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MANILA, Pilippines (PINA Nius Online) - How many people would be willing to dig irrigation canals and weed plantations without pay? In the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, many seem willing to invest in their future in this way.

Each day, 30 men and women from the province tend a 39-hectare coffee plantation in the Daulo District in the Eastern Highlands. The plantation is about 30 minutes away over rugged roads from Goroka, which is famous for its organic coffee.

When their own rituals of work are done, they walk up the mountain to meet David Oromarie, who is teaching them new, more efficient techniques for producing coffee.

Oromarie is one of the service providers who has been contracted to help farmers in the Eastern Highlands and Morobe provinces increase their productivity and income. He is doing so under the US$7.6 million Smallholder Support Services Pilot Project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The project is expanding and refining an innovative scheme in contracting out agriculture support services in two of the country¹s most populous provinces in light of rising demand for food from a growing population and increasing exports.

It is shifting the role of government agriculture agencies from providing services to managing service providers. A support services contract facility is also being established and agricultural staff is being trained, from the local to national levels, on this new scheme.

About a year ago, 50 coffee growers were organized to form Sihireni Coffee Ltd. The group now owns 4,974 coffee trees. A tree can produce about 5 kilos of coffee beans per year, earning 20 kina (US$6).

"We are part of this company. We belong here, and we want to see the plantation take off," says one of the workers.

Abandoned by its previous owners because of labor problems, Mr Oromarie bought the plantation for US$8,824. He gave up his job to organize the group of Sihireni coffee growers.

"I have a personal interest in using my knowledge to help my community and improve the standard of living," he says.

Oromarie is confident that the growers can produce 40 tons of premium coffee annually. Saying the coffee business is in his fingertips, he cites his experience: operations manager in the Bilate Coffee Estates for

years and training by the Coffee Industry Co. in culture and marketing.

Mr Oromarie believes that 10 years from now his community will live more comfortably through hard work and commitment.

In the village of Kabiufa in the Eastern Highlands, 40 vegetable farmers exude the same enthusiasm as the Sihireni coffee growers. Service provider Jack Atopare, who is from Kabiufa, is responsible for the heightened interest in harvesting more cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, and other vegetables.

"I¹m happy to share my skills," says Mr. Atopare as he shows the community’s greenhouse, seedling nursery, composting area, and vegetable demonstration garden.

The division acknowledges the value of service providers to reach out to farmers. These specialists can either be an individual or a group, such as a nongovernment organization or farmers’ group.

"Before, DAL officers merely sat behind desks and assumed the problems of farmers," according to Repy Mopafi, Division of Agriculture and Livestock Principal Project Officer in Goroka District. Now, officers help the community members identify their needs, and supervise and monitor the work of service providers.

Through a participatory rural appraisal and planning exercise, community members decide which agriculture projects they will pursue. Because most of the farmers are illiterate, visual aids‹such as crude drawings of farm tools and inputs‹are used in producing an action plan. A competent service provider is then engaged.

With the guidance of Mr Atopare, the Kabiufa vegetable growers have increased their productivity by 70%, with each farmer earning about

560 kina ($1018) a cropping season growing strawberries, cabbage, and broccoli. More income means more money to buy seeds and fertilizer, and the basics such as clothes‹instead of grass skirts. Children can go to school, and they can build permanent housing.

Although the village is self-contained, it is far from being without basic needs, such as drinking water and electricity. ³We want more access to services,² says Jim Takis, a mother of three. Without access to water and electricity, the community members cannot add value to their produce by getting into the food processing industry.

* Market system needs to be established

But there are other issues that need to be addressed aside from the lack of water and electricity. Amarnath Hinduja, Senior Project Specialist, Asian Development Bank Pacific Department, urges both coffee and vegetable growers to take advantage of the Project and try to look into ways to market their products.

³There must be a system to sustain the benefits from the Project when it has ended or when the service providers are no longer around. Using the knowledge gained, the level of production must go beyond subsistence needs. A system to market this excess must be introduced,² Mr. Hinduja stresses.

Among the proposals is to form a cooperative and contract a group to market the products, enabling farmers to have more time to work on their farms.

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