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New irrigation systems are allowing sweet potato farmers in Papua New Guinea to increase production and improve livelihoods.

The systems provide farmers with a more dependable source of water and allow rural farmers to shift to more commercial-based production.

Sweet potato farmer Rachel Suak Mok from Minj, Jiwaka Province was one of the first people to trial the new irrigation system.

“Previously, it was really difficult for me. My garden is up on the mountain and water had to be carried from a creek which is at the bottom of the mountain,” Rachel said.

“In the past, especially during the dry season, I have stood by and watched as my crops die because I was unable to water my gardens properly.”

The irrigation system comprises of a water tank, piping and water pump. The system supplies water from a nearby creek, directly to Rachel’s sweet potato gardens.

The irrigation systems were delivered as part of a project to commercialise sweet potato in the Highlands under the Transformative Agriculture Development and Enterprise Development Program (TADEP).

The program is jointly funded by the PNG-Australia Partnership and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR).

Project officer, Christian Bugajim from PNG’s Fresh Produce Development Authority (FPDA) said they have set up irrigation systems at several project sites.

“In PNG we have underestimated the importance of irrigation for commercial farming,” Bugajim said.

“But water is crucial to improving production and irrigation should be an important part of any farming system in the country.”

Through the project, PNG’s National Agriculture Research Institute is also working with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to produce virus-free sweet potato seeds, which are distributed to farmers by FPDA.  

Combined, the new irrigation systems and the virus-free planting material is helping boost productivity.

ACIAR Research Program Manager for Horticulture, Irene Kernot said the project aims to support farmers move to market-oriented sweet potato production.

“Increases in sweet potato production and reducing crop failure is a plus for food security in PNG. Commercialising sweet potato also creates opportunities for Papua New Guineans to enter into business at different stages along the supply chain.”

The farmers have reported that the supplied clean seeds are producing good quality sweet potato and at a much higher yield. This has enabled growers to increase sales, including to newer markets such as the supermarket sector in Port Moresby.

The sweet potato project is one of five projects under TADEP – a six-year program that aims to increase agriculture production and quality, ensure gender equality and support individual and institutional development.

November 24, 2020