Seeds of Hope After the Drought

Every now and then, Mother Nature reminds us of her palpable force—the recent El Niño was one of those reminders. When this phenomenon hit the Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea (PNG), it unleashed an unsympathetic weather change, bringing droughts and frosts to the country. Many were unprepared to lose subsistence farming, the ‘backbone’ of New Guinean societies, as a major source of income. One can imagine the devastating impact this had on crop production and, in turn, on communities’ food security.

“When the drought came, my garden died. The sun touched my kaukau (sweet potato); and, just like that, life became hard. I was hungry and weak, but I couldn’t find food and water or plant anything,” recalled Elis Alpe, a 70-year old widow from the Highland province of Jiwaka.

The onslaught of the El Niño necessitated more work in the field of disaster risk reduction. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) mission in PNG, with the support of its donors—the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—responded. Through distribution of seeds for crops, such as rice, cassava and corn, many women are now able to view changes in the climate through a more optimistic lens.

In partnership with the Jiwaka Provincial Disaster Centre and the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), IOM PNG distributed 1200 kg of drought-resistant seeds in six areas. As a result, communities in Jiwaka and Simbu have been able to produce 60 tons of rice. “Now, I’m harvesting my first batch of rice,” says Elis. All in all, the sustainable agriculture project has increased food supply with high yields in a short period of time.

IOM’s project targeted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) concerns brought about by the El Niño. So far, 20 boreholes have been drilled with water containers at strategic locations to reduce the time needed to collect water. Before this, members of the community would have to walk two to three hours to collect water for gardening.

In addition, hygiene kits were provided to affected families, which mitigated the risk of drought-induced waterborne infections.

The project highlighted IOM’s relationship with the government. The seed distribution enhanced NARI’s training program for farmers, which has provided them deeper knowledge on crop diversification and management during disaster situations. “If the drought returns, we won’t worry or go hungry like we did before,” said Vero, a mother of five, confidently. “We know which crops are good to grow and store during dry season. We’re prepared.”

For the likes of Elis and Vero, the drought has brought them difficult times. Yet, it has also provided them many opportunities for empowerment. Once vulnerable, these communities are now much more resilient. Today, their seeds are finally flourishing, and so is their hope.