Children curios with the arrival ducklings and chicks at Balangore village, Vitu Island

By James Laraki

CELEBRATING our achievements over the last 46 years as an independent nation is extremely important. But in doing so, we also have to think about our future. There are many challenges ahead. The changing climate is obviously one of them.  It is by far the greatest existential challenge facing the world today. Climate change-driven events such as droughts, flooding from excessive rainfall or sea-level rise, wildfires, or even the spread of pests and diseases of agricultural crops, livestock, and humans are real. Given this scenario, it is important that our farming and rural communities are better prepared to cope and adapt to climate change-induced stresses that pose a real threat to our agriculture and food systems.

The first drought recorded in PNG dates back to 1914. Since Independence, we have experienced a number of drought events. More recent ones were in 1997-98 and 2015-16. Both of these events lasted for over 10 months and created food insecurity for some 2.7 million people. These events caused great hardship, with records of deaths in a number of locations around the country.  Most affected were remote, rural communities with no access to socio-economic services.

Although it is certain that droughts would occur again in the future, it is not possible to make absolute predictions about their timing, severity, and frequency. Climate change predictions for the region suggest that prolonged variations from normal rainfall are likely to continue and at a higher frequency. This could be devastating to agriculture and could lead to chronic food crises. Therefore, it is critical to address the challenges of food security by taking into account both the current and projected trends in the climate. 

Following the 1997-98 drought, the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has devised and piloted a number of strategies and programs aimed at preparing rural communities to cope and adapt to the effects of recurring drought situations. Since then, a number of related projects have been implemented across the country.

In 2017, NARI rolled out a project that was aimed at achieving greater drought resilience for coastal communities. The project entitled “Strengthening food production capacity and the resilience to drought of vulnerable communities” is being implemented in 16 communities across 10 provinces.

The objective of this Euro 3 million project supported by the European Union was has being to contribute to achieving a greater resilience of smallholder farming and rural communities to abiotic stresses arising from seasonal weather patterns, climate change, and natural disasters that are likely to impact their livelihoods. The project is focusing on disseminating knowledge and skills of a range of adaptation options with the aim of strengthening the adaptive capacity of the target communities. This is based on our assumptions and experiences from other projects that there is a lack of awareness, knowledge, and appreciation for the causes and effects of seasonal or climatic variability on agriculture and food systems.

NARI is of the view that the adaptive capacity in most target communities is low; though this could not be quantified as such assessments have been isolated. Many of the target communities the Institute is working with are relatively remote with subsistence-based livelihoods. Project activities are focused on raising awareness on climate change and variability, and the use of new and improved agricultural technologies and practices. NARI is working with local communities to do agriculture differently than business as usual. The project has also strengthened local institutions and community groups to continue supporting climate change adaptation beyond the project life span.

Particular emphasis is being placed on involving women and girls.  The Institute is convinced that women are more vulnerable to climate impacts than men for a variety of reasons. They have limited access to resources needed for adaptation and have less power in decision-making in the households or communities. Women and girls are central to providing food and nutritional security for households. Therefore, the project has ensured women are actively involved in all activities. NARI is proud that some women have gone on to become model farmers and are taking the lead to support others in their communities.

The project is being implemented at various sites in Madang, Morobe, East Sepik, Manus, West New Britain, Central, Milne Bay, Western, Gulf, and Oro provinces. These sites were selected based on the 2015/2016 assessment report by the National Disaster Centre that placed them in categories 4 and 5 in terms of severity. NARI is working with partners in these communities to share and exchange information on drought coping measures; demonstration of water and food conservation techniques and making available drought-tolerant crop varieties and related activities.

While the project is unlikely to provide all the solutions, it forms a part of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness and encourage rural communities to adopt improved technologies, practices, strategies, and concepts to supplement traditional agriculture and livelihood practices. It is also hoped that by the end of the project, local institutions including NGOs, CBOs, state agricultural extension agencies, women or church groups will be in a better position to mainstream climate change adaptation into their long-term plans.

We also recognize that these efforts could not have been possible without the support of the National government, the Australian government (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), the European Union, and our stakeholders. We highly appreciate and treasure these commitments and contributions.

With continued support and commitment from the national government and partners, it is possible to achieve the institute’s overall aim of seeing some lasting changes in agricultural practices and the adaptive capacities of rural communities.