Thursday, January 27, 2011

How green is Port Moresby

Port Moresby’s looking so lush, green and verdant after all that rain over Christmas and New Year and is going to be like that for at least the next three months.

Lush, green vegetables
Vegetable gardens are sprouting up all over the city and its perimeters and markets are chock-a-block with green leafy vegetables, complemented by fresh fish and other seafood, wallaby, deer and bandicoot.
Last Saturday, I wandered through the popular Rainbow Market at Gerehu, marveling at the potpourri of vegetables and seafood on offer.
Fresh fish from the seas around Port Moresby to complement the vegetables
Food, glorious food, everywhere!
The next day, my elder son Jr and I took a refreshing early morning walk from Gerehu to Waigani, enjoying the greenery of vegetable gardens along the route, the industriousness of the many green thumbs, and of course the roadside market at Waigani.
A Central Province villager sells pineapples, watermelon, sugar cane, bananas  and coconuts at a roadside market at Waigani
“How green is Port Moresby,” I tell Jr.
“If only it could like this all year-round!”
All forms of gardening are rewarding and satisfying.
But vegetable gardening, largely because the gardener can be in charge of the whole operation from seed collection to consumption, is possibly the most-rewarding.
In addition, well-grown home-produced vegetables cannot be matched for flavour and nutritional value.
And with care, considerable savings – especially in a city like Port Moresby – in the family’s food budget are possible.

Corn, kaukau and other vegetables
Port Moresby, unlike a place like Goroka – where you can grow all types of succulent, mouth watering vegetables – has an arid year round climate.
This is apart from a brief respite during the December to March period, when the rain comes down in buckets and vegetables – especially corn – abounds all over the capital city.
This creates queues at many gardening shops in Port Moresby, such as major agricultural supplier Brian Bell.
As early as 7am, a long line of people gather in front of the Brian Bell Plaza at Boroko and buy their supplies of corn seeds.
I know this only too well, as for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to buy corn seeds at Brian Bell Boroko and Gordon, but alas, stocks were zilch because of the high demand.
During this period, corn gardens can be seen all over the city, including precarious hillsides.
Apart from corn, there are so many other vegetables you can grow including tomatoes, cucumber, beans, silver beet, pak choi (Chinese cabbage), cabbage, chillies, as well as local favorites such as aibika, aupa, peanuts, cassava and bananas.

Woman sorting out her cassava
 Regular watering (well, you don’t really need to, given the frequent rain) and home-made compost and mulch, and after about two months, you start to reap the fruits of your harvest: tubs of corn, tomatoes, cucumber silver beet, pak choi, chillies and other garden-fresh produce.
You can make a killing if you go to market; otherwise, this is strictly for family consumption.
Suffice to say, it can greatly reduce your food budget.
For your children, it can be a great way to teach them about gardening and agriculture, especially in an urban environment like Port Moresby.
For those who spend most of their time in the office, backyard gardening is a great way to relax after work as well as at weekends talking to your vegetables.
Try it: you’ll really reap what you sow!
According to authors Michael Bourke and Bryant in the highly-acclaimed 2010 publication Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea, “agriculture is the most-important activity carried out by the vast majority of Papua New Guineans”.
“For most people, agriculture fills their lives, physically, culturally, economically, socially and nutritionally.
“Yet agriculture is the most-undervalued and misunderstood part of PNG life.
“The reasons for this are partly because mineral and oil exports make PNG comparatively wealthy for a developing country; partly because agriculture is practiced in the countryside, away from towns, and is therefore largely ‘invisible’ to urban people and international visitors; and partly because agriculture is viewed as not being ‘modern’.”
Contrary to what many people think, the majority of fresh produce in Port Moresby is supplied by local sources, and does not come from the Highlands
This includes that from the many hillside gardens popping up everywhere, settlements and surrounding areas such as Laloki, Bomana and Sogeri.
The Fresh Produce Development Agency’s 2009 Feeding Port Moresby Study shows that Port Moresby supplies most of its fresh produce.
Other key findings were:
• The volume of fresh produce being supplied from the Highlands into Port Moresby appeared to be decreasing while supplies from Central Province and NCD are increasing;

• Increasing amounts of fresh produce marketed into Port Moresby were handled through middlemen, rather than by grower-vendors themselves and their wantok networks. However, some farmers still preferred to sell their produce themselves at the open market;

• The annual volume of fresh produce imported into Port Moresby in 2007 was estimated to be just under 7, 500 tonnes, comprising 2,500 tonnes from international air and sea arrivals; 3, 500 tonnes from domestic sea arrivals; and 1, 430 tonnes from domestic air arrivals;

• Fresh produce production in the peri-urban areas was approximately 8, 500 tonnes during the dry season from the six surveyed settlement areas, which translated into a total production of 50,000 tonnes per year from all settlements;

• Most fresh produce was sourced from Central province and the NCD and very little was sourced from overseas or the Highlands. The total supply of fresh produce to Port Moresby was estimated at 57, 780 tonnes, with 7, 430 tonnes (15%) coming from overseas and rest of PNG, and 50, 350 tonnes (85%) from peri-urban production;

• Annual demand for fresh produce in Port Moresby was estimated to be around 140, 500 tonnes;

• Shortfalls between estimated demand and supplies were significant in volume and likely to come from Central province and home gardens;

• Facilities in the six open markets in Port Moresby are of poor quality, with common complaints from the vendors being lack of shade; poor water and sanitation facilitation facilities; and the need for benches to better look after their produce during wet days;

• Temperate vegetables continue to be supplied from the Highlands, however, green leafy vegetables and perishable fruit vegetables were supplied from NCD. Hardier crops such as sweet potato, banana, taro and yams come from Central province;

• Buyers and re-sellers stated that graded products (even if only by appearance) sell better;

• Buyers tended to buy on short notice and formal supply arrangements were rare. Buyers prefer carton packaging for leafy vegetables and bags for sweet potato and potato, with some limit on size/weight; and

• Imported produce were only relied upon by retailers but not to wholesalers or hotels and restaurants except in the case of some fruit produce.

“The increase in peri-urban production has vastly improved Port Moresby’s capacity to feed itself,” according to the study.
“There are several reasons for the increase.
“Firstly, there is emigration of more-experienced and innovative farmers, especially from the Highlands, into Port Moresby.
“Secondly, horticultural techniques have vastly improved and the use of fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides has allowed huge increases in productivity.
“Finally, in recent years, weak PNG currency, which increases the price of imports, has also increased the demand for cheaper, locally-grown food and has helped to spur local production.
“Peri-urban producers have several advantages over their Highlands and rural counterparts in supplying the Port Moresby market.
“Firstly, peri-urban producers tend to be better informed and better linked to the market than farmers in the rural and more-remote areas.
“Seeds and other farm inputs are cheaper, fresher, of higher quality and more-accessible.
“Peri-urban producers are better equipped, as the cash flow from off-farm incomes enables purchase of agro-chemicals and better equipment.
“Proximity to the market and the city enables farmers to spot and respond to price signals.
“However, there are concerns over land tenure and food safety associated with the use of contaminated water and soil for food production.”
Happy gardening folks!

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