Having access to fresh and nutritious food is a basic need in life. Food remains crucial and has a lot of economic, social and physical benefits. However, disasters such as the current Covid-19 disease pandemic could seriously affect sustenance of food supply and access. Restrictions on the movement of people and goods under the extended State of Emergency (SOE) nationwide have caused a marked decline in the supply of fresh foods in local markets and supermarkets in large cities and towns.
In response to this, the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is working closely with the Morobe province’s SOE Committee and other key stakeholders to develop a wholesale bulk-buying strategy. The strategy will operate within Covid-19 protocols to ensure fresh produce supplies are maintained to protect the wellbeing of both the consumers and the farmers.
Acting Director General of NARI Dr Sergie Bang commented about this effort through a live Kristen Redio 89.1FM broadcast. He discussed food security issues and ways of addressing the drop in fresh food supplies during the State of Emergency period.
Dr Bang mainly discussed the need for PNG to have an internal fresh food supply chain. This would involve setting up consolidation depots and organising wholesale points of purchase and delivery to urban satellite markets for resale to consumers. The idea is being worked on in partnership with key stakeholders such as the Morobe Provincial Department of Agriculture and Livestock; Fresh Produce Development Agency and Women in Agricultural Development Foundation.
Implementation of this concept would ideally involve partnering with key players in the supply chain such as wholesale and transport businesses. Initial work has begun to undertake this process with Markham and Bulolo districts. Land has been prepared for the multiplication and distribution of seeds for crops such as bean, cassava, sweetpotato and rice varieties to rural farming communities.
They will farm, harvest and supply to established wholesale buying points at selected sites. This will benefit farmers with income earning opportunities without the cost of travelling to markets and the risk of contracting corona virus.
Effectively done, this process would create sufficient supply of nutritious fresh food to sustain a healthy population and workforce who can survive the pandemic and sustain our economy. The long term plan is to roll out this strategy as a nationwide programme.
The concerned stakeholders also realise that this undertaking would also need them to ensure farmers are well informed to apply practices that help to improve fresh food yields. They should be provided basic skills in using sustainable farming practices to improve soil fertility as well as on how harvests are done, packaged, handled and supplied to consumers around the country.
Another area to help farmers with is developing seed-saving culture to prevent loss of seeds banks of traditional staples to pests, diseases and changes in climatic patterns. To help, we are prepared to help facilitate cultivar collections of improved crop varieties from our research among rural communities. Such innovations include early maturing, drought tolerant sweetpotatoes, taros, cassava and rice.
These technologies have proven successful in both high and low altitude farming systems during the recent 2015/16 droughts. Presently, a pathogen tested sweetpotato cultivar collection is maintained at our regional station at Aiyura in Eastern Highlands.
Furthermore, appropriate methods of managing water and soil resources in addition to food processing techniques would also be promoted as part of this initiative. This will help farmers to know how to convert staples like sweetpotato, taro and cassava into flour. These can be stored for long periods and be used to ensure food security during times of decline in fresh food supplies.
However, the proposed fresh food wholesale supply project will require the national government to revive district stations as sites to set up cultivar collection nurseries and fresh produce depots.
There is also need to upgrade road networks to ensure effective freighting of fresh produce from the rural collection points to designated markets in urban centres. This would also help to facilitate timely delivery and access to consistent food supply to counter shortages caused by natural disasters or health pandemics, as experienced now.
NARI will continue working with concerned partners during present Covid-19 pandemics to ensure an effective fresh produce market strategy is developed to provide viable food and economic security for both the farmers and consumers.