By Seniorl Anzu
PNG has a huge potential for local wheat production for food security. Research has shown that wheat can be cultivated in the country’s high altitude areas (above 1800masl) by subsistence farmers at household level.
The high altitudes are areas which are too cold for major commodities and have limited subsistence crop-base, food supply and cash cropping options; coupled with problems of soil fertility, food shortage and cash income. Rural people in these areas depend primarily on sweet potato as their staple crop.
Wheat can provide food (bread and pasta) and animal feed, besides other products. It can tolerate frost in cooler climates and dry seeds can be stored for longer periods, even months, providing food security, especially during droughts and frosts.
Currently, most of PNG’s wheat is grown in the Kandep area of Enga province. Other suitable areas are Liagap and Porgera in Enga, Tambul in the Western Highlands province, Ialibu and Magarima in the Southern Highlands province, Gembogl in the Simbu province and other smaller patches of similar altitudes which have the right amount of sunlight and rain.
Wheat is one of the important sources of starch (carbohydrate) for people in temperate countries. It contains minerals, vitamins and fats (lipids) and with the addition of small amounts of animal or legume protein, wheat is highly nutritious.
The crop can be easily grown around sweet potato mounds together with other crops or in small plots. Farmers can use simple techniques for milling and processing for human food or feed for animals such as feeding pigs, chicken and ducks. The crop can be managed by family labour with simple hand tools.
Wheat was introduced into PNG in 1998 by a Chinese group known as the Chinese Agro Technical Team, which had worked at the Kandep Agricultural Experimental Station until 2007. The crop performed well in the initial trials and promising varieties were released
to farmers subsequently. A team of scientists from the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has worked with the Chinese mission. NARI has continued to work on the crop in disseminating improved technologies to farmers thereafter.
Farmers in high altitudes can also make money from growing wheat. PNG imported some 125 670 tonnes of wheat valued at K69 million in 2001. Given the potential, local supply can save some imports, putting money in farmer’s pockets and reduce total reliance on imported wheat.