Identifying the opportunities and constraints on rural women’s engagement in small-scale agricultural enterprises in PNG

By Gina Koczberski

The Pacific Livelihoods Research group has recently completed a four-year study, titled: “Identifying the opportunities and constraints on rural women’s engagement in small-scale agricultural enterprises in PNG”.  The project examined the factors shaping rural women’s participation in small-scale agricultural enterprises. 

The project was a collaborative project involving several PNG institutions including the Oil Palm Research Association (OPRA), Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC), Cocoa Board (previously the Cocoa and Coconut Institute), PNG University of Technology, and CARE International in PNG. 

The fieldwork was carried out amongst private and public sector organisations and communities in rural and some peri-urban areas, and at local and urban markets, across seven provinces.  The fieldsites included:

  • Eastern Highlands Province (EHP): Coffee growing areas, particularly the Bena and Asaro areas near Goroka.
  • West New Britain Province (WNB): Oil palm growing areas around Hoskins and Bialla.
  • East New Britain Province (ENB): On the Gazelle Peninsula and Bainings area.
  • Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB): In the Arawa, Tinputz and Buka Districts
  • Western Highlands Province (WHP): Mt Hagen.
  • Morobe Province: Lae
  • National Capital District: Port Moresby

The study focussed on four main areas:

1. Rural women’s transition into small and medium enterprises: Despite a number of reports on SMEs in PNG, there has been very limited detailed research on how women, particularly rural women, have made the transition to managing their own small-micro rural enterprise. The literature has also often focused on formal enterprises, with insufficient attention given to the informal economic activities of rural women. We interviewed 115 women operating small-micro enterprises to identify the pathways that facilitated their move into establishing and operating a business and to understand the key enabling and constraining factors underlying their business success.

2. Changes in marketplaces in PNG: Marketplaces provide an important source of income for women. Presently the nature of marketplaces is changing, with the most significant development being the increasing prominence of intermediary trading (reselling), both by larger wholesale traders and by small marketplace vendors. To gain a more detailed understanding of the changing structure and dynamics of marketing, and its implications for women, we drew together previous research in this area and conducted interviews with marketplace producers, small-scale resellers and wholesale traders.

3. Women in the agribusiness value chain: Despite the significant involvement of women in export commodity crop production in PNG, their role has largely been ignored in agricultural extension and rural development projects, generally. In this component of the study, we assessed gender-targeted extension policies and programs in the cocoa, oil palm and coffee sectors. In particular, we sought to identify what opportunities exist for women to become more engaged in commercial agribusiness and the impacts and outcomes of initiatives that have aimed to improve the situation of women. 

4. Piloting village savings and loans groups for women. One factor that has been shown to assist rural women to establish or expand their small-micro enterprises is access to financial services.  In 2018, the project team worked with CARE International in PNG to establish a pilot Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in two communities in the Eastern Highlands. The pilot involved CARE International in PNG as implementers, and project researchers interviewing and holding focus group meetings with members of the savings groups to evaluate its impact. The number of VSLA groups has expanded in the project sites and are now well embedded in the communities.

Details of the research methods and main findings of the project can be found in the Final Report for the project.

Publications emerging from the research

Hamago, M. R. (2021). Experiences of Female Agricultural Extension Officers in Papua New Guinea. A study of the coffee, cocoa and oil palm sectors.  Pacific Livelihoods Research Group, Curtin University, Perth.

Sharp, T.L.M. (2021). Intermediary trading and the transformation of marketplaces in Papua New Guinea. Journal of Agrarian Change. DOI: 10.1111/joac.12407

Ceridwen Spark, Timothy L. M. Sharp & Gina Koczberski (2021) Relationality and Economic Empowerment: The Role of Men in Supporting and Undermining Women’s Pathways, The Journal of Development Studies, 57:7, 1138-1153, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2020.1850697

Koczberski, G., Sharp, T., Wesley, J., & Ryan, S. (2019). Identifying Opportunities and Constraints for Rural Women’s Engagement in Small-Scale Agricultural Enterprises in Papua New Guinea. 2018 Village Savings and Loan Associations, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea: Preliminary Report. Unpublished report, Curtin University.

Harris, S. (2017). Moralising Money: The Dilemma of Saving in Papua New Guinea. (Honours’ thesis), Curtin University Perth.

Busse, M. & Sharp, T.L.M. (2019). Marketplaces and Morality in Papua New Guinea: Place, Personhood and Exchange. Oceania 89(2), 126-153.

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.

Hamago, M. (2019). The role and impact of female extension officers on the participation of women in export crop production in Papua New Guinea. (Masters’ thesis). Curtin University

Sengere, R.W., Curry, G.N. & Koczberski, G. (2019). Forging Alliances: coffee grower and chain leader partnerships to improve productivity and coffee quality. Asia Pacific Viewpoint. doi:10.1111/apv.12222.

Sharp, T.L.M. & Busse, M. (2019). Cash crops and markets. In: Hirsch, E., and Rollason, W. (eds) The Melanesian World. Abindon: Routledge, (pp 194-222).

Sharp, T.L.M. (2019). Haggling Highlanders: Marketplaces, Middlemen and Moral Economy in the Papua New Guinean Betel Nut Trade. Oceania 89(2), 182-204.