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Building liklik bisnis in PNG

Young women from Vunapalading, participating in a community workshop (© Katja Mikhailovich)
Young women from Vunapalading, participating in a community workshop
© Katja Mikhailovich

"Many women in PNG are growing vegetables and sweet potato, but they are marginalized through low literacy and access to markets," says Dr Caroline Lemerle from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Finding ways of helping female horticulturalists in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to develop their business acumen, therefore, is the aim of ACIAR-funded research carried out by the University of Canberra.

Professor Barbara Pamphilon is investigating ways to build women smallholder's skills in planning and working towards operating profitable businesses, and the most effective means of learning for women smallholders are also being explored. "We've called it 'liklik bisnis thinking', which means 'small business thinking' in PNG pidgin," Pamphilon explains.

Obstacles facing women

Baseline studies, along with information from previous ACIAR-funded work with the fledgling NGO, PNG Women in Agriculture, revealed that a very low level of financial literacy exists amongst PNG's female farmers. "Consequently, they have low banking rates and many are not ready for micro-credit schemes," states Pamphilon.

Women are also being left behind when it comes to training, since most agricultural training in PNG is based on the 'demonstration' method. "While the men go to see the demonstration, the women are left at home, or they can't afford transport, or maybe it's not safe for them to go, or they don't speak the language," Pamphilon explains.

Through the baseline surveys, women detailed a wide range of incentives to build their business skills. Education for their children was a universal aim, others wanted to be able to read and to learn skills to enable them to build their income, while some wanted to improve their housing, or to buy gardening equipment or other commercial items.

Building local skills

Women have received agricultural and marketing advice from the Fresh Produce Development Agency (© Paul Jones)
Women have received agricultural and marketing advice from the Fresh Produce Development Agency
© Paul Jones

To trial different activities, three areas have been chosen to carry out the research. One is in the remote region of the Baiyer Valley, which has very poor infrastructure and market linkages, and no banking facilities. In contrast, East New Britain is well-serviced and women farmers are more organised, but banking rates are low. The final location is in Central Province, where the women are physically close to Port Moresby but have struggled to successfully access the market.

The project team has begun by building the skills of selected local people. After providing capacity building training - on how people learn and how to design interactive workshops - the 'community learning facilitators' use their new skills to plan a workshop for women smallholders in their community. "Our local training teams have been very creative and have designed some of the best role-plays I've seen," says Pamphilon."

PNG's National Agricultural Research Institute and the Fresh Produce Development Agency also contribute to the workshops. These local experts are able to provide relevant agricultural advice on potential new markets for produce as well as pre- and post-harvest handling of crops, for example.

"We can grow the vegetables to supply the market but we have no proper services, such as transport and cooling facilities, in our district to convince people to increase production," explains Veronica Briggs, a farmer from the Central Province, who has also received assistance from a related ACIAR project led by the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research. After receiving training in basic financial literacy, crop management, and post-harvest and marketing techniques, she was also helped to build links to transport and markets in Port Moresby, and given the opportunity to open accounts with micro-banking services. Briggs says that the training enhanced her knowledge and she would now go back and train other men and women in her community.

Family teams

Farmers have received training in basic financial literacy and postharvest and marketing techniques (© UTAS)
Farmers have received training in basic financial literacy and postharvest and marketing techniques

The University of Canberra's research is also focusing on family groups. Local training teams are running village workshops called 'working as a family team for family goals'. "The women are more likely to improve their business acumen with the support of their families, through everyone having a better idea of what needs to be done," Pamphilon explains. "Women involved in the workshops have found that these workshops provide a constructive and non-threatening way of re-evaluating both men's and women's roles." According to one woman from the Baiyer Valley, "We take it for granted that adults don't learn and don't change. Now we understand that people can learn for the family good."

Women involved in the project have been keen to find ways that their children can be increasingly involved in the business side of farming. The project has taken this on board and activities are being trialled to engage the interest of young people who have finished school. "One of our ideas is to train young women to become the financial managers of their family's activities. They would have the necessary training in literacy and numeracy to keep records and monitor profit and loss," Pamphilon reveals. "Or young women might have new ideas to help grow their family's businesses. Young people might be better placed to see how value could be added to produce, for example. It is all about 'liklik bisnis thinking'."

* The National Agricultural Research Institute, the Pacific Adventist University, the Fresh Produce Development Agency, and church-based NGOs such as the Baptist Union, are project partners with the University of Canberra

Written by: Mandy Gyles, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Date published: September 2013


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