by Scot Waide – EM TV News, Lae
Western Highlands communities in Hagen Central are slowly recovering from the seven-month drought, with some rain finnaly falling over the lpst month.
But the recovery is slow, and it will be another six months before the first crops are harvested.
In Kumga village, Mt. Hagen, farmers are seeing the first signs of recovery.
Sweet potato in the plots previously destroyed by the drought are starting to grow back.
The rains that returned about a month ago have given hope to this drought stricken community.
Pastor Joshua Ake, who runs the church in his community, has begun tending to the gardens again with his family. Two months ago, it was a different story.
“Behind me is where we planted our sweet potato,” he said. “When the drought hit, the leaves grew but the plants didn’t produce any tubers.”
Although the crops are growing again, it will take another six months before they are able to harvest the tubers.
Like other parts of the Highlands, sweet potato is a staple in the Western Highlands. The health of this crop is linked to the survival of the communities.
The last six months has been tough. Pests attacked the tubers in the ground as well as the sun dried the leaves.
“Those who planted in swampy areas were lucky,” says Betty Nentepa, a farmer whose family has been farming the crop for generations.
“Their crops grew and they sold us the cuttings. …some for K100 and some for K200.”
Sweet potato cuttings have now become a new commodity for sale. Seedlings the equivalent of one plot cost up to 100 kina. The cost of seedlings alone is driving up the cost of sweet potato sold at Hagen Market.
“I’m a transport operator and I’ve seen the price of sweet potato bags shoot up from K25 a bag to K100… sometimes K150,” says Joe Nen.