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Growing enterprise for women in rural Papua New Guinea

News story

Women in rural areas of Papua New Guinea (PNG) aren’t transitioning to more empowered, entrepreneurial positions in agribusiness, despite already being an integral part of food production. Dr Gina Koczberski and Professor George Curry from Curtin’s Department of Planning and Geography are launching a research project to investigate why this is occurring and what can be done to change it.

Dr Gina Koczberski and Professor George Curry.

The four-year project, funded by a $1.2 million Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research ‘National Competitive Grant’, commences in late 2016 and is an exciting collaboration with CARE International, the PNG University of Technology and PNG’s three main national agricultural research institutions: Coffee Industry Corporation, Oil Palm Research Association and the Cocoa and Coconut Institute.

Data will be collected across five provinces from rural individuals and households, private and public sector organisations from the main commodity crop industries, and the fresh food produce sector in PNG, with the aim of identifying both the pathways and the factors that influence successful transition from smallholder to entrepreneurial positions in agribusiness, as well as improving access to networks and business development services for PNG women.

PNG ranks 134 out of 148 countries on the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and is one of the few countries that did not meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal targets set for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Yet existing data collected among smallholder households reveals that women are central to family livelihoods and wellbeing in rural PNG.

“They produce the bulk of subsistence food crops, contribute to household income and fill valued social and community roles. They also take on most of the responsibility for childcare and domestic tasks. Women tend to spend more of their income than men on meeting the needs of their families, so income gains for women lead to direct improvements in the quality of life of their families,” Dr Koczberski reveals.

However, few studies have focused on the opportunities or barriers to women engaging more strongly in the agricultural sector, especially as managers of small-scale agricultural enterprises. The project aims to address knowledge gaps and build on existing socio-economic research.

“Presently, there is very little knowledge on how intra-household factors such as gender roles and relationships constrain women in establishing their own small agricultural enterprise. Also, rural women in PNG carry very heavy workloads in both subsistence and commodity crop production and other household livelihood activities, and have limited access and control over customary land for commercial economic activities. How labour and land access issues affect women’s ability to become small business entrepreneurs is unknown,” says Dr Koczberski.

Looking to the future, the researchers expect project findings will have a significant and demonstrable impact on the PNG community, translating into policies that improve economic and social opportunities for women, such as those that assist women to access markets, training and income opportunities. The research will also inform a joint Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and World Bank Group ‘Pacific Gender Research Partnership’ project, which commenced in 2015.