired farming knowledge and skills have achieved successful results.
Among the exciting stories were those of families who had opened separate bank accounts for parents and children with an emphasis on encouraging a savings culture.
Children are now able to pay their own school fees or buy clothes while a number of parents are able to buy PMV trucks, build permanent houses and install solar lighting in them. Families are eating a more healthy diet and avoid going to health centres with complaints of illness.
School pupils take their cards with them to school buy exercise books, pens and pencils when they are needed. The vegetables on their farms include English cabbage, lettuce, onions, pak choi, saladeer, green coronet, dwarf bean, beetroot, egg plant, tomatoes, capsicum and potatoes.
FPDA has in fact introduced 62 seed varieties to the farmers and encourages them to try all of them.
Local woman, Gaba Robin, told this reporter why her husband resigned from his job at PNG Forests Products Limited.
“After two weeks, we brought home our earnings and compared them and my husband resigned from the company the next day because I brought home K1,500 from vegetables compared to his two-week pay.”
Gaba is among the women farmer’s engaged in seven model farms in Wandumi, Namba 6 Compound, Biawen II, Nemnem, Maus Kuranga, Mamboo Creek and Werewere.
There are now 364 farmers engaged in the model farming concept FPDA had introduced.
It took six years for FPDA to train the locals in farm management skills to ensure they shift their mindset from subsistence farming to embrace commercial farming.
Importantly the farmers also learnt about the medicinal values of vegetables and quality control methods to ensure vegetables maintain their freshness from garden to market to dinner table.
FPDA and the farmers work in close partnership with NKW Fresh, the trustee company of three Hidden Valley mine landowner groups – Nauti in Watut, and Kwembu and Winima in Biangai.
NKW Fresh buys from the famers to supply the Morobe Mining Joint Venture (MMJV) kitchen in Hidden Valley and shops in Lae. It ships the surplus to Vanimo, Lihir, Kokopo, Kimbe, Manus and Port Moresby.
The out-grower extension programme has increased the volume of vegetables from 40 tonnes to 120 tonnes a month. That brings in K4 million to circulate in Wau alone.
FPDA Lae office manager Barnabas Wahawe, Kuman and NKW Fresh general manager David Stewart were invited to Biawen II on July 12 to witness what the farmers have achieved for themselves with the assistance of the agencies involved.
“Take care of the knowledge and skills learnt, use and maintain them for your generations to come,” Kuman urged the farmers. “Lukautim kumu na kumu bai lukautim yu,” he said.
Kuman and Stewart encouraged the farmers to be mindful of quality production and marketing which would determine cash flow and profits at the end of the day.
“By all accounts, we’re getting very good reports from our customers. Our plan is to get the produce into chillers as fast as we can, pack it to international standards before looking for markets,” Stewart said.
He urged the farmers to grow more quality vegetables based on demand to generate more in profits because market forces were driving the prices of production.
“Not only is our produce cheaper but it’s packed to international standards; produce is fresher, packaging is first class and Consort Express Lines shipping services is on site.”
The variety of vegetables produced also substitute imports through the positive relationships between NKW and FPDA.
However, FPDA is grossly underfunded although it is a government agency charged with the huge task to extend its services into all 89 districts and 5033 LLGs to encourage fresh produce farming.
NKW Fresh provides sustainable business opportunities to surrounding mine impacted villages, taking into consideration its moral duty to find appropriate ways to enable the communities to be able to sustain livelihoods when the mine shuts down.
“Once you have the infrastructures on ground then you have prosperity as people transport produce into markets,” Stewart said.
“Farmers are extraordinarily important to us, they are our backbone to the business. NKW as the middle man with the heart, is here to make reasonable profits to continue to develop services to sustain farmers,” he added.
NKW is paralleling its services with extension services provided by FPDA on the ground and the focus is to find out what is planted and what the yield is in order to plan logistics and markets.
“After two weeks (we) visit farmers and tell them ‘we’ve already sold that crop on your plot’ and that is the absolute goal that boosts confidence to improve,” Stewart said.
FPDA is currently negotiating with Wafi-Golpu mine landowners to extend its model farm programme to them soon.
Story and pictures by PISAI GUMAR