Smallholder farming families are the backbone of food production in Papua New Guinea (PNG). For generations, they have fed their families through subsistence farming.
Today however, smallholder farmers are increasingly burdened with important family expenses such as health care and education.
This burden is often felt deepest by PNG’s rural women farmers, who remain key to their family’s livelihoods. They undertake the major labour in farming activities, while attending to social roles such as being the main caregiver in a family.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, despite making up nearly half of the world’s agricultural labour force, women continue to face significant challenges.
To support these families in PNG, previous ACIAR-supported research has combined financial literacy education, banking and savings training, and agricultural planning techniques into a formal training model. The model, called Family Farm Teams (FFT), trains one senior male and one senior female from a family so they can work together in applying the knowledge.
The key to its success has been the focus on the entire family unit; assisting farming families to plan, set goals, communicate and make decisions as one team.
The research, led by the Australian University of Canberra Centre for Sustainable Communities, working with the PNG National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI), Pacific Adventist University and other PNG institutions across five different provinces, successfully developed the FFT training model, which is now gaining increased traction across the country.
The popularity of FFT training stems from learning that is both improving livelihoods for farming families and addressing gender inequalities. It is also flexible enough to be applied across diverse crops, commodities and communities.
ACIAR Social Systems Research Program Manager, Dr Clemens Grünbühel, says the aim is to ensure families become more effective and profitable in their farming activities and making farms more equitable for all members in the family.
‘The research that developed FFT training, proves that when men and women work together across generations, with more gender-equitable and effective farming practices, this can lead to improved livelihoods for PNG families,’ Dr Grünbühel says.
Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development
The FFT training was developed as part of previous research, one of five projects under the Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program (TADEP), jointly funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and ACIAR.
TADEP aims to improve private sector-led agriculture development, increase productivity and quality, strengthen value chains, promote gender equality, and build individual and institutional capacity.
Due to the success of the FFT training, a series of masterclasses have been held for staff from the five TADEP projects and key PNG program partners to give them the necessary skills to conduct the family-focussed training.
‘The FFT training focusses on the family unit and how both men and women can work in a more equitable and effective way to improve their livelihoods,’ says TADEP Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Brennan.
‘To make this training more accessible to more farming families, TADEP has supported the five masterclasses across PNG and Bougainville.
‘The masterclasses enable agricultural professionals to learn about the approach and experience key activities themselves. Participants will also explore ways to apply the FFT methodology in their everyday work roles,’ Ms Brennan says.
FFT Training in Bougainville
The FFT training is being rolled out across all TADEP projects, including through the Bougainville cocoa value chain project that is working to improve cocoa production and quality, market access and healthy living.
Among those who received the initial FFT training was Mrs Elisabeth Pisiai, who works with the Bougainville Department of Primary Industries.
‘I wanted to be a model farmer and an example for my community. Working with my family, we are trying to implement what I learnt from the initial FFT training,’ Mrs Pisiai says. ‘We set long term and short-term goals and planned our farming activities. I purchased some land and started building a permanent house. It is almost completed.
‘We have set up a cocoa budwood garden and soon, I will get certification from the Cocoa Board of PNG to become a distributor of bud sticks in South Bougainville,’ Mrs Pisiai says.
Mrs Pisiai, who is also a regional coordinator in the Bougainville cocoa value chain project, is responsible for 11 cocoa farming groups, who she trains and mentors in farming technologies and practices developed by the cocoa project.
She is looking forward to her farmers also receiving the FFT training and the impact it can have to improve the lives of women farmers and their families.
‘This training can bring about change in families. Especially distribution of labour to ensure no single member of the family, especially women, are overly burdened. For the young people who are also part of the training, these are skills and knowledge that they can learn and hopefully use when they have their own families,’ Mrs Pisiai says.
Mrs Pisiai was one of 15 participants of the Bougainville FFT masterclass held in Buka. In addition to Bougainville, the FFT masterclasses were held in Goroka, Kokopo, Lae and Wewak.
Since its development, the FFT training has grown in popularity. The model has also been adopted by a number of development partners, including Australia’s key regional gender program ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ and the model is also being trialled by ACIAR in another Melanesian country, the Solomon Islands.