Date released
04 March 2022

In Papua New Guinea (PNG) women smallholders provide the most labour in farming activities. In addition, they take on valued social roles such as caring for their families.

Despite this, women face several challenges including fewer opportunities to access agricultural training and unequal gendered family roles in labour and decision making.

‘Fortunately, we have made some gains, thanks to previous ACIAR-supported research,’ says ACIAR Social Systems Research Program Manager, Dr Clemens Grünbühel.

Dr Grünbühel is referring to the Family Farm Teams (FFT) training– a highly successful farmer extension training model that combines financial literacy education, banking and savings training, and agricultural planning techniques.

The success of this training model has been the focus on the family unit, helping them set family goals, plan their farming activities, effective communication and decision making as one team.


Dr Clemens Grünbühel
ACIAR Research Program Manager Social Systems

The model has been so successful that ACIAR, in partnership with the University of Canberra and PNG based Pacific Adventist University, is further rolling out the initiative to more Papua New Guineans. In addition to supporting women, this project is also working to engage PNG youth.

‘Semi-subsistence farmers, particularly women and youth, are key to PNG’s agricultural production.

‘But the distribution of income and farming workloads is still not equitable among men and women. At the same time, youths are leaving their communities for better opportunities in larger cities, often unsuccessfully,’ says Dr Grünbühel.

A combination of Family Farm training and religious teachings

To tackle this, the ACIAR-supported research project, Gender equitable agriculture extension and youth engagement, aims to bring this valuable gender equitable agriculture training to more Papua New Guineans. But to successfully reach more farming families, the project has turned to an institution that currently has the largest footprint in PNG.

It is widely recognised that churches have played an important role in PNG’s development. They already provide significant health and education services in the geographically challenged country, either alone, or in partnership with government.

‘Churches are in most rural and remote communities across PNG,’ says Project Leader Dr Josephine Caffery from the University of Canberra.

‘They have the potential to reach many more farming women and families than the project team’.

Farmers participating in the Family Farm teams training

Participants from a Family Farm Teams (FFT) Masterclass that was held recently in Bougainville. The flexibility of the initial FFT training has allowed researchers in PNG and Australia to adapt it depending on targeted groups. As part of the new ACIAR supported project, the FFT training has been adapted to include religious teachings.

East New Britain Project Coordinator, Kiteni Kusunan Kurika has welcomed this new approach.

‘Papua New Guineans are very religious and respect church activities as much as possible. Using the church network to disseminate information or to participate in a project that is life changing or mindset changing is a brilliant approach that must be further researched and explored. The same applies to the youths being utilised as agents of change for the future,’ Mrs Kusunan Kiruka says.

The project has two main objectives. The first is to work with churches.

‘To further engage women and their families in agriculture, especially in areas we wouldn’t normally be able to reach, the project has adapted the FFT training. It now includes religious philosophies and practices so that it can be delivered by the church, in a gender equitable way and within their existing programs,’ says Dr Caffery.

She says the project team will then be able to explore synergies and success factors between the church-based agriculture programs and the church-based FFT approach.

Through this we can explore the capacity of churches, the challenges they experience when developing and implementing our gender-inclusive agricultural development program, and what their impacts and outcomes are on women, men and their families.

Dr Josephine Caffery
Project Leader University of Canberra

‘The project’s second objective is to work with youth. To meet this objective, we have also adapted the FFT training in a way that empowers youths and ensures they become an integral part of the family farming team,’ says Dr Caffery.

The ‘FFT: Empowering Youth’ approach includes a ‘Youth as Change Agent’ training program that will help the project understand youth attitudes to working in agriculture and on their family farm. This information will help inform how best to engage youth in an agricultural future.

Embracing the new approach to agricultural extension

The project has already reported several achievements to date.

The Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church has engaged about 150 church leaders to participate in the adapted FFT training. Many of these leaders have trialled the training in their home communities.

‘The SDA Church has rolled out our adapted FFT religious approach across Central Province, New Ireland and recently, Western Province, with great success for female and male farmers. We have also trained youth and church leaders to collect relevant data and to scale out the programs,’ says Dr Caffery.

Family farm training
Young people in East New learning the importance of family budgets. The training, enabled through the ACIAR project, has adapted the successful Family Farm Team training in a way that empowers youth, especially women, to ensure they become an integral part of the family farming team.

In-country Project Manager, Professor Lalen Simeon, from the Pacific Adventist University says the SDA Church leaders have conducted the FFT training with many families in their communities in the Central Province.

‘The result of this training has encouraged more families to be involved in farming, poultry and fish. Some have also started their own trade stores. These farmers are now looking for a market to sell their produce.

‘The Lutheran Church leaders will receive the FFT training in April followed by the other denominations, including the United and Catholic Church later in the year,’ says Proffessor Lalen

Following the FFT training in East New Britain, Mrs Kurika Kusunan adds that most of the church representatives have expressed that they were very happy to be a part of the project. ‘Many believe the project is life changing and they want it to be part of the church programs,’ Mrs Kusunan Kurika says.

The project is also gaining traction among young people, following the establishment of the Youth as Change Agent training program. The trial program has engaged about 120 youths and their parents in four districts of East New Britain. More than half of these youths are female.

Chicken shed in PNG
To further engage youth, the project has established a ‘Youth as Change Agent’ training program, which includes training on decision making, setting farm goals, leadership and project planning. Some youths have already initiated agriculture programs including poultry farming, gardening and selling cooked food. Pictured is a participant’s chicken house, built from bush material.

The participants received training in decision making, setting farm goals, advanced leadership, and project planning. The project reports that some youths have even started their own agriculture programs, including poultry farming, chili gardens and selling cooked food.

The project also recently received regional recognition, after being invited to virtually present their new extension research approach at the Australasia-​Pacific Extension Network (APEN) 2022 international conference in February.

Pandemic challenges, opportunities and the PNG-Australia research partnership

Part of the project’s early successes comes as a direct result from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project began 4 months before the pandemic. The resulting restrictions on international and domestic travel meant the PNG-based project members had to take on additional responsibilities. The PNG team members received significant training that would allow them to take on the new roles, amidst the pandemic.

Family farm training participants
PNG Project members, Professor Simeon (far right) and Kiteni Kusunan Kurika (far left). The project has already reported several achievements to date thanks to its partnership with the PNG churches and the fusion of agriculture extension training with religious teachings to further engage women and youth in agriculture.

Dr Caffery says project activities also needed to be adapted. The pandemic restrictions ruled out large scale project activities and led to the project team taking a more focused approach.

‘Our COVID adaptions helped us to develop a unique extension approach that considers our participants’ individual context, including their land conditions and opportunities, their own and their districts’ assets, culture, language, and literacy skills,’ says Dr Caffery.

We are empowering participants, particularly female and male youths, in an agricultural setting, through the process of constructing and using their own knowledge, lived experience, concerns and languages.

Dr Josephine Caffery
Project Leader University of Canberra

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including project teams working remotely from PNG and Australia, Mrs Kusunan Kurika says the project’s success so far is also a result of the excellent partnership between members from both countries.

‘This project has staff that can work together as a team, who have trust and faith in each other, and who are very knowledgeable in what they do. This has resulted in a strong influence in the farming communities where we work,’ Mrs Kusunan Kurika says.

The project is funded through the ACIAR Social Systems Research Program in partnership between the University of Canberra and the Pacific Adventist University, with additional support from the East New Britain Women and Youth in Agriculture Co-operative Society Association. 

Read more about Family Farm Teams via the ACIAR website and explore FFT learning materials via the University of Canberra.