The CYC-Net Press CYC-Online




Agriculture skills training provides hope for the hopeless, disadvantaged and destitute children of Port Moresby

Garry Sali

In July this year, while I was on a duty travel to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital, I visited a young boys’ agriculture farm located about 5 kilometres outside the city. The farm, which is run and administered by an NGO — Port Moresby City Mission (POMCM) — takes poor and disadvantaged male youths between 15-25 years of age from the streets and settlements in Port Moresby and provides them with food, shelter and agriculture skills training at the farm for six months before they graduate.

The signpost that reads ‘Port Moresby City Mission New Life Farm’ stands at the side of the main Kwikila-Rigo road.

To be eligible for this agriculture skills training, the youths must have some basic literacy and numeracy, and have no family and other means of income and support. Many of these youths are either known criminals or are potentially at risk of getting involved in criminal and other deviant activities. These young people are either orphaned or their parents have neglected them and are poor and live in destitute situations. Hence, they are unable to continue their education in the formal system. The Port Moresby City Mission, therefore, through this agriculture skills training, attempts to empower the deprived youths so that they can realise their potentials and abilities in the hope that one day they can become useful members of their communities.

At the time of the visit, the farm was providing training on food crops — rice, corn, root crops, fruit crops, and vegetables, along with animal farming — rabbits and poultry. The youths are given the freedom to choose either food crops or animal farming according to their own interests. Let us look closely at these trainings. In December 2000, representatives from the Taiwanese Government visited the farm and offered to teach the boys how to grow rice. The POMCM immediately accepted the offer and five hectares of food crops were planted by the first week in January the following year.

Rice farming

Today, rice planting and harvesting is an important component of the POMCM’s agriculture program. The Taiwanese team of trainers ran short training sessions on soil selection and preparation, grain preparation and planting, looking after the rice field, harvesting, storage, self consumption and selling. After each session, most importantly, the trainees went through each phase practically by actually doing it thermselves. The rice, though produced in a small quantity, is distributed widely and consumed within the POMCM circles in the National Capital District (NCD). Like rice, corn demands a great deal of knowledge about soil preparation, planting, looking after, harvesting, storage, self consumption and selling. Recently, the farm management has recruited an expert on food production, who does the teaching on how to grow and harvest corn and crops. Under the close supervision of this expert, the youths are well trained on corn production. While much of the harvests are consumed at the farm site, some of them are sold in the markets.

The root crops that are grown in this farm are: potato, taro, and cassava. From time to time, representatives from the PNG Department of Agriculture and Livestock offer short courses and perform demonstrations on various aspects of soil preparation, planting and harvesting of these root crops. The youths do enjoy this teaching and useful demonstrations.

Young trainees working on the farm

As part of the learning process, the youths voluntarily take some time to visit nearby villages and learn how the local people grow sweet potato, taro, and cassava. These fieldwork experiences are usually discussed with farm trainers to improve their knowledge and skills in root crops production. The fruit crops mango, pawpaw, watermelon, cucumber, and pineapple are grown at the farm. Both the representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock and the farm’s food crop expert jointly provide complementary training. The youths get useful knowledge and skills on how to grow, harvest, store and market these fruit crops. After harvesting, it is important for the students to take good care of these products because it can damage very easily. This produce is not only consumed by the youths and officials at the farm site but also sold at the markets in NCD. The income received through selling these fruits is used for purchasing seedlings, garden equipment, and other important gardening materials.

The vegetable farming includes carrots, cabbages, lettuces, beans, pumpkins, egg plants and other similar small crops. Through careful teaching over the years, both in theory and practice, the farm has successfully imparted proper knowledge and skills to the youths who have gone through the program. I was reliably informed by youths and officials of the success stories of the farm’s ability to train the youths in vegetable growing.

A young boy cleaning the bean garden

The farm expert has moulded and shaped the youths’ understanding, knowledge and technique from soil preparation to harvesting and selling. Also, young trainees have, in fact, taken field visits to a number of other farms, like one run by Adventist University outside Port Moresby. The vegetables are produced both for market and own consumption purposes. The farm’s livestock production activities are limited to rabbit and poultry. The farm has potential for pig, cattle, and possibly crocodile farming, but at present does not have the capacity to open up these projects. The site, nevertheless, is always looking for opportunities to diversify its livestock farming activities. Hence, as soon as an opening becomes available, funding in particular, the farm is ready to grab the opportunity. Rabbit (a small burrowing animal of the hare family with long ears and a short furry tail) was introduced to the farm quite recently. There were over 20 rabbits at the time of the field visit. They are kept in a carefully constructed house designed specifically for the comfort of this type of animal. The boys at the farm learn the skills and techniques of looking after the rabbits, which are fed mainly on bananas and green leaves.

A young boy holding a mother rabbit

While the flesh is used as meat, the skin with its soft fur or its fur alone are highly valued and prized by the local community for varieties of cultural activities. Poultry, a small-scale farming activity that serves the training needs of the farm youths, is restricted to ducks and chickens. They are kept in separate rooms in the same house and are carefully looked after by a selected group of youths. As part of their training program, which is normally internally provided by the farm officials, the youths are directed to provide the ducks and chickens with water and feed, and make sure that the rooms are kept dry each day. Although these birds fluctuate in numbers, it was observed during the field visit that there were 30 ducks and 40 chickens altogether. In conclusion, I was told by the farm management that, although they don’t have a proper monitoring system to monitor all their graduates, there are success stories of some of their former students, who have gone into farming businesses with the assistance of their local politicians, government officials and NGOs.

When I walk through the streets of Lae, Morobe Province, and observe so many poor street children begging for money, I wonder what the future holds for them. If only they could be given a meaningful opportunity with the combined efforts of NGOs, government officials and politicians, we could empower poor children and youths to realise their real potentials and abilities. The Port Moresby City Mission deserves credit for its effort in giving hopeless and destitute children a second chance in life.