The influence of socio-economic factors in farm investment decisions and labour mobilisation in smallholder coffee production in Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea – Student Series – #4 Susan May Inu

In this series we will posing a number of questions to our past students about their research projects.

Susan May Inu works with the Market Development Facility (MDF) as a Business Adviser. Her main focus is agribusiness; coffee, cocoa, vanilla, honey and livestock. MDF are constantly in communication with ACIAR and other agriculture institutions such as NARI, CCI, FPDA, CIC, DAL, Fairtrade and farmer groups.

For more information see link

Susan completed her Masters by Research in Philosophy at Curtin University in 2015. The title of her dissertation is The influence of socio-economic factors in farm investment decisions and labour mobilisation in smallholder coffee production in Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea.

1) WHAT WERE THE MAIN FINDINGS OF YOUR THESIS?

Landownership

The introduction of coffee in my field sites of Sogomi and Safanaga villages altered customary values relating to land ownership. Traditional land ownership and management were modified to accommodate the new perennial crop of coffee and as socio-economic change occurred to facilitate production. This transition continues as subsistence food production gives way to more permanent farming systems as a result of socio-economic change and population growth. These changes reflect what is happening in rural coffee households with high market accessibility. However, because coffee is a perennial crop it exacerbated population pressure which led to land tenure becoming more individualistic.

Labour in coffee production

Coffee farming also changed the rules governing the mobilisation and payment of labour. Although traditional values are still practised and recognised, monetary value has replaced a lot of traditional values. However, most monetary transactions that are being used to substitute for traditional values are not always commensurate with the market values of cash exchange, suggesting a hybridisation of the local village economy. In this hybridisation of the village economy, market and social arrangements are mixed to create an alternate form of exchange for the mobilisation of resources like labour.

Land and labour allocation production of temporary crops with growing demand.

  • Pineapple

Large-scale commercial production of pineapples is occurring in the two study sites. This has resulted from a high degree of market accessibility, a growing domestic demand for pineapples, changes in land tenure and relations of production that facilitate commercial vegetable and fruit production. Pineapples are seen as a temporary crop, unlike coffee. This allows farmers to easily switch land use after three to four years of pineapple production. It also means that it is easier for women to access land for temporary production of pineapples than it is for long-term coffee production. Therefore, many women have less restricted user rights to land for the commercial production of pineapples. Thus, more flexible access to land encourages greater participation by women in cash crop production, compared with coffee. Decision-making regarding resource allocation in pineapple production is independently made by both men and women, unlike coffee production.

  • Broccoli production

Land for broccoli production is used for a much shorter period than for pineapple. Broccoli is ready to harvest 12 weeks after planting and, generally, there are few problems in accessing land for such short periods. Most broccoli production is undertaken by women, unlike pineapple which involves both men and women.

Broccoli production is a successful example of household livelihood diversification. Broccoli can be cultivated all year around and, therefore, can be produced when labour demands are low for other crops like coffee and pineapple. Women can then develop labour allocation strategies that provide a stream of income throughout the year. Labour demand for broccoli can be managed so as not to conflict with the pineapple season during festive and other peak demand periods. Households can vary the quantity and timing of production of broccoli according to anticipated yield outputs of coffee and pineapples. This gives families, particularly women, greater control over their labour.

Gender and coffee production As mentioned above, female rights to independently access land are limited within coffee farming, although they are actively involved in its production. Most of the time, they provide the much-needed labour for harvesting but are often not compensated adequately or fairly. Women typically spend their share of income on household needs and rarely on their own individual needs. The perennial nature of coffee trees reinforces a male-dominated culture that sustains inequality and acts as a disincentive for women to produce coffee. However, given the high degree of accessibility to markets, women have more incentive to produce other crops for income that give them more control over their labour and income than coffee does, thereby fulfilling their desire to be compensated fairly.

2) WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT CONSTRAIN THE ABILITY OF THE PARTICIPANTS OF YOUR RESEARCH TO PURSUE SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS?
  • Access to knowledge of how to farm certain crops.
  • Access to funds to start up small projects.
  • Land access, the area where my research was conducted is experiencing population pressure. There were some cases of selling and buying of land among villagers to expand pineapple and vegetable gardens.
3) WHAT ARE FACTORS THAT ENHANCE THE ABILITY OF THE PARTICIPANTS OF YOUR RESEARCH TO PURSUE SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS?
  • Access to knowledge. Farmers are keen learners and access to information is one factor that can help them.
  • Access to funds or small amounts of capital.
  • Flexibility of land usage, as in allowing temporary access to villagers interested in growing fruits and vegetables for market.
4) WHY IS YOUR THESIS RESEARCH IMPORTANT?

The trends highlighted in my thesis are important because:

  • They show how commercialisation of fresh produce and fruits is an alternative commercial activity to coffee farming which is growing in prominence in the highlands where market access is good.  
  • As reported in this study there were 14 exporters in 2015 whilst today there are 22. Therefore, there is increasing competition for same volume of coffee being produced annually, approximately 700,000 to 1,000,000 green bean bags. This creates new challenges and opportunities for the industry.  However, near town where market access is easy, farmers are switching to more lucrative vegetable and fruit production leading exporters to increasingly focus their investments in remote areas with an increased emphasis on quality for premium grade coffee.  They are doing so for two reasons:
    • better loyalty from farmers with more consistent supply (farmers will not shift between crops and buyers).
    • farmers will concentrate household resources such as land and labour in coffee farming.

Since completing my studies in 2015, there has been serious private sector investment in fresh produce and fruit markets. NKW Fresh Limited, Tiniga Supermarket, Innovative Agro Industry, National Catering Services are some of the private business buying fresh produce and fruits from farmers and investing in extension and cold chain facilities. Although the formal fresh produce market is still fragmented, thriving urban demand is driving a growing market in fresh produce from rural areas to urban markets as far away as Port Moresby.

5) ARE THERE POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR RESEARCH?

The research was to provide information for PNG Coffee Industry to help it more effectively serve smallholder coffee farmers.  Some policy recommendations include:

  • CIC Extension services should focus resources in remote areas where farmers remain committed to coffee production.
  • In areas with good market access, CIC Extension should adopt more farm integrated approaches to complement rather than compete with coffee (e.g. Coffee and honey or coffee with citrus).

There should be policies that provide incentives for innovative farmers (e.g. support innovative farmers by providing access to capital or scholarships for them or their children to enrol in either agricultural or technical institutions to enhance their skills). This will not only promote the role of the model farmer but help them to contribute meaningful solutions to challenges such as population growth, climate change, and conflict resolution (tribal fights).

6) PLEASE LIST ANY RESEARCH ORGANISATIONS YOUR WORK HAS BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH

Market Development Facility (MDF).

National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI).

Cocoa Coconut Research Institute (Now CB).

PNG Coffee Industry Corporation Limited (CIC).

REFERENCES

Curry, G.N., Koczberski, G., & Inu, S.M. (2019). Women’s and Men’s Work: the Production and Marketing of Fresh Food and Export Crops in Papua New Guinea. Oceania 89(2), 237-254.

Inu, S. M. (2015). The influence of socio-economic factors in farm investment decisions and labour mobilisation in smallholder coffee production in Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea (Masters’ thesis). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11937/1938

Photo credit: Susan May Inu

Susan received financial support for her research from the Australian Centre of International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) through the John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) Programme. Her research was associated with the ACIAR funded project  https://pacificlivelihoods.com/improving-livelihoods-through-coffee-based-farming-systems.