Intercropping is an agroforestry farming technique in which fruits and vegetables are grown on tree plantations in between rows of trees.
The practice involves PNG Biomass first leasing undertutilised and idle land from landowners. We then clear and prepare the land to establish tree plantations. Once the plantations are established (i.e., small seedlings trees are planted), landowners (generally women) start planting cash crops between the rows of trees — a practice we encourage and promote.
Previously, the land was difficult to farm and not used by the communities. But now through the clearing and preparation by PNG Biomass with heavy machinery, the land is easier to farm. The cash crops grown by women on the plantations is their own business, in addition to their existing village gardens. PNG Biomass only sets some planting guidelines to ensure the small seedling trees are not affected, but besides that, it’s entirely up to the communities and women to run their intercropping business. Since 2012 women have trialed various cash crops (melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, rice, cassava, yam, peanuts and other food crops).
Reportedly, the best harvests and incomes are generated from pumpkins, melons and cucumbers. On average they harvest twice a year. The women report a single harvest income of around K3,000 from intercropping on areas smaller than 0.5 hectares, and a single harvest income around K9,000 on areas between 0.5 and 1 hectare. We believe around 400 families are involved in small scale (< 0.5ha) intercropping, harvesting twice a year, generating together an increase in household income a year of K2.4 million. Communities themselves claim that they make much more money and believe the K2.4 million figure to be very conservative. We are currently designing robust data collection methods to investigate and support these claims.
The additional food crops produced through intercropping are sold on markets in the Markham Valley, but also taken up to the Highlands. Some women are even exploring ways to ship the crops to Port Moresby. Communities assert local food security has improved significantly with more fruit and vegetables available at the markets and more incomes made, owned and used by women to buy other foods from stores. The incomes from intercropping also help with school fees, medical bills and other family costs that women generally look after.
Across the Markham Valley women 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. We aim to drive inclusive economic growth by empowering local communities to be a central part of our mission to power PNG with domestic low-emission renewable energy.
Intercropping is a smart way to farm and improve food security, engage and empower women, and drive higher incomes.