CATHERINE WILSON | Inter Press Service
AGRICULTURE PROVIDES A LIVELIHOOD to the majority of the population in Papua New Guinea. However, the loss and waste of an estimated half of all fresh produce between harvesting and marketing is threatening improvements to food security and local incomes.
Yer Kirul, a fresh produce grower and vendor at Gordon's food market in Port Moresby told IPS, "We sell our produce, but not always all of it. What isn't sold is either given to street vendors at the end of the day or thrown away. There is a lot of waste."
Kirul does not have access to storage facilities for his perishable fruit and vegetables in the year-round heat and humidity.
According to a survey by the Fresh Produce Development Agency (FDPA), which is working to develop a sustainable commercial food industry, only 13% of farmers in nearby Central Province had sold produce to buyers with cool-room facilities.
"We also need better marketing," Kirul said. "People are buying small quantities. We would like to sell larger quantities to buyers."
The FPDA reports that up to 50% of food produced in PNG is lost in the post-harvest phase. The agency says quality is a critical issue, with a significant proportion of fresh food not meeting the standards of large buyers and wholesalers, often resulting in produce being sold at negligible prices or thrown away.
Nalau Bingeding, Research Fellow at the National Research Institute, told IPS, "Poor roads and transport infrastructure are a big issue in regard to post-harvest selling in PNG. A lot of garden food is produced in rural areas, but due to lack of roads and markets for the produce the food is either wasted or fed to livestock."
In rural and peri-urban areas, small farmers cultivating a range of crops including potatoes, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, taros, yams, mangoes and pawpaws are often both the growers and marketers.
In 2008, the FPDA conducted a socio-economic study of 175 male and 160 female farmers, with an average age of 39 years, from six provinces.
It revealed that 73% believed the most significant issue in selling their yield was difficult transport and road conditions, 43% identified oversupply conditions associated with low market capacity, 22% named low prices and 21% cited waste.
In PNG, difficult mountainous terrain, weak public service delivery and mismanagement of public funds have impeded the development of an effective national road network. Thus travel between main urban centres is only possible by ship or aircraft. Air services throughout the country cater for this demand, but are very expensive.
The Department of Works reports that only 2,609 km of a total road network comprising 8,738 km are rated in good condition and 64% of all national roads are unsealed.
Challenges for truck drivers and transport companies include severe physical deterioration of the road surface and armed hold-ups and vandalism by rural gangs along the highway's route.
According to the FPDA, 85% of farmers surveyed used local buses to transport their harvest to market with only 4% owning their own vehicle.
The government's Development Strategic Plan (2010-30) includes targets to rehabilitate existing road infrastructure and triple the road network to 25,000 km within the next 18 years. Attaining this goal will depend on the government's success with funding and implementation.
Meanwhile the FPDA is focused on developing the domestic market with many of the country's food producers not yet ready to supply an overseas market. The agency is training farmers and developing technologies to improve the quality management of fresh produce and developing linkages between farmers and commercial buyers.