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Cover photo: Landowner Kelly Jim harvesting intercropping watermelons.

A farming technique developed in Brazil and known as ‘syntropic farming’ has been introduced in Papua New Guinea by PNG Biomass. It is a regenerative agricultural cropping method that aims use forest concepts in food production to have plants work symbiotically and grow in abundance.

Known locally as ‘intercropping’ this farming technique is the practice of growing fruits and vegetables on tree plantations in between rows of trees. PNG Biomass conducted its first intercropping trials on its eucalypt plantations in the Markham Valley in 2012 with melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, rice, cassava, yam, peanuts and other food crops.

After highly successful intercropping trials the practice was soon adopted by many communities. Across the Markham Valley they are now increasing food supply for markets and creating additional value and income streams.

The introduction of intercropping by PNG Biomass is a core tenet of its community participation and development approach. The renewable energy company sees an inclusive economic growth model that empowers local communities as central to its mission to power PNG with domestic low-emission renewable energy. Project director Michael Henson, an international forester with over 25 years’ experience, explains that intercropping is a smart way to farm and improve food security, engage and empower women, and drive higher incomes.

“For our project we only lease land that is underutilised and not in agricultural productive use. So once we have done the hard work of preparing leased land and establishing our plantations it has also become suitable to grow crops. That is when we invite landowners back onto their land and encourage them to grow food crops on previously unproductive land. This way we increase food production and empower women to start small agricultural businesses and have their own incomes,” explains Henson.

Allowing communities and landowners back on their land after they leased it to a developer is not a common practice.

“We recognise the crucial connection between people and land in PNG. Although we lease land to establish our plantations we are committed to enable landowners to still access their land. We have some simple rules and guidelines that are easy to follow, and we benefit from the weeding done as part of the intercropping,” says Henson.

Women selling watermelons from intercropping at 40 mile market near Chivasing in the Markham Valley.
Women selling watermelons from intercropping at 40 mile market near Chivasing in the Markham Valley.

“Local women are making good money from intercropping. They sell their crops on the market making on average about K50 to K100 a day, and on good days even K200. We recently had one family that made K8,000 out of one single harvest of watermelons from intercropping.”

While mostly women venture into intercropping as a natural extension to tending their village gardens, some men have also taking up the practice.

“We see intercropping as a core element in promoting inclusive local economic growth. This means that communities, especially women, are increasing their incomes and growing more food. This is great for local food security and it empowers women as they are now in control of their own small businesses and income streams.”

“The next step is supporting the many women practising intercropping to organise themselves into business groups through which they can start planning which crops to plant, when to harvest, and how to better distribute to different markets – and ultimately make even more money.”

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