Imagine travelling 12 hours by fibreglass dinghy to get to the nearest township to access much needed services. It is a gruelling journey in an open boat exposed to the unforgiving tropical heat and relentless downpours.
But it is necessary travel for communities from Kaviananga village in Middle Fly of the Western Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG). They undertake the 12-hour journey to the township of Kiunga, to access services like health and education.
The trip is only one half of the journey. From the mouth of the Fly River, it takes nearly 74 hours by dinghy to get to Kiunga.
Western Province is the largest in the country and its geographical size presents many development challenges. The Province shares borders with the Torres Strait of Australia and Papua Province of Indonesia. The region is remote and isolated from major domestic markets.
The Fly River, a fisheries haven
The Fly River is home to the most diverse freshwater fish fauna in Australasia. With more than 100 different fish species, fishing is a way of life for every man, woman and child born to the country’s largest river system.
With little to no infrastructure like roads and electricity and very little access to cash income, some communities have turned to informal trading of high-value marine products to growing markets in Asia. This has led to unsustainable harvesting practices and is rarely ever profitable for fishers, who have no control over pricing.
Father of 6, Robin Alphonse, is from Kwem village, not too far from the Indonesian border, where he goes to trade.
‘Before our main source of income was crocodile skin. But because of climate change and pollution [making resources less plentiful] we have now turned to Makau (tilapia). We are trading and marketing in Kiunga and West Papua, in Indonesia.’
‘When we catch fish from the net, we put them into cages, after about 2 or 3 days we string them up in twos or threes depending on the size and take them to the border to sell. Selling 2 or 3 tilapia will earn about K2.44 (A$0.98).
‘In a week we would make 3 trips to the border. Sometimes, we make money, sometimes we make a loss. When we go late and there is a lot of catch, it is wasted, we throw it away,’ says Mr Alphonse.
Developing business and resource management models
Communities along the Fly River, especially women, depend on mud crabs and processing tilapia and other fisheries products for subsistence, and if they are lucky exchange them for cash or much needed goods.
Previous and existing business models have not been successful but efforts are now underway to investigate how their situation can be improved.
ACIAR, through a small research activity, is supporting Australian and PNG researchers to develop alternate fishery business and resource management models that communities living along the Fly River can use to improve their livelihoods.
Led by the CSIRO working in partnership with the Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) and the Fly River Provincial Government (FRPG), the project is focused on the role of women in fisheries.
‘The project looked at 2 species. Tilapia in the Middle Fly, and mud crabs in the South Fly. Both are plentiful and have the potential to fetch good prices in markets in the region,’ said Professor Ann Fleming, ACIAR Research Program Manager, Fisheries
‘As part of the project, we have reviewed small business and collective enterprise models in PNG, in particular their successes and failures, and we have also completed an analysis of the tilapia and mud crab value chains as potential products for women’s enterprises.
‘The final and perhaps most important part of the project will consider appropriate enterprise and resource management models for women to maximise income and encourage sustainable fishing enterprises,’ Professor Fleming said.
Working with Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF)
Ok Tedi Mining Limited operates the Ok Tedi Mine, an open-pit copper, gold and silver mine. The OTDF is the legal entity that manages community development benefits from the mining operations in Western Province.
OTDF Chief Executive Officer, Mr Havini Vira says that to ensure success the project team will work to develop business and resource management models in consultation with communities living along the Fly River.
A series of workshops were held with several communities to inform efforts to develop appropriate models.
‘In the workshops the women and communities told us what they think can happen, what can work and that’s very important,’ Mr Vira said.
‘If they own the agenda and come up with their own ideas, they become partners and we will be here to support them.
‘For OTDF, it’s all about empowering our women, the children and the communities to earn an income from the resources to be sustainable, post-mine life,’ says Mr Vira.
That’s the crux of the project. It’s a very small project, only two years, but I think the lessons that come out it and the options that are developed, will be very important.
Mr Havini Vira
OTDF Chief Executive Officer
‘Hopefully, we can come up with a range of options for the communities, as well as identify areas that all stakeholders can contribute to successfully develop a fisheries business model that communities can benefit from,’ Mr Vira said.
Learning from the past
Whichever model is developed, Nela Ben from Komovai village looks forward to more sustainable business models that will benefit her people.
‘We don’t want to repeat what we have done in the past. We have a middleman. When we sell to middlemen, we sell at low prices. They then sell in Port Moresby or other markets, for much better prices. At the end of the day, I cannot meet my family necessities like demands of school fees and transport costs.
‘At the moment both men and women are trading at the border,’ Ms Ben said. She says people know that trading at the border is not allowed, but they are left with very few options.
‘Normally we don’t get cash. Some people receive cash, most of us we exchange for goods which we then resell here. Like fuel for instance, we buy it across the border for 2 million rupiah which is about 700 kina (A$193.87) for a drum. But if we sell it here, you can make over 1000 kina.
That’s an advantage, but there is also a disadvantage. We are using up our fish stocks here and we are losing kina every time we spend money buying goods across the border.
Research for improved livelihoods
Professor Fleming says ultimately the project is working to improve the sustainability of fish resources, while providing economic and social benefits for villagers like Nela Ben and Robin Alphonse.
‘With ACIAR support, this project is looking to empower women and communities, while improving household incomes, through research on small business and collective enterprises.
We want to understand the fisheries trading that is being carried out now and how we can support women and their families collectively improve how their activities are conducted going forward.
Professor Ann Fleming
ACIAR Research Program Manager, Fisheries
The project to develop small scale fishery models for Western Province is a partnership between CSIRO and OTDF working with the FRPG and the PNG National Fisheries Authority. It is one of several ACIAR-supported projects in Western Province working across agriculture, fisheries, forestry and social systems.
Learn more via the ACIAR website.