Local vegetable production in Papua New Guinea
Farming, and especially vegetable production, plays an important role in the lives of small holders using communally or customary land. It plays multiple roles of fulfilling basic needs, maintaining and strengthening the social fabric and providing nutritious food for the community.
Although the basic needs of the family are usually met by selling produce at the local market, farming is more than family business in Papua New Guinea. It provides food security and economic incentives in rural communities. Often, though, produce available for sale is only the excess to family needs in what is mostly subsistence farming. Importantly, poverty in rural and urban communities and inequality of opportunity remain challenges in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and undermine the progress of the nation.
Food production largely relies on family and relatives of the clan or village for labor using very simple tools such as bush knives, grass knives, spades and knapsacks. There is minimal capital investment on communally owned or customary lands because of lack of security of title. Land and labor productivity is low as farmers face many environmental and socio-economic challenges in growing crops. In spite of being less productive than more intensively managed commercial farming, subsistence farming remains the predominant system in PNG, perhaps because it serves as a social safety net. However Yale (2006) warns that it will be wrong to assume that subsistence farming will support the growing population, currently expanding at about 2.1% per year.
Challenges in food production in PNG
Quality and limited shelf life of produce is of concern. This may be explained by deficiencies in one or more components of the post harvest system e.g. inadequate transport, storage and handling systems, as well as factors adversely affecting crops prior to harvest, including adverse weather conditions (particularly high temperature and excessive rainfall), pest incidence and sub-optimal crop management practices.
Also, that farmers do not deliver quality produce consistently can be related to dysfunctional value chains. Further, for many years wantok ties, which are duties and obligations to help the kins speaking the same language, has provided insulation against individual vulnerabilities (Monsell-Davis 1993). This in turn discouraged others from working hard and seeking to improve their produce, as the benefit had to be shared with those who were not contributing equitably. Wantok and family systems are being challenged by the pressure for change, and are causing urban poverty in Papua New Guinea (Storey 2010).
Nevertheless, the social change has yet to translate into improved farming practices and consistent delivery of high quality produce by individual farmers or farmer groups. However, encouraging signs are emerging, with, for example, the formation of farming cooperatives and the entry of entrepreneurs in, for example, transport.
Relationship between farmers, wholesalers, transporters and consumers
Most small farmers have opportunistic relationships with input suppliers, transporters, wholesalers and consumers. This means that there is no firm relationship between the farmers input suppliers, transporters, wholesalers and consumer. Although many wholesalers encourage locally grown produce, smallholder farmers arrive at the wholesalers and often find that their produce does not match quality standards required or are confronted by an oversupply of the same produce. As a result their produce is rejected, received at a low price, or the farmers choose to sell elsewhere. Basically, the farmers have little or no real influence on the price they receive, yet they continue to absorb production, marketing and transport risks and costs.
Most farmers believe that they are not offered a fair share of the retail price and many ultimately sell their produce directly to consumers in markets or free standing stalls. Small farmers and women may be harassed at local markets causing them to sell at a low price because of lack of bargaining power. At local markets, small farmers need to sell their produce by evening so they reduce the price to clear it by the end of the trading day. Consequently, small growers face a number of challenges and uncertainties that discourage them from improve farming and marketing practices. Nevertheless, the local markets serve as a food source for the urban poor and provide some cash income to meet family needs of smallholder farmers.
Improving local food production by value chain enhancement
A project on “Increasing Vegetable Production in Central Province, Papua New Guinea to Supply Port Moresby Markets” funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and led by the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research is identifying and addressing vegetable supply chain priorities in Central Province of PNG. It aims to provide small farmer communities with production options and marketing skills so they can take advantage of the opportunity to improve their socioeconomic position in a sustainable manner in an economy that is expanding due to mineral and gas development projects.
An integral part of the project was a value chain workshop for the stakeholders held at Pacific Advent University, Port Moresby. The value chain workshop was designed to assist stakeholders to develop skills to improve the performance of the value chain through enhancing relationships among the chain participants (or actors) - farmers, transporters, wholesalers and consumers. The ultimate aim is the development of viable, functional value chains that provide satisfactory returns to all participants in them.
The workshop was attended by 30 participants including District Administrators of Central Province, and staff of Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA), National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and Pacific Advent University (PAU). The concepts of supply chain and value chain were presented to the group. Participants discussed the following topics:
- Expectations of consumers and suppliers;
- Attributes of the produce; and
- Challenges that needs to be addressed.
The participants were divided into three groups with participants from different organizations in each, and all engaged with the topics enthusiastically. The workshop revealed that the customers preferred the suppliers to provide a regular supply of high quality produce at reasonable price. Suppliers expected customers to provide feed back on the produce, and also that customers should be willing to pay better price for fresh produce and had other desirable quality characteristics. Lack of access to markets was also identified among challenges that were of socioeconomic, socio-cultural and political origin.
Access to market
In order to create access to markets, negotiations have begun among the farmers in several regions near Port Moresby for instance in Rigo-Koiari and Bautama. A meeting of small farmers, transporters and wholesalers to complement the meeting of organizations and institutions was facilitated by the Project team to gain agreement on crops to be grown, quantities produced and frequency of supply. Arrangements for transport and the basis of price determination were negotiated between the wholesalers and producers as part of this process. Quality requirements were outlined for each crop with verification and monitoring being done by comparing photographs with standards developed by FPDA.
Next Steps in Implementation of the Project
The project has now moved into the next phase of implementation. In this, an appropriate selection from the agreed crops list (tomato, capsicum, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, ball cabbage and French beans) will be grown under experimental and semi commercial (demonstration) conditions in five locations in Central Province, with the support of NARI, FPDA and PAU. Associated with this field work, enhanced transport and storage infrastructure is being provided by entrepreneurs and a commercial partner in the project, Greenfresh, to develop improved value chains into Port Moresby. Quality assessments are being further developed by FPDA.
The project is a ‘cyclic’ project, and on completion of the work currently in progress, progress will be assessed using value chain analysis and other tools that gain information on system performance, changes made if necessary for the next year, and the cycle repeated until the project terminates in December 2013.
CIA (2009) CIA World Fact Book (online)
Storey, D, 2010, ‘Urban Poverty in Papua New Guinea’, National Research Institute, Discussion paper 109: Papua New Guinea
Monsell-Davis, M, 1993, ‘Urban Exchange: Safety-Net or Disincentive? Wantoks and Relative in the Urban Pacific’, Canberra Anthropology, 16(2):45–66
Sandra, M & Jagadish, A 2006 Agricultural Marketing and Agribusiness Supply Chain Issues in Developing Economies: The Case of Fresh Produce in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, August 24-25, 2006
Yale, C 2006, ‘Rethinking customary land tenure issues in Papua New Guinea’ Pacific Economic Bulletin, 21(1):129-137
Text: Gomathy Palaniappan, C. Birch , B. Chambers and L. Bonney
Dr.Gomathy Palaniappan, Research Fellow, Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research, University of Queensland, Gatton, 4343,
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