Agronomic research to support the development of vegetable value chains in Papua New Guinea
Boersma, M and Gracie, AJ and Sparrow, LA and Bonney, L and Doyle, RB and Pal, U and Birch, CJ, Agronomic research to support the development of vegetable value chains in Papua New Guinea, Oral Presentation at the 5th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture incorporating 3rd Farming Systems Design Conference, 26-29 September 2011, Brisbane, Queensland (2011) [Conference Extract]
PNG villagers are skilled gardeners and in most years families are able to grow ample food, sourcing 83% of their energy needs and 76% of their protein requirements from their gardens (Bourke and Allen, 2009).
Despite this, as pointed out by Bourke and Allen (2009), roughly one sixth of the population lives in severe poverty, 94% of these in rural areas. These communities have limited opportunities to generate cash income and the resulting inability to purchase extra sources of protein combined with poor access to health and education, results in high infant mortality rates and short life spans. The antithesis of this is the large market demand for fresh fruit and vegetables of western origin, driven by the increase of middle class and expatriate segments of the population in Port Moresby and other urban centre’s. This section of the population has a disposable cash income, but is unable to purchase their preferred choice of western vegetables due to production shortages. While in one sense it is preferable to encourage the utilization of the many local food plants available, the demand for western vegetables presents a significant opportunity for the rural poor to generate disposable income. Attainment of this objective requires the establishment of value chains to supply the fresh vegetables between local rural communities and high volume clients.
The production and supply of produce to customers in a market is complex, and requires the development of sophisticated value chains that are both efficient and profitable. A corner stone in the development of a vegetable value chain is the consistent production and delivery of both the volume and quality of the product required by the customer. In turn, the consistent supply of high quality produce at the contracted volume depends on the integrity of the agricultural system, from both biophysical and strategic planning perspectives. While physically sustaining the chain, consistent supply of quality produce also builds the level of trust between its participants. Earlier research has identified some core biophysical restraints to the production of western vegetables in the area surrounding Port Moresby. Of most importance are irrigation during the dry season, affordable high performance plant varieties, adequate land preparation, soil fertility and pest management (Birch et al., 2009). This paper describes our approach towards the development of low input, higher yielding sustainable production systems to support the establishment of value chains between village cooperatives and wholesale clients in the Port Moresby region.