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Solar powered milling technology for rice farmers

A solar powered rice milling technology will be piloted in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea for the next three years (2017-2019)  to boost food security and improve rural livelihoods in selected rice growing areas. This is a collaboration between NARI, Trukai Industries, Project Support Services (PSS) and the PNG Women in Agriculture with the support of the Australian Government funded Incentive Fund.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop launched the project on March 9 2017 at the NARI Head Office in Lae.

Rice has become a staple food in PNG but not a staple crop despite its introduction some 100 years ago. Rice is not a staple crop partly because farmers do not get the maximum production output with attractive returns, from their limited investments, due to the lack of an ideal milling solution.

Milling is a critical post-harvest input that separates the edible, white rice kernel from husks and bran layers after harvesting.

The challenge with milling services has resulted in rice farming being restricted to certain isolated rural communities that would make do with locally invented or traditional milling technologies such as the wooden tongtong or kisar mills. Where there is access to diesel powered mills, experience has shown that operational costs and maintenance repairs are somewhat unsustainable, especially in rural areas. Whilst the wooden technologies provide a suitable solution for single family consumption, the high labour input and low quality rice produced makes them unsuitable for commercial rice processing.

The new solar-derived rice milling innovation will now be put to test in Morobe to help ease the milling challenge faced by farmers. The pilot project is expected to boost food security and improve rural livelihoods with solar powered rice processing technologies and commercial market linkages in the province.

The project will provide rural households from 30 rice growing communities with sustainable rice processing infrastructure, skills, knowledge and marketing opportunities, and to kick-start a viable domestic rice sector. The initiative is in-line with the Government’s National Rice Policy 2015-2030, which emphasises domestic rice production.

The goal is to assess a model to increase rice production, decrease PNG’s reliance on imported rice, improve energy access and increase agriculture and non-agriculture income earning opportunities amongst the target beneficiaries, particularly women, with the overall goal of improving food security and rural livelihoods.

This is another Australian Government support to PNG agricultural development, building on an existing relationship with NARI through various technical and financial arrangements over the years.

Minister Bishop said the project builds on the long running partnership between NARI, PNG’s hub for agricultural research since its inception in 1996, and the Australian Government.

"Through this partnership, Australia and Papua New Guinea have been able to share knowledge and skills to improve research capacity," Bishop said.

"Importantly, this has led to the development and release of new technologies that have enhanced agriculture production for rural farmers.  This has particularly benefitted women who play a critical role in the agriculture sector."

NARI has been a researcher and promoter of rice in recent years, resulting in the release of four upland rice varieties for PNG conditions and working with communities in exploring options for better postharvest processes for maximum output. Its involvement will expand the current knowledge, research and applied science of rice farming in PNG.

Trukai has been working with communities across the country including Morobe to develop a viable domestic rice industry with market access. The partnership with local organisations and efforts in supporting local rice farmers fall in line with Trukai's  vision for sustainable rice and agricultural development in the country with viable market linkages for rural farmers.

PSS has been serving rural communities with appropriate agricultural machinery and renewable energy technologies, and the new solar powered rice mill holds more for PNG rice development. The company has specifically developed the solution after witnessing the difficulties that rural communities have in keeping diesel powered agricultural machines working – which are costly and have high maintenance requirements.

The PNG Women in Agriculture represents the beneficiaries of the project, particularly women and rice farming communities in the province.

The innovation stands to provide rural rice farming communities a new sustainable opportunity for increased agricultural productivity whilst providing life-changing energy access.

The solar powered rice mill can process 250kg of brown rice or 100kg of white rice per day. The income that rice farmers generate from just one harvest, from one hectare, is enough to pay for the entire system, which can continue to provide many years of milling and energy access thereafter. The machine has no fuel costs. It is very low maintenance and also provides electricity from the solar energy to power a house, school, health clinic; light up village or run a small business.

The project will involve:

  • installation and operationalization of community-level agro-processing infrastructure: solar powered rice processing mills, which provide a number of other electricity related services and benefits,
  • development of market linkages: connecting rural growers to a large scale national buyer and guaranteeing market rates to overcome the initial risks associated with switching to new farming methods, and
  • carrying out technical and market based research to support PNG’s rice sector.

The piloting in Morobe is a first step to future possible nationwide initiatives to implement key strategies outlined in the national rice policy, medium term development plans and Vision 2050.

The project will build capacity of rural farmers and stakeholders, through increased production and processing of rice, as well as creating new commercial opportunities, and supports a shift towards commercial production.

The project targets 30 communities that have a record of growing rice but do not have ready access to an operational mill. However if a community has committed the time and effort to grow a minimum volume of two hectares of rice, despite having low access to milling services, the project will value that past commitment and associated efforts as a form of equity for the solar mill provided under the project.

The new intervention brings more opportunities for rural PNG communities. It is hopeful that the knowledge learned through this pilot phase can be replicated elsewhere in the country.

NARI Council Chairman Professor Chalapan Kaluwin thanked Minister Bishop for the Australian Government support: “The partnership between Australia and Papua New Guinea empowers communities by assisting them to increase production. It has also played a critical role in protecting existing crops and tackling pests – this is critical to food security in PNG”.

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