From Pilot to Program – the Journey of Isidor

Author: Meg Kauthen, Sustainability Designer

Agriculture runs deep inside Isidor’s veins. With both parents being smallholder farmers, he understands the struggles and joys of working the land to make a living. Isidor grew up in Feni Island off New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Isidor shared his table with eight siblings, and despite some ups and downs, his parents always provided – everyone received a good education to choose their own journey in life. He advises with a smile “I love agriculture. Working the land and growing food is a big joy for me.”

Business for Development’s Community Piggery Enterprise (CPE) program in Hela Province, PNG. His experience in piggery production started at his own family farm and brought him to work at Alstonia Farm in 2012, near Port Moresby. In 2013, he started to work with the preeminent expert in pig production, Dr Ross Cutler who was piloting new systems to rear pigs for Business for Development. Here his eyes were opened to the potential power of adapting systems to drive sustainable outcomes for smallholder farmers in PNG.

He advises “I learnt so much from working with Ross. From pig breeding techniques, developing new feeds to drive efficiency in pig production, to developing local feeds so farmers did not have to rely on expensive imports from other areas of PNG.” Isidor’s expertise in integrated farm management and love of learning meant he joined the Business for Development team in Hela in 2019 to take the pilot from Astonia into Hela.

As all good development experts know, taking a pilot and moving it to a program can be a totally different ball game. Isidor shares “it takes time to build trust with communities. You must realise I am from a coastal town in New Ireland Province. My culture is very different from the people in Hela who live in a mountainous region. We had to work hard to build their trust with 13 communities that the new approaches to growing kaukau (sweet potato) will yield better results.”

The other key challenge was literacy. About 58% of the Hela population have no education, resulting in very low illiteracy rate of about 63.5%. This was further compounded by many community members not being able to speak Tok Pisin (the national language of PNG). Isidor shares “when we realised the high illiteracy rate and not being able to speak Tok Pisiin in the community, the team engaged a few locals to work with us during the community awareness campaign to effectively translate the key messages into their own language. This meant greater inclusion as the entire community could understand the purpose of engaging them in the program. Plus, with the community being naturally skillful in agronomy, and through proving adaption in practices benefiting them and their family, along with the cultural and language divide being addressed, trust is being built. In our experience, change happens at the speed of trust.”

There were other key challenges including COVID, land negotiations, logistics, social instability, and over course the heavy rains! Despite these barriers, the CPE program progresses while the team gain learnings. “Well for me the key learning includes knowing the model farmers are key to implementing programs over vast geographies. Setting up group leaders in each model farm so they can take the lead in their model farms, gather the farmers to work at certain assigned days of every week, hold their own meetings, etc. As a result, over time we develop a train the trainer program. This system is in place and has worked very well between our model farmers, the community and the Business for Development team, especially in a COVID world.” This year the team trained via the model farmers how to grow sweet potato, cassava and legumes – which can all be sold to go into the pig food, be consumed or sold to the market. This provides much needed income to pay for health, education and to support the family.

Now in phase two and three the CPE program has developed the local pig feed and is about to build the pig houses and introduce healthy sows to the program to breed piglets. It’s an exciting phase, and the PNG team is looking to impact hundreds of farmers and their families the coming year. Isidor informs “these people are some still living below the poverty average in PNG. They struggle to make a livelihood from agriculture and get themselves out of the cycle of poverty. Their land and labour are the only assets they have. This program offers them so much hope on how to improve the way they farm so they can make a living. This is especially for the women who want to use agriculture to support their children to have better lives.”

Isidor advises that when visiting the villages “You can really feel the joy and excitement in the community. They are growing their own crops successfully, seeing the results and being very proud of what they as a community have achieved. The farmers are earning income which means they can meet their day-to-day needs. It’s transforming their lives.”

The PNG team, led by Noel Kuman, has achieved so much in 2020-2021. It truly has transformed the lives of many people in Hela. When the CPE model achieves success in Hela, it will be introduced to communities across PNG, positively impacting thousands more people.

We would like to thank Wonderland Agristock Limited and Oil Search Ltd for their ongoing support of this transformational program.


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