Demonstrations offer soil fertility management and moisture conservation options at Yule Island

Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are an important tuber crop for most of PNG’s lowland farming communities. For some, it is a staple food, also playing significant cultural values. The traditional yam-based farming system requires fertile soils to supply the required nutrients in order to produce economic tuber yields.

The crop is cultivated firstly after the natural vegetation has been cleared or after a long fallow period.

Yam Cultivation Under Marginal Soils at Yule Island

Yams cultivated under marginal soils at Yule Island in the Central Province.

As a result of increasing population pressure on land, the length of fallow period has been drastically reduced to a few years in recent times. Farmers in Yule Island in the Central Province have mentioned that their fallow periods have been reduced significantly to less than six years for those who have a lot of land, and much lesser for those with little agricultural land.

Yams, like many other tuber crops, demand significantly higher quantities of the major soil nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg).

The major causes of declining soil fertility on Yule Island, as identified and discussed, were:

  • increasing rainfalls and floods,
  • soil erosion,
  • cutting down of trees,
  • continuous cultivation on the same piece of land,
  • burning of grass/ bush fires,
  • lack of knowledge,
  • cultural beliefs,
  • population pressure,
  • land shortage,
  • laziness, and
  • lack of soil improvement efforts.

Soil samples collected at two depths (10cm – 15cm and 15cm – 30cm) at model farmer gardens indicated very low levels of the macro-nutrients N, P and K, although Ca and

Mg seem to have adequate levels. The soils being weakly acidic to neutral and alkaline.

The interpretations indicated that the highly nutrient-demanding tuber staples such as yams and cassava cannot continue to sustainably produce high quantities to meet the food demands for the increasing population on Yule Island, unless efforts are made to address the declining trend in soil fertility.

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Yule Chiefs John Ume and Joe Baupu in deep discussion near their yam plot

Soil improvement efforts have been minimal or non-existent due to lack of knowledge or farmers being oblivious.

Under the project, several interventions were trialed, which included hedgerows using Gliriciddia sepium (which is available in abundance); legume crop inter-cropping; and crop-rotation using peanuts, snake beans, dwarf beans, cow pea, pigeon pea and Mucuna spp, to name a few.

Mulching for soil moisture conservation was also demonstrated. Yam plantings were done using compost materials of local weeds and leaves of Gliricidia sepium alongside their common practice of without any soil improvement practices.

The importance of soil nutrient replenishment was emphasized during the training. Further demonstrations will be conducted when the yams are harvested later in the year.

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Fijian Agriculture Minister Inia Seruiratu gives opening address at the Pacific Community Agri-Tourism Symposium in Nadi, Fiji, on July 1, 2015

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Pacific Island region farmers to grow tourism

Tourists to the Pacific Islands will see more local food on their plates, if delegates to the first ever Pacific Community Agritourism Week get their way.

A Fijian farmer with her fresh produce. Pic by SPC.

A Fijian farmer with her fresh produce. Pic by SPC.

Opened on Monday in Nadi, the Agritourism Week is a collaborative effort between the European Union, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of the South Pacific (USP).

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) are also event partners, providing technical and business perspectives.

It is involving nearly 100 attendees from the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, and is aimed at closing the gap between what farmers are supplying, and what the tourism operators want to buy.

Promoting the links between agriculture and tourism can contribute to improved economic opportunities, build resilience in rural communities and enhance sustainable development, the Head of Operations for the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Renato Mele, said at the event opening in Denarau.

“To create jobs, you need businesses, who lead innovation and change. Agriculture and tourism seem to offer the best opportunity for inclusive economic growth in the region,” Mr Mele said.

He also highlighted the private sector as the engine of growth by generating jobs, contributing to public revenue and providing goods and services.

Tourism in the Pacific Island countries grew about 3.5 per cent per year between 2008 and 2012. The total value of Pacific tourism is forecast to nearly double to US$4 billion by 2019.

However, the economic benefits also come with costs. Up to 80 per cent of the food in the tourism industry is imported, partly because the hotels and airlines need reliable supplies of good quality products.

“More local content on plates and more local agrifood products on offer for visitors, tourists and the hotel industry means more income and employment opportunities for our farmers, suppliers, private sector and overall interest in the agricultural sector,” the Deputy Director of SPC’s Land Resources Division, Ken Cokanasiga, said.

“In many cases, the problems can be resolved through better communication between buyers and sellers in the agriculture and tourism sectors. The promotion of local food is also linked to showcasing healthy food choices and increasing regional trade,” Mr Cokanasiga said.

The Pacific Community Agritourism Week will consist of capacity building, site visits, cooking demonstrations and learning events promoting food tourism and agrifood opportunities.

To raise awareness of the event, a team of social reporters, selected from 198 applicants, will cover the sessions this week using Facebook, Flickr, Youtube and other social media.

Supported by CTA (through its Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information society Project – ARDYIS) and SPC, the on-site reporters are Tom-Vaitolo Vaha of Niue, Kuata Taumaheke of Tuvalu, Carole Cholai of Papua New Guinea, Deffnie Thompson and Lopez Adams of Vanuatu, Avneel Chand, Solomoni Matthewsella and Elenoa Salele of Fiji, led and trained by CTA’s Nawsheen Hosenally.

While the objective of the social media reporting is to raise awareness of the event, engage on-site participants and reach out to a wider audience remotely, another key objective for CTA and SPC is to build capacity of social reporting in the Pacific region.

A communique is expected to contain a call to action around the types of activities that could be undertaken collaboratively, and supported, to address existing challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that exist between the agriculture and tourism sectors.

Case studies and videos will be among the learning tools produced for wide dissemination to policy makers, chefs, farmers and other stakeholders, including via portals such as SPC’s Pacific Agriculture and Forestry Policy Network – (PAFPNet).

The Pacific Community Agritourism Week involves two initiatives funded by the European Union: the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) implemented by SPC, and the Pacific Regional Capacity Building Programme, implemented by SPTO and USP. The event is taking place from 29 June – 3 July, 2015.

More information is available at: http://www.spc.int/pafpnet/newsroom/pacific-agritourism-week.

Media contacts
Anju Mangal, Knowledge Management Specialist, SPC, anjum@spc.int +679 9925 766
Talei Tora, Communication Specialist, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, ttora@spto.org,9985 626
Erica Lee, Communications and Research Officer, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation, erical@pipso.org.fj, +679 9214 638
Stephane Gambier, ‎Senior Programme Coordinator Communication, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) , gambier@cta.int

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Farming and agribusiness

Stakeholder interaction during the event. Pic by SPC.

Stakeholder interaction during the event. Pic by SPC.

Some of the best regional agribusiness success stories are on show at the Agribusiness Forum taking place at the Pacific Community Agritourism Week in Nadi, Fiji.

The Agribusiness Forum is organized by the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) with the support of the European Union. The Pacific Island delegates are joined by colleagues from the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, thereby facilitating a cross-regional exchange of best practices.

Speaking at the opening, Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, the Hon. Inia Seruiratu, said: “Access to finance is a common challenge for many Pacific businesses, especially those in the agriculture sector.” The minister also urged finance institutions to offer solutions for farmers and others involved in agribusiness.

“This is a good opportunity to share experiences and to also work more closely in agribusiness and other areas,” the Chairman of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Committee of Ambassadors, and Ambassador of Vanuatu to the European Union, H.E. Roy Mickey Joy, said.

This statement was reiterated by the Deputy Director of SPC’s Land Resources Division, Dr Ken Cokanasiga, who stated that: “The forum is promoting closer links between the agriculture and tourism sectors, to increase the use of local food and other products. Much of the food required by the tourism sector is imported, representing an opportunity for more local sourcing”.

The Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation’s Chairperson Klaus Stunzner said that this forum is a catalyst to form partnerships as people network and learn from each other and hopefully form new business opportunities.

“We need to strengthen the farmers’ organisations and local producers’ efforts to find competitive and profitable markets in the tourism industry and meet the demand for volume, quality, and regularity and safety requirements,” the Senior Knowledge Management Coordinator, Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, Chris Addison said.  

Taking place at the Sofitel Denarau, the inaugural Pacific Community Agritourism Week – a collaborative effort between the European Union, SPC, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of the South Pacific (USP) – was officially launched this Monday and ends on Friday (3 July).

Source: Joint media statement by SPC, SPTO, PIPSO, CTA and USP
More information available at:

http://www.spc.int/pafpnet/newsroom/pacific-agritourism-week
http://brusselsbriefings.net/past-briefings/building-resilience-of-sids-through-trade-agribusiness/linking-agriculture-to-tourism-markets-in-pacific
http://bit.ly/1GNsO1F

Media contacts
Anju Mangal, Knowledge Management Specialist, SPC, anjum@spc.int +679 9925 766

Talei Tora, Communication Specialist, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, ttora@spto.org, 9985 626

Erica Lee, Communications and Research Officer, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation, erical@pipso.org.fj, +679 9214 638

Stephane Gambier, ‎Senior Programme Coordinator for Communication, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), gambier@cta.int, + 31 (0)317 467 179

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Chefs and farmers join forces to promote local foods in top restaurants

Pic by SPC

PiC by SPC

Forty chefs and farmers from countries across the Pacific met at the Pacific Community Agritourism Week in Fiji, with many discussing business transactions on-site to supply local produce to restaurants and resorts.

The Buyers-Sellers Mart is part of the Agritourism Week, which aims to bring together farmers and tourism operators with a view to promoting local produce and to tempt tourists with more contemporary Pacific cuisine on local menus.

The week is a collaboration between the European Union, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of the South Pacific (USP). Other event partners include the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO).

The Buyers-Sellers Mart brought together 20 farmers and 20 chefs in a format similar to ‘speed dating’, where they had short 10-minute sessions with each other to quickly meet, exchange ideas and discuss any direct-supply opportunities

Being a first for the region, the Buyers-Sellers Mart also attracted attention from international dignitaries, impressed with the Mart’s practical and effective approach.
This included H.E. Roy Mickey Joy, Chairman of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors and Ambassador of Vanuatu to the European Union, who encouraged the Pacific region to keep exploring practical ways of linking farmers to such important markets. The same sentiment was echoed by Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Mr Inia Seruiratu, who joined the Mart “to encourage the farmers further develop agritourism”, and then took the time to meet with each chef and farmer and listen to their issues and ideas.
Participant and farmer-trainer, Reuben Moli of Solomon Islands, said: “This is the way forward, it’s two-way as we learn what chefs want and the chefs are learning from the farmers about what products we have.”

Many of the 20 chefs arranged business transactions with farmers to supply local foods for their tourism business as a direct result of the Buyers Sellers Mart.

Chef de Partie at Fiji’s Shangri La Resort, Mr Rizwan Ali, was “happy to join this workshop”. He said: “I am gaining more experience with local products, as usually I just go to work and come home again, but this way I visit the farmers and learn about the local products that are available and also how to cook the local food in different ways.”

Tongan caterer, Ms Heimoana Ali, said: “I wish there would be more of this happening! I have learned the benefits of how to cook more varieties of local dishes and to adapt our menu based on what’s available locally and I have been able to establish promising business contacts with ginger producers”.,

Wednesday’s Buyer-Seller Mart was just one of many activities, such as site visits, cooking demonstrations and capacity building, taking place during the Agritourism Week. The Agritourism Week is being held from 29 June to 3 July and involves about 100 attendees from the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean.

More information is available at:
http://www.spc.int/pafpnet/newsroom/pacific-agritourism-week
http://brusselsbriefings.net/past-briefings/building-resilience-of-sids-through-trade-agribusiness/linking-agriculture-to-tourism-markets-in-pacific
http://www.cta.int

Media contacts
Anju Mangal, Knowledge Management Specialist, SPC, anjum@spc.int +679 9925 766
+679 9925 766

Talei Tora, Communication Specialist, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, ttora@spto.org, 9985 626

Erica Lee, Communications and Research Officer, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation, erical@pipso.org.fj, +679 9214 638 +679 9214 638

Stephane Gambier, ‎Senior Programme Coordinator for Communication, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), gambier@cta.int, + 31 (0)317 467 179

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Expert: Taro breeding is simple, given good traits and conditions

Professor Anton Ivancic and NARI researchers

Professor Anton Ivancic and NARI researchers

Many scientists believe that taro is an orphan crop which needs drastic genetic changes in breeding. But when comparing to highly improved seed propagated species such as wheat, rice and maize, the breeding of taro is usually considered as a relatively simple, says Dr Anton Ivancic, Professor of Genetics, Plant Improvement and Botany of Cultivated Plants at the University of Maribor, Slovenia, EU.

Professor Ivancic says a breeder has to obtain viable hybrid seeds, germinate them, obtain mature plants and evaluate them.

“If he finds a superior plant(s) he has to prove it and the work is more or less completed. If we neglect mutations and epigenetic changes, the genetic structure of the selected plant(s) will remain unchanged due to vegetative propagation (i.e., due to continuous mitosis),” Professor Ivancic said when giving a seminar at NARI Bubia on February 17 2015.

He said the major problems associated with taro breeding (and breeding of other aroids) are:

  • poor flowering ability of the parental material;
  • difficulties associated with seed germination,
  • slow growth of seedlings and a relatively long vegetation period;
  • discontinuous work (breeding programs are frequently interrupted, terminated and restarted);
  • insufficient theoretical knowledge and practical work experience of breeders (frequent changes of breeders, not many people remain breeders for a longer period of time);
  • inefficient selection methods, and
  • inappropriate breeding facilities, environmental conditions and financial support.

Professor Ivancic, who has spent many years in PNG in the past, said the existing taro breeding programs appear to be very similar.

“They are based on artificial or natural recombination of superior genotypes, relatively simple selection procedure followed by clonal propagation.

“The neglected approaches are interspecific hybridisation, polyploidisation, mutagenesis, genetic engineering, marker assisted selection and epigenetic breeding approach. Most of the breeding programs are associated with Colocasia esculenta and not much has been done on Alocasia macrorrhizos, Colocasia gigantea and Cyrtosperma merkusii,” he said.

The genetic breeding in PNG should also involve Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, Xanthosoma sagittifolium and X. violaceum, he said.

Each breeding includes three main steps:

  1. creation of genetic variation,
  2. selection of superior genotypes in genetically variable populations and
  3. realisation of a new cultivar (field trials and chemical evaluation in order to test the value of the selected genotype(s), registration, multiplication, marketing). Hybridisation is still considered to be the most efficient and the most reliable method of creating genetic variation.

The seminar was given to discuss theoretical issues and practical problems associated with the genetic breeding of taro and other aroids: genetically inherited traits and environmental conditions influencing flowering, artificial induction of flowering, hybridization techniques, hybridisation schemes, seed germination, selection methods and their efficiency, neglected breeding approaches and maintenance of genetic identity of cultivars.

NARI has an ongoing breeding program on staple foods such as taro and sweet potato. Earlier breeding work on taro resulted in the release of four improved varieties with resistant to the Taro Leaf Blight disease.

Professor Ivancic spent two weeks with NARI researchers both at Bubia and Aiyura.

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NARI urges highland farmers to prepare for climate change

Ialibu/Pangia District Administrator, Ron Yamuna (right), cutting the ribbon to officially launch the Ialibu Resource Centre as NARI CEO Dr Bang looks on

Ialibu/Pangia District Administrator, Ron Yamuna (right), cutting the ribbon to officially launch the Ialibu Resource Centre, assisted by NARI CEO Dr Bang

Farmers in high altitudes should have improved crop varieties in their gardens at all times to avoid food shortage as staples like sweet potato or kaukau are vulnerable to climatic stresses such as frost, says Dr Sergie Bang, NARI Director General.

Speaking to hundreds of women farmers in Ialibu during the launching of the Ialibu Resource Centre on December 11, Dr Bang said farmers in cooler climates should cultivate frost tolerant crops among their staples and adopt other interventions which can reduce labour input and increase profitability so that they can cope with climate change and related stresses.

The Ialibu Resource Centre has been developed through a climate change adaptation project, “Coping with Climate Change for Resilient PNG Agricultural Communities”, in which NARI has partnered with the Southern Highlands Women in Agriculture (SHWiA), through the PNG Women in Agriculture (PNGWiA), with the support of AusAID.

Dr Bang added that his organization has emphasis in supporting the work of women in agriculture and this has been captured in the Institute policy for NARI to work with them through PNGWiA. He said through this partnership, appropriate technologies and information on improved farming practices will reach out to districts and provinces for the benefit of farmers.

Ialibu women farmers involved in preparing a wheat demo plot for seed multiplication

Ialibu women farmers involved in preparing a wheat demo plot for seed multiplication in August

The centre has been equipped with communication and information materials on coping strategies of frost and other climate change related stresses for farmers to access. It also has demonstration plots of foundation materials – crops and livestock – for multiplication and distribution to farmers.

Dr Bang highlighted that these interventions are provided to enable farmers to be better equipped for any major climate related stresses, particularly frost and drought. He said wheat and Andean tuber, two frost tolerant crops, have been introduced for farmers to plant among their kaukau at all times so that they can have alternate foods when frost damages kaukau. Early maturing and drought tolerant kaukau varieties have also been multiplied at the centre.

Farmers were also encouraged to adopt improved feeding systems to support their livestock in bad times. Dr Bang said a new poultry feed has been made available and already farmers have enjoyed the end result. He said farmers can use kaukau and cassava to develop their own stock-feed, which will reduce the cost of feed and increase profitability.

The research boss also encouraged the farmers to use sweet potato silage for pig feed. He said silage developed in two weeks can be feed to pigs for up to four months and this will not only improve pig growth and nutrition but also it will reduce daily labour, allowing women to spend enough time doing other things.

Ialibu Pangia women in traditional attire marching past the new Resource Centre at Ialibu station

Ialibu Pangia women in traditional attire marching past the new Resource Centre at Ialibu station on December 11 2014, just before the official launch.

With the proposed Western Pacific University in Ialibu, Dr Bang said farmers should not worry about markets. Potato late blight tolerant varieties are also available at their doorstep, he said, adding that Ialibu has good flat land which locals must utilize as this is an opportunity for NARI to work with farmers in Ialibu/Pangia through the women network. He said pig is always on high demand at high prices across the highlands due to never-ending social obligations.

Dr Bang also acknowledged the Australian Government for the funding support.

The event was witnessed by representatives from Ialibu/Pangia district, SHP government, PNGWiA, SHWiA, local leaders, and women groups from SHP and different parts of PNG.

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Farmers benefit from soil management training

soils xxxFarmers from Ungai/Bena in Eastern Highlands have acquired new techniques on soil fertility and moisture management during a training program at Korefegu, conducted by NARI’s Aiyura-based Highlands Regional Centre during December 15-17, 2014.

Trainer and NARI researcher, Jeffery Yapo, said over 40 participants, including women and youth, attended the program over three days on garden preparation during climatic stresses, especially droughts. Mr Yapo said farmers learnt different types of organic fertilizers or organic farming systems which could improve soil health and fertility for better crop yield and production with high nutrition.

The training, both in theory and live demonstrations, was delivered at the Korefegu Resource Centre in the Lower Bena LLG, a drought hotspot area in PNG. The event was conducted as part of a climate change adaptation project, “Coping with Climate Change for Resilient PNG Agricultural Communities”, implemented in the area to increase awareness and develop capacity of local beneficiaries for improved soil management practices and coping with dry periods and related climatic stresses.

Mr Yapo said demonstrations were conducted on simple soil moisture management techniques, both for sloppy and flat lands. Awareness was also conducted on the causes of climate change and its impacts on food and agriculture.

Organic farming hasn’t been practiced much here before, Mr Yapo said. Slash and burning have been a common practice of preparing land for gardens. He said while some farmers have practiced improved methods of gardening, they still found new interventions useful for soil moisture preservation and soil fertility improvement during critical times like prolonged dry spells which are common in Benabena. He stressed that farmers need to practice compost mounding, which hasn’t been the case, to improve soil nourishment. The participants appreciated the skills they acquired.

Mr Yapo also noted that the communities need other related skills and knowledge in food processing, management of diseases and pests like sweet potato weevils, and adopt drought tolerant root crops such as cassava and sweet potato.

Korefegu is one of the four sites of the climate change adaptation project, implemented by NARI with support from AusAID. The other sites are Gumine (Simbu), Duke of York (ENBP) and Ialibu (SHP), which address high moisture, salinity and frost respectively. The Korefegu Resource Centre has been resourced with print and audio-visual information materials on a range of agriculture-based drought coping strategies. The centre also has VSAT and other information technology devices, supported by solar power supply; for communication, public awareness and access online information on climate change and related stresses and their coping strategies.

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PNG farmers look to new markets

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Web 2 Worshop at Aiyura

web 2 aiyura group photo

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