Around 87 per cent of Bougainvilleans are engaged in agriculture, either as smallholder commercial farmers or privately-run household plots.
Located in the foothills of the mountain range surrounding Arawa town, Sivuna village is dotted with small farming plots growing cocoa, fruit trees and vegetables.
Forty-seven-year-old Susan Paai has lived in the small village in the North Nasioi constituency of Central Bougainville her whole life.
The mother of three children has managed to support her family through earnings from a cocoa plantation and vegetable garden near her home following her divorce to her husband 10 years ago.
In early 2018, she took part in fresh produce training with 10 other women from the local area to learn new and more efficient farming techniques.
“I learned about cultivating the soil and composting and how to take control of pests,” Susan said.
“Seeds for cabbage, carrot, bok choi, tomato and lettuce were then shared amongst the group. We then worked as individuals on our land to grow the vegetables.”
Susan said everything she has grown has been successful, with enough produce for family meals and surplus to sell at the market to pay school fees and meet medical expenses.
Susan’s plot is one of 14 model farms established across Bougainville as part of a fresh produce initiative supported by the governments of Australia and New Zealand, in collaboration with the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
The first phase of the project developed the skills of DPI staff to establish model farms and use them as sites to train local people on the latest farming methods to improve production.
DPI’s cash crop officer Elmah Maxwell, is responsible for setting up farmer’s groups and model farms around Kieta District.
Following DPI training delivered by a New Zealand agriculture volunteer in late 2017, Elmah has since held a number of trainings and distributed seed packets to local villages, with four model farms established.
“The training taught us how to be trainers in fresh produce, using basic horticulture. We mainly learned about nurseries and organic composting – composting was a new thing for us. Composting fertilises the soil and is good for plants, and also helps to stop pests attacking the plants,” explained Elmah.
“The training has mainly targeted interested women. I saw them marketing their produce at the local market and asked them if they wanted to learn more about growing fresh produce. That’s how I contacted people.”
The next phase of the project will work with suppliers to address seed storages in Bougainville and provide specialised training in pest and disease management, with the dissemination of fresh produce information using radio to reach a wider audience.
Elmah also wants to provide more training in post-harvest handling and marketing to increase household incomes.
“We need to learn more about marketing, so farmers can package their produce and sell it in Port Moresby. There is big potential to earn good incomes from the growth of agriculture in Bougainville.”
Growing Bougainville’s agricultural sector is seen as a key avenue to drive economic growth in the region.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government, with the support of Australia and New Zealand, is making agriculture a priority to improve the quality and volume of local production for both domestic and international markets, while also making crops more resilient to insects, disease and extreme weather events.
With the production and sale of fresh produce dominated by women in Bougainville, there are also opportunities to strengthen household incomes, while contributing to economic growth.
As a successful farmer, Susan is keen to expand her crops and educate other women reliant on farming to support their families.
“In this village, many of us are widows or divorced, so women are doing farming on their own,” she explained.
“Most of the women around here are coming to my village and getting ideas to pass on skills to their own farmer groups.”
Feature Pic: Farmer Susan Paai with cabbages grown on her land following fresh produce training supported by Australia and New Zealand in partnership with the Autonomous Bougainville Government.