By Fred Besari (March 24, 2013)
THE livestock sector makes significant contributions to the livelihoods of more than 600,000 smallholder farmers, mainly through subsistence and small commercial production of pigs and poultry, with cattle, small ruminants and inland aquaculture playing an increasing role.
Despite its significance, not much has been done in this sector in the last 10 - 15 years in terms of research and development. The livestock sector has been a struggle for a while, an indication that current support provided is inadequate to meet the needs of smallholders.
There are number of constraints limiting our people from benefiting from these enterprises. These need to be addressed for the smallholder farmers to improve production to meet fast expanding local markets.
One of the main constraints is availability and cost of livestock feed. The rising cost of stockfeed is considered a bottleneck to commercialization of smallholder livestock production in PNG. Studies have indicated that between 2003 and 2012 alone, the retail prices in Lae of commercial broiler finisher, layer pellets and pig grower diets have increased between 55 and 115%.
Given that feed constitutes at least two thirds of cost of production of chicken meat, egg and pork production, the escalating stockfeed prices remains a major hindrance to active participation of smallholders in the fast expanding domestic market for meat and eggs.
According to the 2000 PNG Agriculture Census, 25% of about 220, 000 chicken farmers are market oriented, selling part of their produce to village and local markets. This number is expected to have increased in recent years as farmers respond to emerging market opportunities for their products. The volume of stockfeed supplied to the domestic market is also expected to have steadily increased, as are the imports of cereal grains, including rice, wheat and sorghum.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has been exploring options for reducing the high cost of feeding commercial poultry and pig enterprises. Various lower-cost feeding technologies that maximize use of local feed resources have been developed, evaluated and released to the farming community for possible adoption. The feeding technologies released by NARI are: sweet potato silage for growing pigs released in 2010 and broiler concentrate released in 2011.
These feeding systems enabled smallholder farmers to blend appropriate proportions of boiled sweet potato or cassava tubers with formulated concentrates to make balanced diets for broilers, layer hens and growing pigs.
These feeding options have been proven to be effective in significantly reducing the cost of feeds, even when the tubers are bought from local markets. In most cases farmers can use sweet potato or cassava produced in their backyards, which further cuts down the cost of feeding, and thereby improving profitability of the livestock enterprises.
To further reduce these costs, NARI is conducting a multi-institutional collaborative research project aiming at promoting rural mini feed mills that can produce various formulations of balanced concentrates and complete diets using largely local feed resources.
The feed ingredients that can be processed in these mini mills include agro-industrial by-products such as mill run, copra mill, fish meal, rice bran, palm kernel meal, meat meal, bone meal as well as available cereal and legume grains. Imported premixes are essential to make balanced diets.
The project is considering alternative ways of establishing and managing mini feed mills at village level. One option is to have the mills owned and operated at community level in which trained technicians operate them as stand-alone business enterprises, with members buying concentrate or complete diets at set prices.
Mini mills can also be run as privately owned and run enterprises. NGOs and other institutions can also set up and manage such mills. Mini mills can use either electric or diesel engines. Key advantage of mini mills is that they can be set up in remote villages.
The Domil Integrated Community Development Cooperative Society in Jiwaka Province have demonstrated the advantage of using mini mills to cut down cost of feed and allow subsistence farmers participate in profitable commercial growing of broilers using cassava flour as the major ingredient in broiler finisher diets.
This cooperative has been collaborating with NARI and partner institutions in this research project. Several other mini feed mills will be closely evaluated for their effectiveness and profitability over the next two years in an effort to develop practical strategies for profitable use of mini feed mills.
The National Fisheries Authority is partnering with NARI in this project to also serve needs of aquaculture farmers. Other partners on this project are the PNG University of Technology, the Lutheran Development Service, the Christian Leaders Training College and the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
In the long term, it is envisaged that mini mills can play vital roles in enhancing the transformation of smallholder livestock production even in remote and marginal areas by creating market opportunities, generating local gainful employment, value addition to local produce and making quality animal products readily available at household and village market levels.
Photo: CLTC Farm Manager Anton Kaupa (front) and NARI staff mixing layer diet made from cassava and NARI layer concentrate at the CLTC layer feeding trial at Banz, Jiwaka province