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Development

Keeping neighbouring farmers safe to secure our region’s economic recovery

Arnold, his wife Ruthy, and their three children at his cocoa farm in the small village of Napapar, Papua New Guinea.<br />
Photograph of Arnold, his wife Ruthy, and their three children at his cocoa farm in the small village of Napapar, Papua New Guinea.
Photo: Market Development Facility

“I had no idea about this new disease that people were talking about. When I read that it was caused by a virus and that it was already among us, I thought we were going to drop dead like chickens everywhere,” said Arnold - Lead cocoa farmer in the small village of Napapar, inland of the Papua New Guinean province of East New Britain.

Like most households in his village, Arnold's family relies on cocoa for income.

Arnold's eldest daughter is in college and most of his savings from cocoa are put aside for her fees.

During the lockdown, Arnold was not able to sell his fermented cocoa and had to store it instead, greatly reducing his income. Arnold, his wife Ruthy, and their three daughters survived by eating their garden produce during this time.

As the pandemic struck Papua New Guinea, the Australian Government funded the Market Development Facility (MDF) to gather information from its extensive agriculture networks – to find the best way to help farmers, like Arnold, return to operation and financially recover following lockdown.

The majority of Papua New Guinea's population live in rural areas and have limited or no access to the latest information or news; MDF found that many people, including farmers, were not even aware of the lockdown, or of the global COVID-19 outbreak. Without awareness of COVID-19 and the hygiene practices required to reduce its spread – farmers were at higher risk of infection.

To help farmers like Arnold understand more about how to protect themselves from the virus while continuing to safely farm and sell their produce, MDF connected with its partner Outspan Limited to launch an awareness campaign. The campaign collaborated with influential church leaders, village heads and community leaders, to ensure the information would reach the community and be credible.

Accessing reliable information on COVID-19 has helped save lives.

When lockdown lifted, Arnold brought his cocoa beans into town, following the precautionary measures he learned through the initiative.

“We were confused and scared when we first heard of this new disease, but not anymore. We understand that we can continue farming and selling in a safe way and continue our daily activities,” he said.

Arnold and Ruthy have also been conducting awareness sessions in their village and church to educate people on ways they can protect themselves from the virus.

The Australian-funded awareness campaign reached more than 4,900 people. When combined with similar activities with other partners, it is estimated that 52,100 people in Papua New Guinea were reached – saving lives across five provinces in Australia's closest neighbouring country.

Partnerships are key to Australia's response to COVID-19 and to building a sustainable recovery.

Australia's development program is an investment in an open, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific. Through Partnerships for Recovery Australia continues to deliver timely, responsive and effective support to help our partners when and where it is needed most. Our efforts are concentrated on health security, stability and economic recovery in our nearest region, and supporting the most vulnerable.

With our neighbours, international partners, and civil society, we will respond to the impacts of this pandemic and protect and build on the development gains of the last decades.

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