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Partners : Partners September 2012
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF PRODUCTIVITY With its small land holdings, low resilience to risk and uncertain market access, subsistence farming presents problems for development in Papua New Guinea that ACIAR is helping to solve through projects that have a common theme: diversification. BY WARREN PAGE For smallholder farmers, a poverty trap refers to a situation where growing one or two crops will never result in sufficient production to deliver surpluses. These 'traps' occur where subsistence production is the priority. Lack of knowledge of different approaches and practices, including new crops, can be a major constraint, as can cultural issues and barriers to adoption. A common feature of many smallholder producers, in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and elsewhere, is the reliance on one or a small number of crops. Often the choice is between a staple and a cash crop. Cash crops are more often favoured. Some husbandry, usually of poultry or pigs, also occurs. The prevalence of cash crops, particularly coffee, cocoa and oil palm, and the lack of market access for smallholders result in limited opportunities to grow and profit from any small surpluses achieved. The limited size of operations does not generate economies of scale that can increase income, access to labour or other inputs. In addition this can also create a reluctance to diversify, even though this is one of the best options available to smallholders. The key is convincing smallholders that something is going to work, given the risks involved. A recent impact assessment publication, Lessons learned from past ACIAR impact assessments, adoption studies and experience (IAS 69), examined the elements of a successful project. The important lessons identified included the link between the users of the research having incentives and communicating outputs, such as practice change, with reference to those incentives. Diversification can take different paths, such as furthering the uses and opportunities around an existing production system or introducing new systems. Sweetpotato, consumed as fresh tubers and used as pig feed, is an important staple in PNG. Processed sweetpotato products have been successfully commercialised in a number of countries, opening up new markets. Yet at the same time small quantities of frozen sweetpotato have been imported into PNG. Domestic processing in PNG is limited to research and product development, focusing on varietal evaluation for its suitability and potential, mainly in producing composite wheat flours for baking products. Such work taken in isolation is unlikely to lead to benefits for smallholders. Complementing this work is research to improve economic returns and incomes of sweetpotato farmers and supply chain operators through the adoption of improved sweetpotato marketing systems. This will focus on reducing both postharvest losses and the costs of marketing, while also identifying the major constraints to the adoption of post- harvest technologies. Creating new approaches that result in new markets and opportunities is one facet of diversification. For most, the ultimate aim is introducing new systems. One such system is inland aquaculture. There are already more than 10,000 small-scale fish farms in PNG producing tilapia, carp or trout for home consumption and sale. Interest in aquaculture continues to climb. However, current production levels are low when compared with South-East Asian systems. Neither husbandry techniques nor planning can be ignored, as both present constraints to the wider adoption of aquaculture. ACIAR is supporting the development of aquaculture planning systems for management agencies and improvements in fish husbandry techniques for primarily small-scale fish farmers in PNG. There is no simple means of diversifying, nor one path or road. Each situation is unique. ACIAR's successes, some described in the stories that follow, are based on winning smallholders over to the idea that the benefits of adopting new practices far outweigh the risks. n 10 DIVERSIFICATION SPRING 2012 PARTNERS
Partners 30th Anniversary
Partners January 2013