06 March 2023, Guinea: Papua New Guinea (PNG) relies on agriculture for income. But a host of plant health problems could put its valuable commodity crops at risk. Protecting high-value crops like cocoa and coffee is essential for safeguarding the country’s future.
Agriculture is big business in PNG. It provides 22% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for 26% of its exports. Farming supports around 85% of the rural population. This includes smallholders who rely on subsistence farming for food and income.
Cocoa and coffee are the main cash crops and employ half of the workforce. However, farmers face hurdles when it comes to growing healthy produce. Agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and seeds can be expensive and difficult to find. Lack of access to farming technologies and irrigation poses a challenge. Above all, plant pests and diseases contribute to low yields. The World Bank estimates that pests like the coffee berry borer reduce coffee yields by up to 50%.
Protecting commodity crops in Papua New Guinea
PNG is working with CABI to address these challenges. The aim is to safeguard farmers’ livelihoods and boost the economy.
PNG is a founding member of CABI and has already worked extensively with the organization. But now, CABI is working with the government to help PNG further strengthen its food security through the launch of the PlantwisePlus programme.
The new programme aims to help farmers lose less of what they grow to pests and diseases through the introduction of plant clinics. Plant clinics are places where farmers can take samples of their ‘sick’ crops to trained plant doctors for a diagnosis and receive advice on sustainable treatments.
A network of clinics helps to strengthen the plant health system and act as an earlier warning for new pest and disease outbreaks. Prevention and early detection of pests and diseases are critical to preventing crop losses. PlantwisePlus aims to support PNG with tools and processes to allow more consistent and coordinated processes to prioritize, detect, and respond to plant health problems.
PlantwisePlus – boosting Papua New Guinea’s plant health systems
Mr Warea Orapa is Acting Director General of the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He talked about how PNG is keen to collaborate with CABI. The partnership will help to address serious threats to agriculture and the environment. These threats include invasive species of significant concern to PNG and regionally. Without proper controls, plant pests can easily cross borders and enter other countries.
Mr Orapa described how the PlantwisePlus programme would help strengthen the country’s plant health system. He says it will better prepare PNG for early detection and response to pest outbreaks and invasion events.
One of the aims is to improve the country’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and to underpin the country’s biosecurity plan. This includes detecting, preventing and monitoring invasive species entering PNG through trade or tourism.
He believes the programme will increase the supply of higher quality and safer food. It will also contribute to trade in agricultural products. This should help to improve PNG’s socio-economic conditions.
The programme will draw upon a range of existing CABI open-access products and projects to achieve these aims. This includes the CABI BioProtection Portal. This free tool enhances growers’ awareness and uptake of biocontrol and biopesticide products. The PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank and factsheet app will also help deliver plant health knowledge to farmers in PNG.
Working in partnership with Papua New Guinea – next steps
CABI and the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) have already met with the National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA). The group will now see how PlantwisePlus can help PNG’s smallholder farmers grow more and lose less to crop pests and diseases.
Dr Feng Zhangv is CABI’s Regional Director for East & South-East Asia. He said, “Papua New Guinea is a valued and founding member of CABI.” He mentioned many mutually beneficial collaborations over the years on various projects on coffee, cocoa and coconut.
Dr Feng commented on how this first meeting will advance plans for implementing PlantwisePlus. He believes the programme is a significant milestone for the CABI-PNG partnership. It will enhance the country’s capacity to better prepare and protect commodity crops from existing pests and future invasive species. This will strengthen the country’s food production across the value chain.
Ms Frances Williams is CABI’s Social Science Director. She commented on how PlantwisePlus will kick off with a stakeholder mapping. The goal is to find the actors involved in different plant health functions. The programme will also seek to discover interactions between actors and strengths and weaknesses in plant health systems.
She also explained how PlantwisePlus would firmly embed a gendered approach in its work. This will help PNG to close the gender gap in agriculture, empowering women farmers.
Dr Faheem is CABI’s Integrated Crop Management Advisor for Southeast Asia. He also works as Country Coordinator for the PlantwisePlus programme in PNG. He is currently undertaking a desk review of the current plant health system. He will also perform a stakeholder analysis in the coming months. He believes engagement with the right stakeholders will bring about the success of this programme in PNG.
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