Mitigating climate change through agriculture

Agriculture productivity and food security are at stake when communities become vulnerable to recurring changes in the climate. Short-term fluctuations in regional weather patterns with increases in the frequency and severity of El Niño events are also posing immediate and pressing challenges on the village substance lifestyle.

The subsistence and particularly the rural populace is the worst affected in such scenarios. There is much to be drawn from, from the experiences of the present climate challenge – the 2015 El Nino drought (and frost).


Hisiu model farmer Florence Ovia checking her egg plant

PNG is yet to recover from El Nino, which has affected the entire country resulting in extreme food and water shortages. Relief supplies through food rations have been the most common and immediate remedy, which has been the focus of recent efforts by authorities and donor agencies.

As the drought is nation-wide, and the situation continues, more relief support is needed.

However rations are short-lived, as they run out within a short time span. Communities need to survive in both “during” and “post” drought periods, even when rains return and the first harvests are made.

Climate change (and drought) preparedness is paramount, in anticipation of such scenarios. This is the talk at global forums and government fronts.

The changing global climate and related stresses on agriculture and the environment present opportunities for communities to mitigate the situation. Mitigation through innovative agriculture stands to provide a sustainable solution by giving households greater prospects to adapt to climatic extremes.

While the larger populace battled the devastating drought and frost effects, a small number of families in various communities of PNG managed to access food and safe drinking water to keep them going during the drought. The amount and quality may not be much but lessons can be drawn from these experiences.

A fraction of the Murukanam community in Madang survived on drought tolerant cassava and yam, besides their Kalapua banana. The Hisiu people in Central enjoyed vegetables of many types through improved production practices f or food and cash.

The Derin community in Trans-Gogol was able to access safe drinking water through the use of the biosand filter technology. Although creeks and nearby water sources have dried out, some 20 households could purify any drain water into clean water which were healthy for consumption and household chores. The middlebush community in Tanna, Vanuatu, found more value with upland rice when all their food gardens and the environment were destroyed by Cyclone Pam and then by El Nino. A group of farmers in Buma, Solomon Islands, have had enough chicken during the drought too.

Families managed to survive with some level of food and water resources during the drought – say a little more than others in their communities.

This was a result of a mega project undertaken by NARI and its partners over the last five years under European Union support.

There were other positive feedback on soil and water management, animal husbandry, livestock feed development, food processing, and crop production in PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The imitative was about the generation, validation and dissemination of innovative agricultural technologies to mitigate climate change-imposed risks to food production and hence to food security, livelihoods and economic development. They were achieved by enabling smallholder farmers in high risk areas of these countries to adapt their farming systems to cope with extremes in precipitation (droughts & floods) and/or sea water inundation of agricultural land – both of which scenarios are attributable to climate change.

The action was addressed at local level by developing and making available to smallholders in high risk areas, new or adapted technology options (e.g. stress tolerant crops and water management for crops & livestock), to help counter climate-change imposed risks to food production within their localities.

A key element of the approach was that farmers were involved in field research from which they could learn and adopt best practices based on outputs on their own farms.

Contingency measures were promoted to enable rural communities to withstand and survive the ravages of frequent and prolonged drought events.

It has been a five-year work, which ends later this week with a closing workshop in Lae. Our neighbouring Western Pacific countries face extra-ordinary weather challenges and the experiences have been of much value to them.

Much lesson has been learnt. PNG will have to face the fact that climate change will inevitably bring changes to traditional farming practices and systems of food production overtime. PNG has reached a point that needs more thinking to better place its people and environment given the likely recurring of natural phenomenon with adverse effects.

As time goes by, Papua New Guineans must know how to deal with soil moisture deficits caused by prolonged dry spells and droughts; excess soil moisture due to extreme rainfalls; salinity as a result of rising seas levels and salt water intrusion in coastal communities and low lying islands and atolls; and increased frequency of frost occurrences in the high altitudes.

Research and development by NARI has resulted in much experiences which are available to governments and development partners to prepare more of the vulnerable communities.


El Nino drought affects food security in PNG

PNG is presently into the peak of an intensified drought scenario ever witnessed in recent times. In August, communities have experienced low rainfall and prolonged dry spells, with accompanying frosts and wild fires, threatening food and water security for over half the population. The occurrences of frost in the high altitudes are reported to be some of the worst ever experienced.

In some communities, dry conditions set in as early as March and by June it was clear the drought had returned.

The first frost occurred on 19th July in Tambul and five more times since. This frost destroyed all the trials undertaken by this project at Kiripia and Alkena, especially on sweet potato.

frost tambul category 5

A frost destroyed sweet potato garden in Tambul, Western Highlands Province

According to the National Disaster Response Committee (August 18 update), more than 800, 000 people are severely affected in the following areas;

Two provinces in category 1 : Milne Bay and West New Britain Seven provinces in Category 2: Madang, East Sepik, West Sepik, Morobe, New Ireland, Gulf and Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Eight provinces are in Category 3: Western Province, Eastern Highlands, East New Britain, Manus, Jiwaka, Western Highlands, Central, and  Oro, and

Four provinces are in Category 4: Simbu, WHP, Southern Highlands and Enga.

Many affected communities are consequently witnessing the wilting of garden crops with low household food supply, and shortage of clean water for drinking and domestic chores.


A farmer in Tambul standing next to his frost destroyed potato. Cabbaages were not affected.

Strong El Niño-induced droughts are the most immediate risk to PNG as a result of global climate change.

El Niño is a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean around the equator whereby the ocean surface warms causing trade winds to slacken and thunderstorms to move eastward into the centre of the pacific away from PNG – thus causing droughts.

The frequency and intensity of these events have increased significantly in the last century in parallel with the increases in global temperatures.

Situated on the Western Rim of the tropical Pacific, PNG has been and is vulnerable and this will continue to be so. Scientific evidence suggests that the 1997/1998 El Niño-induced drought was the strongest and worst scenario in living memory for PNG.

The current drought is yet to be intensified but the indicators are unimaginable.

Within the last decade, NARI has been campaigning on the need for climate change adaptation and particularly drought preparedness.

Several initiatives have been undertaken in selected communities across PNG and the Pacific – including this EUARD Project – with the imparting of relevant skills and distribution of seeds and planting materials.

The intentions were to foster preparedness through the adoption of coping strategies. including traditional coping mechanisms.


Virus free sweet potato materials for Solomon Islands


NARI Crop Improvement Scientist Myla Derus (centre) with Solomon Islands Agriculturalists during the sweet potato diaanosis training in Honiara in August 2015

In the face of climate change and related stresses, farmers require planting materials free from known viruses to improve yields at farm level.

The use of clean materials of staple food crops such as sweet potato is important for vulnerable communities in the EU-ARD project sites. The crop improvement component has undertaken a series of diagnosis services on sweet potato to remove known viruses before multiplication and distribution to farmer fields.

Clean materials have been generated through tissue culture and tuber tuber sprouts.

In the Solomon Islands, a sweet potato diagnosis training was conducted for the Ministry of Agriculture, Custom Garden Association, SRO and Honiara-based project staff from August 3-7 2015.

The training, delivered by NARI scientist Myla Derus, was specifically on was specifically on diagnosis of sweet potato viruses using the NCM-ELISA kit.

Twelve participants had hands-on in identifying virus symptoms in the field, blotting and the NCM-ELISA test.

Derus said the project identified 18 sweet potato varieties from working collections in the Solomon Islands. She said the training checked for virus status for all the 18 varieties.

“If confirmed clean (negative results) through the diagnosis, the clean materials will be bulked, mass multiplied and distributed to sweet potato farmers or growers in the country,” she noted in a report.

The training was successful. Similar diagnosis were undertaken in other sites of the project where sweet potato was involved.







Hisiu farmers attract support for innovative agriculture


Kairuku-Hiri MP Peter Isoaimo and model farmers at the Hisiu demonstration during the mini field day on October 8 2015

Kairuku-Hiri MP Peter Isoaimo called on his people to return to agriculture farming for their well-being and self-sustenance during this time when the nation is faced with economic and climatic challenges.

Speaking during a mini field day at the project’s Hisiu site in the Kairuku District of Central Province on October 8, Isoaimo said his office will assist those who are serious in activities that will support themselves in food security and innovative development.

“As a government, I stand ready to help those people who are organised and prepared to help themselves,” Isoaimo said.

He also made a commitment to purchase a tractor for the farmers following their successful agriculture activities, supported by NARI’s Laloki-based Southern Regional Centre.

The project has helped locals becoming innovative farmers in a range of vegetable and root crop productions, livestock development and irrigation system. Under the Crop Diversification component, the introduced interventions were African yam, cassava, poultry and feeding system as well as the rope and washer pump for irrigation.

The field day was held at the demonstration site at Vanua Pakana, which had a lot of the vegetables on demonstration. Farmers who were trained under the arrangement displayed their harvests and farming techniques for the benefit of others who were in attendance to learn.


Kairuku-Hiri MP Peter Isoaimo and model farmers at the Hisiu demonstration during the mini field day on October 8 2015

Adviser for Provincial Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Kila Gege, announced that the demo site will be expanded into a Community Resource Centre. Gege also revealed that as part of sustainability PDAL will also support with vegetable seeds and an improved irrigation system.

Isoaimo said Kairuku Hiri is the largest electorate in the province in terms of population and land area as it is made up of two districts with more than 121 000 people who have many needs.

“When compounded with national cash flow issues and delays in the release of electoral funds, it becomes difficult to deliver to all our people,” he said.

However with little funding that becomes available, Isoaimo said: “I will pay attention to those who are organised and are willing to work alongside partners like NARI and DAL for communal benefits as villages, clans and the society”.

Isoaimo said the tractor will take away a lot of the labor that is involved so that the farmers can continue to engage in farming to support their household food security and income needs.

The one-day event was also attended by the Fresh Produce Development Agency, City Mission, MicroFianance Bank, Kairuku District Development Authority, and farmer groups from Sogeri, Yule Island and a number of constituencies in the electorate.

Isoaimo thanked NARI and the provincial and district DAL staff who have supported agriculture development in his electorate.

Project assists in mitigating climate change at Yule Island

yule yams

Yule model farmer Mathilda Parau and community members displaying tubers of African yam during the Labao field day on October 7 2015

Yule islanders in Kairuku-Hiri can now farm improved crop varieties and livestock breeds as a result of the project which has enabled them acquiring necessary skills and knowledge from NARI.

They can cultivate improved varieties of rice, cassava and yams and rear chicken and goats without any major problems for food security and income, despite their harsh farming environment and geographical isolation.

On Wednesday October 7, model farmers organized a mini-field day at Labao village to display their produce and share their knowledge with other farmers on the island.

Yule is a dry island community with poor soil for agriculture and locals lacking innovations for improved food production. Soil fertility has diminished over the years and emerging changes in the climate and environment have put more pressure on the community.

However the interventions by NARI have shown some light in which villagers can competently improve farming – by producing large tubers of yams and cassava from improved planting materials and new farming techniques, as compared to their local varieties and farming system. They can also look after chicken and goats as sources of protein and cash, besides their fish from the sea.

Senior NARI scientist Site Coordinator Dr Peter Gendua said the project was about enabling rural communities to mitigate climate change related stresses through innovative agriculture.

A key element of the approach was that farmers were involved in field research from which they could learn and adopt best practices based on outputs on their own farms.

John Ume

Yule model farmer Mathilda Parau and community members displaying tubers of African yam during the Labao field day on October 7 2015

Dr Gendua said Yule Island farmers did well in adopting the technologies through effective community organization and participation with improved farm productivity which was much better than their traditional practice, which the farmers have openly acknowledged.

“Food security for families is foremost important; but extras can be sold for cash to meet other needs and social obligations,” Dr Gendua told farmers during the field day.

He also asked the innovative farmers to share their acquired skills with other new interested farmers.

During the field day, a new micro-mill for rice milling was presented to the farmers.

Model farmer Mathilda Parau said NARI’s African yam has done wonders for the community. Parau said while yam and cassava are common root crops for the islanders, the introduced varieties survived the droughts and produced large tubers which provided plenty of food for the households.

Village Chief John Ume thanked NARI and EU for choosing Yule as the host site for the project. He said their efforts have impacted the community with over 100 men and women farmers benefiting.

“I’m excited that we can now be able to do better agriculture and I cannot say more seeing the rich display of harvests from the island,” Ume said.

Rural communities increase livestock performances through the project

vanuatu poultry

Vanuatu poultry farmer, Shem Lock, at his old chicken shed before the Cyclone Pan.

Increasing livestock performance in rural communities in light of the challenges by climate change and related stresses is paramount for the Western Pacific region.

Improved animal husbandry practices and feed technologies are needed in climate change vulnerable communities so as to find new grounds for increased food and cash opportunities.

Under the EUARD project, the livestock component is focused on assessing the potential in diversifying livestock assets; identifying stress tolerant forages; pilot stress resilient livestock systems; assess breeding stock supply mechanisms and demonstrate new models.

Farmers should observe the significance of diversifying their agricultural enterprises to mitigate the threats as well as improving farm viability and household nutrition at the village level.

In most of the project sites in PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the project has made inroads with low cost livestock interventions targeting rural farmers.

The approach involves the use of locally available feed resources, the involvement of the farmers themselves and trials done in the farmers’ settings.

Among the interventions tested and delivered were technologies on livestock management, feeding systems, and livestock and crop integration.

Due to rising costs in animal feeds, more demonstrations were conducted on sweet potato silage for pig feed and locally developed poultry feed for broiler chicken using locally available feed resources.

Farmers have shared testimonies on the success of the interventions in their farm and communities.

The process has developed lasting relationships between farmers and researchers.

Soil erosion demo sites set up in Solomon Islands

solo 1

Home-made rain gauge

Solomon Islands is experiencing population pressure on good and arable land in most rural communities, forcing farmers to move to steep slopes to do farming. However, these steep areas are already infertile and unfavorable, and are highly vulnerable to soil erosion.

In a bid to help control the impacts of erosion in such areas, and to improve crop yields, the project has established ‘soil erosion control and moisture conservation’ trials using different hedge rows at two project sites. These sites are Aruligo on West Guadalcanal and Hunda & Kena on Kolombangara Island in the Western province.

Solomon Islands Project Coordinator, Jules Damutalau, said the trials are undertaken to manage impacts of soil erosion, with the introduction of contour farming using pineapple and vetiver grass as hedgerows.

“A catch pit of 5m x 0.5m x 1m was dug at the bottom of each treatment plot to catch all the eroded soil materials during the course of the trial period,” Damutalau said.

“The size of each demonstration plot is 45m by 15m. It is then divided into seven treatment plots of 10m by five meters.”

Hunda Soil Demo site1

Home-made rain gauge

“One plot was left for natural re-growth, with vetiver and pineapple on the second and third plots respectively while the other two plots were mixed with vetiver and pineapple hedge rows.

The final plot was planted with cassava without any hedge rows,” he explained.

Damutalau said the objective is to determine the amount of surface runoff caused by rain under conventional farming system; and the use of different hedgerows compared to natural fallow cover over a certain period of time.

He added that the amount of eroded materials collected from each treatment plot will be analyzed and compared at the end of the trials.

A rain gauge made from a 25 liters jerry container and a funnel were placed close to the trial plots to collect the rainfall data.

The two researches will run for a year with the Aruligho trial ending in May 2016, Hunda/Kena ending in June 2016.