Joel Waramboi from Kubalia, East Sepik province, is one of Papua New Guinea’s most highly-qualified experts in food science, post-harvest technology, starch, processing and quality management of food and alternative food and cash crops.
Joel Waramboi working in the laboratory
Waramboi is now breaking new ground with his research into kaukau (sweet potato), PNG’s most widely-grown food crop, while undergoing further studies in Australia.
“Although production data on our food crops remain sketchy, available information shows that, PNG produces about 2.9 million tonnes of sweet potato, 700,000 tonnes of banana, 300,000 tonnes of yams, 350,000 tonnes of taro and 80,000 tonnes of cassava annually,” he says.
“Globally, sweet potato is one of the most-important root crops, with more than 133 million tonnes produced annually.
“It is a staple food for millions of people and the seventh most-abundant crop after wheat, rice, maize, potato, barley and cassava.
“So where does the 99% of the crop go to?
“It simply ends up in the cooking pot”
Kaukau variety Beauregard
The 37-year-old will be completing his doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in 2012 at the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia.
Waramboi is a senior scientist with the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), and conducts applied and adaptive research on post-harvest and processing aspects of food crops, alternative and emerging food and cash crops and natural resource management issues.
Currently he is with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture & Food Innovation, a leading research organisation within the UQ researching on food and nutrition issues.
Waramboi has vast experience in implementing research and development projects.
He has conducted research, training and outreach activities with farmers and organisations around PNG.
In 2005, he implemented a project funded by the Agriculture Innovations Grant Scheme (AIGS) of the Australian government and trained national and provincial agriculture staff on proper vanilla curing and quality management aspects in West Sepik, East Sepik and Milne Bay provinces.
Kaukau variety Beerwah Gold
Besides his input on rice production research, he implemented a project on evaluation of the eating qualities of rice varieties in several locations around PNG.
“Based on these studies, four rice varieties, namely NR1, NR9, NR15 and NR16 were released by NARI to the PNG farming community in May 2004,” Waramboi recalls.
“These varieties are now grown by farmers around the country.”
Waramboi has also worked on processing and value-addition of PNG staple foods like kaukau and taro by processing them into products like flour, chips, crisps and ice cream.
He has also done some product development work on coconut and fruit (pineapple, pawpaw, carambola) jam, peanut butter, roasted peanuts, imitation milk (peanut, soy bean) and starch extraction (cassava and sago). Some of these technologies have been tested with farmers, and all have the potential to be adopted and up-scaled by individuals or cottage industries in PNG.
Waramboi has the ability to put good project ideas and proposals for donor funding.
Some of his contributions have won major funding support from organisations like the Autralian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the public investment programme (PIP) of the PNG national government.
His profession has taken him abroad to several countries.
In 2002, he attended an international training course on seed storage and germplasm conservation in Beijing, China.
In 2007, he attended another course in Changchun, China on corn and starch processing technology looking at starch extraction, modification and processing into food and industrial products like plastics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cosmetics and textiles.
Later that year, he was part of the PNG government delegation to Malaysia on the sago commercialisation project for PNG.
Waramboi has published papers both locally and internationally.
Within NARI, he has published six Toktoks or extension leaflets on rice post-harvest technologies.
In 2003, he published a technical bulletin on the physico-chemical and eating qualities of rice.
In 2005, he published a paper in the Journal of Agriculture, Foresty and Fisheries with DAL followed by an article in the Rice Relay with Trukai Industries Ltd.
From his current PhD studies on kaukau, he has published several papers.
Kaukau variety Kestle
Early this year, he published a paper in the journal Food Chemistry, a high-impact journal of Elsevier Publishers, England.
He has submitted another paper on starch digestion in kaukau to Carbohydrate Polymers which should be available for public consumption by mid 2011.
In February this year, he also presented two papers at the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology conference in Brisbane.
In his current research, he has extensively studied 25 varieties of kaukau for their flour and starch properties, nutritional value, processing parameters (temperature, moisture, heat transfer etc), granule structure, pasting, gelatinisation, and digestibility behaviours of these varieties.
In the digestion studies, his research will be the first to develop an in-vitro (test tube) technique to model digestion behaviours in these varieties.
“The study is also the first to identify and report resistant starch (RS) in several PNG sweet potato varieties like L3 and L135 which are beneficial for human health.” Waramboi says.
“When sweet potato is consumed, the RS basically escapes digestion in the small intestine, and gets fermented into fatty acids in the colon (large intestine) to help reduce lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, which are now becoming so common in PNG.”
Waramboi is also researching into carotene (the yellow/orange pigments that give colour to fruits and vegetables) in kaukau.
“Carotenoids are pro-vitamins, and when converted in vitamin A, they have beneficial health effects like prevention of night blindness” he explains.
“In Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded several projects to promote coloured flesh sweet potato varieties in schools and villages, and similar projects can be done in PNG to promote coloured flesh sweet potato, for example, kerot, for their natural goodness and health properties.”
He has also successfully developed extruded snack foods from flours of white and orange fleshed varieties using extrusion processing technology.
“This research has enabled me to optimise process control parameters like moisture contents, screw speed, temperature, heat flow and expansion properties to get high quality and ready-to-eat snack foods from sweet potato,” Waramboi adds.
“Low-cost extrusion technologies are available, and can be introduced to villages in PNG.
“My research is also looking at nutrient retention in processed products because some nutrients like protein, minerals and carotene can be lost during processing, especially at high temperatures.”
Waramboi continues to work hard, and is satisfied, both personally and professionally with his achievements and contributions to PNG.
He would like to see more young people making a career in science because most countries now are prospering through innovations and interventions and science and technology.
Waramboi was born on Feb 5, 1974, to illiterate and subsistence parents from Paparom village, Kubalia, East Sepik.
He did his grades one to six from 1982-1987 at Sassoya Primary School, grades seven to 10 from 1988-1991 at Brandi High School in East Sepik Province, and grades 11 to 12 at Aiyura National High School in Eastern Highlands from 1992-1993.
From 1994-1997, Waramboi studied for his bachelor of science degree at Unitech.
After graduation, he was employed as a trainee manager with Andersons Foodland, eventually managing its wholesale department.
He resigned in October 1999.
In February 2000, he joined the first batch of NARI cadet scientists and eventually became a permanent staff in late 2002 with the institute.
From 2003-2004 he did his masters degree in England and in 2009, started his PhD in Australia.
Interested persons can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org