The present El Nino-induced drought has had a huge negative impact on food and water securities across the country. While current relief efforts are focused on food rations (processed) in some of the worst affected districts, two communities in the Kairuku District of Central province see innovative food production was the way to go in having continued access to food as the situation continues.
Farmers at Yule Island and Hisiu are able to produce garden crops and livestock for household consumption. Recently they held mini field days to showcase their produce and improved farming techniques and share their experiences with others.
The events were overwhelming and many who attended learned one or two things.
These follow a series of interventions by NARI over the last five years through the EUARD project, which focuses on building capacities through the generation and application of relevant research aimed at enabling smallholder farmers to better manage risks affecting agricultural productivity and food security in Western Pacific countries (PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu).
Interested local farmers benefited in having access to appropriate information and foundation materials; and participating in a series of training and hands-on demonstrations on improved farming techniques.
The project was implemented under six categories – crop improvement, crop diversification, livestock, soil and water management, socio-economic and communication.
Besides Central, similar field activities were undertaken in Madang, Eastern Highlands and Western Highlands provinces and selected communities in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu over the last five years.
Those who benefited initially have become model farmers in the communities by extending the sharing of information and provision of foundation materials to other new interested farmers.
On Wednesday October 7, model farmers at Yule demonstrated that they can cultivate improved varieties of rice, cassava and yams and rear chicken and goats for food security and income, despite their harsh farming environment and isolation, let alone the drought.
Yule is a dry island community with poor soil for agriculture with locals lacking innovations for improved food production. Soil fertility has diminished over the years and emerging changes in the climate, environment and population have put more pressure on the community.
However the interventions by NARI have shown some light in which they could competently improve farm productivity – by producing large tubers of yams and cassava from improved planting materials and new farming techniques, as compared to their local varieties and traditional farming system, which are prone to challenges. They could also look after chicken and goats as sources of protein and cash, in addition to their usual fish from the sea.
Component Leader of Crop Diversification and NARI senior scientist Dr Peter Gendua said the project was about enabling rural communities to mitigate climate change related stresses through innovative agriculture.
A key element of the approach was that farmers were involved in field research from which they could learn and adopt best practices based on outputs on their own farms.
Dr Gendua said the Yule Island farmers did well in adopting the technologies through effective community organization and participation with improved production which was much better than their traditional practice:- something the farmers openly acknowledged.
During the field day, a new micro-mill for rice milling was presented to the farmers.
Model farmer Mathilda Parau said NARI’s African yam has done wonders for the community. Parau said while yam and cassava are common root crops for the islanders, the introduced variety survived the droughts and produced large tubers which provided plenty of food for the families.
Village Chief John Ume thanked NARI and EU for choosing Yule as a host site of the project. He said their efforts have bared fruits on the ground with over 100 men and women farmers benefiting.
“I’m excited that we can now be able to do better agriculture and I cannot say more seeing the rich display of harvests from the island,” Ume said.
On the following day, Hisiu farmers organised a similar information sharing and technology transfer event that attracted the attention of the district and provincial headquarters.
A live demonstration of vegetables in an irrigated farm had generated a lot of interest among the visitors, especially when seeing the vigorous fresh and healthy crops with nil signs of drought impacts.
Most parts of Kairuku is dry lowland that is currently experiencing food shortage as traditional crops fail to perform due to lack of rainfall in months.
Farming at Hisiu is a challenge. However, farmers are able to cultivate fresh vegetables, legumes and root crops. Model farmers are already getting used to applying the newly acquired skills and knowledge. They have gone out of their way to farm their own gardens, and even sharing their experiences and knowledge with others.
Water harvesting through the rope and washer pump technology and field irrigation were set up right at the farm which made possible for all moisture inputs.
Vegetables farmed were open pollinated and ranged from tomatoes to round onions, cabbages, water melon, egg plant, chilly and capsicum. Grains such as corn, peanuts beans had rows among the veggies.
The vegetable production covered best practices in soil sterilisation, nursery, irrigation, mulching, pest and disease management, post-harvest, and seed management, according to NARI Agronomist Philmah Waken.
The model farmers also showcased tubers of African yams and cassava, the rapid propagation technique of mini-setting. Livestock farmers demonstrated the sweet potato silage technology for pig feed and the demos on plant-derived pesticide technique earned much interest as it involves local resources.
Kairuku-Hiri MP Peter Isoaimo was impressed with the Hisiu community’s initiative in going their own way in working with NARI on the project.
"As a government, I stand ready to help those people who are organised and prepared to help themselves," Isoaimo said.
Isoaimo promised to purchase a tractor for the Hisiu farmers following their successful agriculture activities.
Advisor for Provincial Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Kila Gege, announced that the demo site will be expanded into a Community Resource Centre. Gege also revealed that as part of project sustainability, PDAL will also support with vegetable seeds and an improved irrigation system.
Isoaimo said the tractor will take away a lot of the labor that is involved so that the farmers can continue to engage in farming to meet their household food security and income needs.
He thanked NARI and the provincial and district DAL staff who have supported agriculture development in his electorate.
“Food security for families is foremost important; but extras can be sold for cash to meet other needs and social obligations,” Dr Gendua told farmers during the field days.
Gendua also asked the innovative farmers to share their acquired skills and knowledge with other new interested farmers so that they too can improve their livelihoods.
The one-day event was also attended by the Fresh Produce Development Agency, City Mission, Microfinance Bank, Kairuku District Development Authority, NARI Laloki, and farmer groups from Sogeri, Yule Island and a number of constituencies in the electorate.
Photo: Model farmers Ikupu Waki and Mary Yapa checking out bulb onions during the Hisiu field day