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Partners : Partners September 2012
PARTNERS SPRING 2012 25 Clifton Gwabu Japhet Nivi Philmah Seta-Waken and Dickson Benny. different varieties of vegetables. "What we are looking at here is the vegetable evaluation trial," Philmah Seta-Waken says. "We are working on which vegetables will do well at the three different altitudes we have here in PNG---high, medium and low." These sites are located at Tapine (high), Sogeri (medium) and Laloki, Koiari and Rigo (low). The range of western vegetables growing under field trial is impressive. Included are tomatoes, beans, capsicum, eggplant, corn, carrots and broccoli, to name a few. Dickson Benny, an economist from PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), is also involved in the project. For two years he has been learning what is needed to increase food production in the country and where the obstacles to greater food productivity lie. He says one of the main challenges is transporting food from the productive areas to the population centres. For that reason the project focuses on different vegetables for different areas of the country. "This way, the costs for production and transport can be kept at a minimum." Philmah Seta-Waken points to the nearby mountains where a patchwork quilt of village farms is visible. There you can walk past gardens filled with kaukau (sweetpotato), taro, cassava and banana trees---PNG's traditional stable crops that have sustained people for many years. "Most people are subsistence farmers, growing their own food and selling anything extra they produce in village markets," she says. "I believe that if farmers have the best crops to grow, that will lead to a sustainable livelihood and help improve their diets as well." The variety trials are crucial to those aspirations. They are needed to test performance under realistic growing conditions over several seasons and to identify the best agronomic options for optimal production levels. These are issues familiar to Japhet Nivi---the field research officer from Pacific Adventist University, an ACIAR scholarship recipient. "Sometimes I think of PNG as one really big farm," he says. Through systematic trials he is helping to identify vegetable varieties and agronomic practices that turn subsistence vegetable gardens into small agribusinesses. He has no doubt that Central Province has great potential to produce a wide range of vegetables---cabbages, broccoli, onions and others---but current production is not sufficient to meet the increasing demand. The project has held a series of meetings and workshops with various stakeholders to understand which research activities would address constraints to improving vegetable production. Issues identified include declining soil fertility, pressure on land from population growth, pests, diseases and lack of market information. In addition to the variety trials, the project also focuses on natural resource management, marketing and socioeconomics. Clifton Gwabu, an agriculture economist and facility manager at the NARI office in Laloki, Central Province, concentrates on this area. "The things I look at are the profitability and marketing system," he says, while assessing a field sown with the tropical green leaf vegetable aibika, commonly known as Pacific cabbage. "This is a common veggie crop all over PNG. It is very strong and grows well everywhere, even without much fertiliser. The green leaf of the aibika is the most popular green vegetable eaten throughout PNG." n
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