Collaboration, Partnerships and Innovation impacting lives of rural farmers

By: PNG Business News September 19, 2019

NKW Fresh Field Extension Officers impacting rural communities through PNG-Australia Partnership

THERE are many stories of the positive impact that many resource projects across Papua New Guinea are having on the lives of rural communities, particularly so for impact and nearby communities.

Many landowner companies have come out from these projects. Some of them have been very successful like the National Catering Service (NCS) belonging to Lihir Gold mine landowners or NKW Fresh, a subsidiary of the NKW group, owned by landowners of the Hidden Valley Gold Mine in Morobe province. Recently catering and camp management company NCS Holdings Ltd, sold its share of its Hidden Valley operation to joint venture partner and fellow landowner company, NKW Holdings. The sale was finalised early August after a 15-year mutually rewarding partnership between two of the country’s most successful landowner companies.

With the support of developers providing expertise and transferring skills across a multitude of sectors, from technical to agriculture and accounting to becoming drone pilots, these landowner companies (Lancos’) have risen from humble beginnings to now being able to bid for and win multi-billion kina projects in PNG and abroad.

The success of these stories came about through collaboration, innovation and partnerships between all stakeholders from developers to landowners and development partners.

One such special story, told through a video provided during the recent PNG Investment Week, is that of the positive impacts that the PNG-Australia Partnership through its Market Development Facility (MDF) initiative, is having in the Morobe province in partnership with NKW Fresh.

Extension support services are no longer as vibrant as they once used to be with Government support services in agriculture (Didiman) being near non-existent throughout PNG.

Many resource companies have delved into providing these services, at their own expense, filling a massive gap in ensuring skills transfer, sustainability of projects and a change from sustainable to commercial farming.

Last year, NKW Fresh Field Extension Officers were sent out on motorbikes, tablets in hand, to collect data and support rural farmers in Morobe province.

One of these FEO’s is Tracey Eki, who goes out every morning on her motorbike, then walks to reach rural farmers to support them and commercial their crops.

“I usually wake up around 6am every morning and head out on my bike. Then I have to walk for one and a half to two hours to reach the rural village,” Tracey says.

“The community usually welcomes me with open arms, knowing that I am there to help them”.

Tracey talks to them as a group then they break up into smaller groups and head to their gardens where she visits them.

The road is slippery as she sometimes walks treacherous paths to reach isolated farms across mountains.

“Getting crop plans done is one of the primary activities I do,” she says.

“It is a struggle sometimes but seeing the smile on their faces keeps me going.

With a spark in her eyes and a giggle Tracey says learning to ride the motorbike and standing up when riding over potholes ‘was the epic part’.

There are currently four Field Extension Officers working with NKW Fresh in Wau, Markham and Kainantu.

General Manager of NKW Fresh David Stewart said: ‘we had a particular focus when interviewing and recruiting on trying to get women for the role’.

“They have demonstrated to me their courage. They certainly surprised me. They don’t fit a particular mould, I suppose no one really does,” Stewart said.

“The perception I had was they would not be able to do the hard yards. They would not be able to ride a motorbike or challenge the norms in a patriachal society.

“Our words of encouragement before they go out are that they are professionals and they must work as professionals. And, gee, there is a certain love for them because the communities know that they are trying to help them,” Stewart said.

Tracey says: ‘There are different types of Field Extension Officer’s for different purposes that are reaching out to rural places and I am one of those reaching out to rural farmers trying to help them commercialise their production’.

“In PNG we are so used to subsistence way of farming so we try to teach them how they can commercialise their production,” Tracey said.

Though it is a challenge, she says she likes helping people and seeing them smile and feeling that they now have money in their bank accounts.

One such NKW farmer is Helen Lucas. Previously Helen used to take only the good produce to market, but after learning to commercialise she was paid more than K1,000 in one week for her produce.

“When I got this first harvest, fortnightly payment from all of my receipts, I got K1,500 and I was very happy indeed,” Helen said.

Tracey and her fellow NKW FEO’s will be revisiting Helen and other rural farmers to support them commercialise their crops so that they can improve their standards of living and that of their families.

MDF is part of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership - #PNGAusPartnership.

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