Date released
28 March 2019

Professor Barbara Pamphilon is a co-convenor of the ‘Seeds of change’  conference. She spoke to Partners recently about her ongoing work in  PNG and its likely extension into other Pacific regions.

Professor Pamphilon, from the University of Canberra, is the leader of the ACIAR project: ‘Improving opportunities for economic development for women smallholders in rural Papua New Guinea’. She says the initial family farm teams’ approach was developed through trials of experiential learning, focusing on four training modules. The first module examined family roles. In one of the activities, participants were asked to divide a circle into sectors showing the current daily work roles of each family member. She says the ensuing discussion led to the beginning of the concept of a family farm team, as family members came to understand each other’s workloads, talk about goals and plan daily work more equitably.

The second module focused on enabling men and women to see that they were not ‘just farmers’ but heads of a farm business, and that running a farm business required longer-term planning. Many participants had low levels of literacy, so the project team taught farm mapping so that families could see all their assets and identify their crops. From this, families could then consider annual seasonal planning. Treating the farm as a business also meant financial planning, so the project team worked with families on how to allocate farm income to the family, to community and cultural spending, and importantly, to reinvest in the farm.

Professor Pamphilon says families were asked questions like ‘How would you like to reshape the farm to be more efficient?’ and ‘How far away is water?’ By framing these questions as efficiency measures, not only were farm operations planned more efficiently but the number of time-consuming tasks performed mainly by women and children could also be reduced. For example, saving for a water tank meant that it would no longer be necessary to carry water over long distances.

The third training module—nutrition—focused on encouraging families to grow and eat local, and generally more nutritious, indigenous crops. The families’ understanding of nutrition was improved by categorising the foods they ate into three groups: foods that build the body, foods that provide energy and foods that protect health. Families also saw how much money could be saved by reducing lownutrition, store-bought foods.

Finally, the fourth module focused on communication and decision-making as a family team, which is the oil that helps family farm teams work smoothly into the future. Professor Pamphilon says the project team is now looking at ‘Where to from here?’ The various church groups in Papua New Guinea are a trusted part of society, and have an existing focus on family, and rural families in particular.

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two people holding lanterns
Mother and son, Maureen and Richard Trison, inside their poultry shed with the lanterns they use to keep chicks warm Credit: Conor Ashleigh

The team is now exploring ‘How can we work with churches to facilitate them using the family farm team approach alongside their community development work?’

Engaging young people in farming is another focus, given agriculture is the biggest income generator for families in Papua New Guinea. Many young people do not want to do the same hard, physical outdoor work as their parents. Professor Pamphilon says the project team is exploring other options for them in the agricultural value chain, such as raising seedlings to on sell to other farmers.

Another flow-on from the family farm teams project is the work Professor Pamphilon and the team are doing on women’s literacy. ‘Women farmers told us they want to learn to read and write,’ she says. The set of ‘Maria’ books developed in the first phase of the project began the process of meeting that need, as women shared the simple text with their children. However, taking a more holistic approach, Professor Pamphilon and the team are targeting teachers’ professional development in an effort to introduce more agricultural learning into their literacy teaching, and the kindergarten to year 12 curriculum generally. ‘We have developed an SD card which you can put into your phone to access professional development materials very easily.’

The team has developed these SD cards with the Pacific Adventist University. They have been distributed in East New Britain and New Ireland, and this will be followed up later this year.

Professor Pamphilon says, ‘The family farm teams idea has really resonated, with the majority of men and women participants happy with how things have changed.’ However, she adds that ‘a longitudinal study in five years would be good’, to track which of these changes endure. Given the successful impact of the work with their partners in Papua New Guinea, Professor Pamphilon says there are plans to extend the family farm team program elsewhere in the Pacific. Plans are underway for the University of Canberra team, with ACIAR support, to trial the approach in another Melanesian culture, Solomon Islands, to establish whether the approach taken in Papua New Guinea is transferable.

More information is available via the ACIAR website and YouTube Channel.

The 'Seeds of Change Conference' is taking place at the University of Canberra 2-4 April 2019, with ACIAR live-streaming keynote addresses and lectures via social media. Watch and join the conversation via the event's hashtag #SeedsofChange19.