Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Past 20 years Approach to Solution; Political Campaign Attitude in Manus Province

Talking big and cash handouts comes election time somehow compels elected leaders to entice voters from the village level. This has seem to be the norm for the past 20 years.

A research of the tangible development happening on the ground will result in many unfulfilled book-report type mission statements, development plans, etc…Fine, but many of these development plans assumed that the ability to point out a problem somehow embues one with the ability to solve it. Reading up on rugby does not mean that you can play the game....or play it well....or play it well enough to win.....or play it well enough to win at a high level. Most past elected leaders of Manus that have tried to address development aspirations of the province simply do not play the game at all.

After 15 years on the job, 3x 5 year development plans have gone thru over millions of Kina without playing the game well enough to be tangible anywhere. In fact, this track record of our successive government has not exceeded the gains of small privately funded local projects/entrepreneurs in the province for the last 20 years

Successive leaders claimed to have the qualifications and the experience to treat the cancer in the province; the heavy handed, unsustainable five year development plans, methodologies and government support and subsidy of them.

Instead they set about redefining the core problems in their own imagination.....and proposed treating peripheral issues, alternative issues, issues en vogue, and side issues that more conveniently fit their own inexperience and association. The development ills of the province, initially against them....became de-facto [albeit] passive government support as they realized their “non- viable and un-implementable" vision" would never amount to anything.

Supporting that which will never be.... is cheap, easy and allows one to claim knowledge of what is really needed in the Province". Letting the development aspirations of the province off the hook with this get out of jail free card, the elected leaders in question were kinda certified as players...and were granted funding from the government which became a gravy train which fed off a momentum without deeds but cash handouts at the end of their term. As elected leaders seldom leave offices, development plans are taken as fact and funding continued with poor implemented strategies.

Staff supported them as condition for employment regardless of personal belief and inside whistle blowers were kept out to allow the unrealistic strategies to push forward without the wake-up calls.
Most of their advisors were "service guys" happy to sign on for "validation by association and inclusion in something important" A second tier signed on for that plus....perks, plane-rides, per diem and salaries.

This non-involved, in-experienced, cult based gravy train became the "auto-pilot go-to answer "on the eve of election campaign and the rest is a lack of productive history. This type of mentality, stake-holder, lose-lose situation de-railed the chances for real development reform in the 90's which have not reformed as of today….

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Seaweed farmers of Kimuta island, Misima, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

Just recently, we went on a trip to Misima Island in the Milne Bay Province. The purpose of our visit there was to see the seaweed farmers of Kumuta and Bagaman islands because they were having problems with their seaweed farms. For some unknown reasons, seaweed seedling form those areas are not growing outward but inward with bulbing at the tip.

Inward growth of seaweed seedling on the frame lines at Kimuta island, Misima, Milne Bay Province. Papua New Guinea

Due to shorter timing of our visit and delay in accessing resources, we only mange to visit Kumuta. It was rather unfortunate we could not got to Bagaman, Brooker, Motorina, Paneati and others in the "Deboyne and Clavados Chain". Despite this, we manage to see a litle to know that the basic fundamentals of seaweed farming wasn't there in those communities. At Kimuta, the farmers are not paying close attention to their farms albeit, height of interest in the community. There were evidences of algal growth on frame lines, indicating lack of timely maintenance. This could be because seaweed farming is new to them however, from our observation, this problem is almost benign and there appears a greater lack of technical advice and ‘show how’ by seaweed aquaculture officers towards the farmers in the Province. The farmers there are very pragmatic-learning by seeing and should they been guided well in the beginning, they surely will have developed that trait. Speaking to the farmers, we get the impression that there is inadequate technical training and support to the farmers. The farmers admitted to briefly being provided hands on training however, closer support for and greater guidance during actual planting and implementation wasn’t there. This highlights a very important need for greater extension work and closer coordination by seaweed aquaculture officers from both within the province and NFA in working with the farmers.

The bigger problem very noticeable out there is that farmers are placing their farms against the current (flowing water) instead of running it in parallel, thereby allowing greater movement and force exerted on the seaweed lines consequently affecting growth. The method employed is also not suited for current areas, as the frame lines are placed criss-crossed, like long line rafts, providing yet greater surface area of exposure to the currents, adding more pressure on the overall farming infrastructure. Additionally, the loop material used for “tie tie” (called macramé) is not suited for current areas as it tangles a lot and even worse, it gets weaker and breaks off easily. Not really good when the seedlings grow bigger. We even notice the tying of ‘tie tie’ to the frame lines are not done properly as the farmers just spin and do a slip knot of the ‘tie tie’ with the seedling attaché onto the main frame line and that is it- Leave it to the sea and the faith of having it intact throughout growth.

In the long term, such method/practise could become costly, with the unnecessary use of rope infrastructure providing greater surface area of exposure to currents and that which could become broken, tangled, and lost to the ocean by current? Having more materials in the sea would mean more effort in maintenance and costs of material.

The second bigger problem however, is that most farmers are planting inadequate seedling sizes. This we don’t suppose is due to lack of availability of seedlings but rather blame it on inadequate knowledge of the required stocking size for the specie. Kappaphycus or Euchema cottoni requires about a 100g or more of seeding size for better health and growth. Anything less than that would only act to prolong maturity, subsequently affecting harvests. In addition, making too many cuts on a tiny seedling only renders it prone to diseases and can attract growth distortions from various factors in the environment acting on the farms.

Thirdly, and that which is quite visible too is that farming infrastructures of ropes, lines, and stakes are not intact but loosely held together which is not very helpful in high current areas such as Kimuta.  While the current is good for natural maintenance and greater growth of seaweed, it would not help if you have loosely held infrastructure in the water as this will only aid and abide the force of currents acting on the farms-providing yet more movement to the seedlings. It is very important to have the frame lines and ropes tightly intact with greater anchorage at the bottom. 

It was also observed that several farms on the island have developed growth distortions to the crops. The seedlings are growing inward instead of spreading out. Speaking to the locals,we can confidently assert however, that seedling brought in to Kumuta were taken from an infected pool of seaweed from other islands which have already developed bulbing tips, and that  which are only now recirculated-, cut, farmed and transferred for further extension. Distribution of such seedlings would continue the problem if not removed.  It would be better to kill all those infected seedlings and re-introduce better quality seedlings for farming. We also noticed greater growth of some seedlings on a few of those farms on the island that are doing really well without any sign of infection and this could be used- be cut and distributed to other farmers on the island.

In terms of environment, and from our pre-assessment of the site, we must admit, Kimuta has some very impressive lagoon and habitat highly favorable for seaweed farming. The vast sandy channel and water quality and depth at this island is very promising for the prospect of commercial scale mariculture. The fact that seaweed has grown on the island is a confirmation of the environment, however, getting the basics right from the start is still a challenge. More importantly, having knowledge of the locational and meteorological characteristics of the site of farming is vital as this would be the baseline to inform a whole lot of other farming aspect. For example, determining what method employable, including the practise, handling, and greater maintenance of the farms - all of which will depend on the farmers’ greater understanding of the environmental and climatic/weather conditions of the site.

Overall, getting the basics right- in terms of the practice and technical aspect of seaweed farming dealing with the environment and climatic conditions should form the basis for further capacity building at the local scale. This is important as future interests and viability will depend on how much of the information is available to the general populace.  An immediate objective would be for fisheries officers to conduct more extension and collaborate closely with the farmers so that important knowledge and skills are imparted to the farmers in developing their capacity at the farming level. 

Seaweed has proven to be a promising source of income to the islanders since it started. Several exports have been done and farming has continued. The operation just needs to be revisited with emphasis to put on production of volume and sourcing market. For logistics wise,  Milne Bay, unlike other provinces, there are regular transport of cargos and goods by small ships to outer stations such as Misima and others, which the seaweed project could utilise in terms of providing the back load on returning to Alotau. Speaking to local shop owners at Misima, ships comes in 3 times in a week to unload cargo, however, there is no back load for the ships returning to Alotau. If any at all, the ships would be ferrying passengers and empty fuel drums on their return lag most of time.  This is a very good opportunity for seaweed farmers to utilise. There is also the option by airplane with PNG airlines landing their plane- few times a week, including that of charters out of Misima. 

In the end, we recommended to the Milne Bay Division of Fisheries and Marine Resource to take note of the following:

Solution working forward- in other words conducting survey of the environmental and physiographical characteristics at each site (islands) prior to establishing seaweed is a first step forward. An immediate objective would be for them to conduct an extension program to the islands already involved or are just beginning to engage in farming to ensure farming is done correctly. Such programs should target building capacity at the local scale by way of conducting hands on training, handling, maintenance etc., with greater information awareness on environment and weather conditions that will affect farming.

Crop security- the current period where the buying has stopped and farmers losing interest is perhaps the most challenging period as this would not only affects farming effort but rather on the greater security of the crop in the water. the seaweed crop in culture is non-native to PNG and so it is highly susceptible to the slightest of the changes in the environment. Farmers neglecting their farms only lead to the crops out growing its vitality and die out. It will be expensive to re-introduce the crops among other challenges that might come up as a consequence.  The immediate future challenge for seaweed cultivation in the province (or country as a whole)  would involve establishment of ‘local’ breeding and production management centres to reduce the dependency on importation and the development of diagnostic technology to detect disease/nonindigenous pests together with pathway management, contingency planning and capacity building at both institutional and farm level, to manage an outbreak, or loss to natural disasters should one arise.

Change of buying practise- The practise in Alotau is such that the farmers are not given greater leverage but are beholden to the operator for the provision of seed stock and farming equipment, considerably reducing their price-negotiating power. In fact farmers are paid on wages and not by the volume they generate. This has proven to not work out thus far, and the current feud with the operator over purchases and price has dramatically affected the operation in Milne Bay. There should be an intervention by the provincial government and NFA to provide better financing schemes to the seaweed farmers to fund their capital investments, which would allow them more independence in their negotiations with the buyers.

Securing market and a genuine operator- Current purchases by seaweed operator in the province have slowed due to unknown reasons but one that we can only speculate as we did not get the opportunity to meet with them, In the meanwhile, the Provincial Government would do well to work with NFA to find alternative market and buyer for seaweed products not only for Milne bay but inconsideration of other provinces as well. A shadow language here in Milne bay is that the current buyer operates almost remotely in their own terms which, is not good for the growth of this industry. If a private partnership should be fostered, it should be one that shows some responsibility and obligation for the greater growth and development of this industry in the country and one way to do this is to tie them own in their licensing condition.  An immediate consideration would be to orchestrate a buying situation similar to Bougainville whereby the AGB government has established a business arm that buys seaweed and does the exports. In that way, the revenue generated is channelled back to growth of seaweed operation for the province.

Production of Volume- While major farms at Ware and other islands where seaweed farming initially started have gone down following their feud with the operator; this has not stopped many other outer islands to continue farming. In fact, a new wave of farming has occurred –this time the lousaide group of islands with many of the farms in their nursery stages. This could be an indication that the seaweed farming has had an impact and its success stories now spreading. While this is good for the growth of the industry and for volume, it should note however, that some of the newer sites going into seaweed farming are quite remote and logistically disadvantaged. The farmers need to consider costs involved, in terms of shipping before they can go into farming. Despite this  seaweed is here to stay and it needs the planners or mangers involved to be become proactive in their thinking. The way we see it, the atolls and outer islands of Milne Bay need to generate the volume in order for this venture to be economically feasible.  At the moment, they’re asking for market but there’s no volume… eventually, farmers effort must also be complimented with regular buying to keep the activities going and hence, the marketing component that also needs attention..