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  2

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.


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

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.


Madang farmers participate in livestock assessment

Thirty farmers from Madang province had recently participated in a community assessment on animal production, based on NARI-introduced livestock technologies.

They included both model and interested farmers as well as community members who were supported by NARI through a regional research and development project funded by the European Union.

NARI Livestock Scientists Martin Labao, James Tarabu, and Maime Sine travelled to the Murukanam and Derin areas of Madang to carry out the community participatory assessment in early May.

The activity was undertaken under the project to improve the capacity of livestock farmers in the area with livestock management systems and livestock feeding systems.

The NARI staff also took the opportunity to present certificates to other model and interested farmers who had participated in on-site trainings in the two sites in the last couple of years under the program.

The assessment involved feedback from the community, comprising opinions and experiences on the introduced livestock technologies. The introduced technologies included pig management practices, sweet potato silage for pig feed, and fish and duck integration.

Farmers expressed positive views on the technologies that were introduced.

Lobao said previously pigs would roam freely and destroy food gardens creating disharmony among farmers and within the community. He said however as a result of good management practices, pigs are now provided with better housing and husbandry such as tethering.


NARI Scientist Martin Labao (left) with a livestock farmer from Derin in Madang outside the farmer’s pigpen. NARI’s pig management system has helped the farmer in setting up his pigpen.

Farmers who were able to make sweet potato silage and feed it to their pigs saw improvements in pig body size and appearance.

A farmer had reportedly fattened his pigs which were sold for K800 each.

Fish and duck farming techniques showed positive outcomes with farmers wanting to continue in using the technology.

A similar assessment was carried out at Tambul in the Western Highlands province with livestock farmers there.

Model and interested farmers that participated in on-site trainings at Tambul were also presented with certificates.

Tambul on-site training certificates

NARI Scientist Martin Labao (left) with a livestock farmer from Derin in Madang outside the farmer’s pigpen. NARI’s pig management system has helped the farmer in setting up his pigpen.

Vanuatu farmers and ICTs, the untapped potential

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) truly wield the power to bridge the digital divide between Port Vila and rural areas; and build and empower an inclusive knowledge-based information society, something which Vanuatu farmers can attest to.

While farmers in the rural do not watch television, they do listen to radio and read newspapers. Besides, they access information through farmer training and via publications like brochures and leaflets.

These are all poised to change under the implementation of the project.

Recently NARI and DARD officers working with farmers on Tanna and north Efate and a crew from Television Blong Vanuatu (TBV) produced a series of video documentaries. These short videos were produced on kumala propagation, food processing, pig silage, yam propagation and poultry management. They all were telecast on TBV thereafter for public consumption.

While the farmers could not view the episodes from their isolated villagers, their family members and friends in Vila who saw them on television spoke positively about the productions..

However, some farmers who featured in the videos watched themselves in action during a field day in North Efate. They included Popol Timas, a yam farmer from Emua villageand Siviri’s poultry farmer Shem Lock., For the first time ever, they watched themselves in the documentaries on a smartphone.

Delighted farmers watching themselves in video documentaries via a smartphone.

Delighted farmers watching themselves in video documentaries via a smartphone.

Attempts were made to share the videos through Bluetooth.


By Jane Joshua, Vanuatu Daily Post

Tambul farmers see benefits of improved poultry feeding technologies promoted through the NARI EU-ARD climate change project

Poultry meat and egg production is a common enterprise in most peri-urban and rural communities around the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). However egg production through the raising of layer chickens is not that popular compared to broiler meat production. Raising chickens on commercial stock feed can be expensive mainly because of the rising cost of imported raw materials used in feed formulation, coupled with freight costs and retail mark-ups. Clearly the use of cheaper alternatives is imminent to reduce inputs and improve farm profitability.

Under the project, livestock scientists from NARI based in the highlands regional center (HRC) in Tambul were able to carry out on-farm demonstration trials using cheaper feeding alternatives that incorporate local resources with selected poultry farmers in two project sites; Alkena and Kiripia in the Tambul/Nebilyer district, Western Highlands. These on-farm demonstrations were focused on feeding chickens with sweet potato and blended with a NARI broiler/layer concentrate. These technologies have been tested and proven to have improved farm profitability of village broiler and layer enterprises by at least 25-30% and 7-8% respectively when sweet potato is grown by farmers themselves.

Some farmers were able to continue using these feed technologies, after observation trials were concluded, however the continuous supply of concentrates after the project life still remains a challenge for the project.

Tambul farmers benefits of improved poultry2a

One of the model farmers under the project, Mr. Joe Win and his wife from Kiripia, have continued using the layer concentrate technology since the conclusion of their demonstration trial back in August 2014. Their chickens are currently producing 1-2 dozen eggs per day which they normally sell at K11.00-K12.00 per dozen or K1.00 per egg in the village.

Tambul farmers benefits of improved poultry1a

Introduced maize variety succumbs to Southern corn leaf blight disease

Broadening crop base and improving food security are the basis of an intervention on maize evaluation under the Crop Diversification component of the project.

This activity is planned by NARI’s Highlands Regional Centre, based in Tambul in the Western Highlands Province, as part of a series of crop interventions relevant for the region.

Farm trials will be carried out in farmer fields in the Alkena and Kerepia project sites in the Lower Kagul area of the Tambul Nebilyer district.

The two communities are known to have exposed to climate vulnerabilities of excess precipitation, moisture loss, frost, drought and soil related issues.

The maize intervention intends to:-
• screen local maize varieties,
• generate information,
• introduce and assess cold tolerant varieties from abroad, and
• recommend suitable varieties to the farming communities in the areas.

Under this initiative, 19 cold tolerant maize varieties were imported from the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) based in America and incorporated in the germplasm.

These varieties were planted on station to bulk up seeds for further evaluation work until the detection of a fungal disease. Samples were collected from infected plants of CIMMYT varieties and observed under the microscope, and diagnosed with Southern Corn Leaf Blight (SCLB).

A CIMMYT maize variety trial site

A CIMMYT maize variety trial site

The infected plants were destroyed and trials terminated for an indefinite period, based on the severity of the damage and prospects of spreading to other local maize varieties.

Destroying an infected CIMMYT maize variety

Destroying an infected CIMMYT maize variety

Commercial sweet potato varieties introduced at Tambul sites

Tambul SP commercial varieties2Twelve commercial sweet potato varieties were introduced to the Kiripia and Alkena sites as part of sweet potato activities under the Crop Improvement component.

Component Leader and sweet potato specialist, Elick Guaf said these introduced varieties were cleaned of known viruses using the pathogen tested (PT) technology.

Guaf said PT is a term used for sweet potato seed or planting material free of known viruses. Kiripia and Alkena are project sites located in the Lower Kaugel area of Tambul District in the Western Highlands Province.

“Tambul is categorized by the EU ARD [project] as a climate imposed risk area with ‘excess soil moisture’ content,” Guaf said.

The cleaned materials were provided as improved planting materials for improved yields of sweet potato in farmer fields for own consumption as well as for livestock feed. Sweet potato is the staple food crop in the Tambul area.

“Farming system in the Tambul area is unique with large mounds (Tambul mounds) that manage both the soil temperature – increasing soil temperature of fermenting vegetation and incorporating it into the mounds – and excess soil moisture resulting from high precipitation levels,” Guaf said.

Tambul SP commercial varieties1He said sweet potato activities in the two participating communities included initial survey, virus survey, assembly of farmers’ best sweet potato varieties, virus diagnosis of farmers’ sweet potato varieties, introduction of the 12 commercial varieties via PT, and the re-introduction of farmer varieties through PT.

Guaf said with NARI’s experience in the participating communities, the re-introduced farmer varieties will be held at the NARI Tambul screen house as source materials for further on-station and on-farm work.

Meanwhile a field day was held at Tambul on May 27 2015 to highlight the importance of the PT technology, how to prepare clean materials using PT, and improved sweet potato field planting and management practices.

Agricultural recovery vs risk management after Cyclone Pam

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeWeeks after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu in mid March 2015, there has been an acute food shortage right across the country. Limited stock has been used up since the disaster and it is now apparent that food supply and planting materials are in high demand for debilitation. Very recently, the Vanuatu Government has removed all duty exempts on food products including chicken and agricultural tools and materials purposely for emergency reliefs. Initial efforts relating to a healthy, effective and immediate recovery in terms of the introduction of agricultural planting materials to restore food gardens are paramount. In view of these:-

  1. What are some potential risks and how could they be managed?
  2. What materials should be recommended and how could the initial recovery process handled?