Monthly Archives: February 2016

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.