Investing in a quality water tank is a good choice

While PNG, as a whole, is often seen as a place abundant in clean water, access to it can be difficult at times. Difficulty in accessing good water sources place many people at risk of water, sanitation and hygiene related issues. The PNG Government’s WASH Policy 2015 – 2030 indicates that 89 per cent of people in urban areas and 33 percent in rural areas have access to safe water while 57 percent of urban dwellers and only 13 percent of the rural population have access to basic sanitation.

So we too, in rural areas have access issues. Take for example, my parents in Manus. My parents used to live in a place in the village where they had to walk a distance to collect fresh water. Liap village is on the north coast of Manus island. It is a coastal village with most houses lining up alongside the beach. Sometimes, getting access to fresh water can be a bit difficult on the coastline especially during dry season. There are rivers and creeks but one has to go up some way to the head of the water source to get clean and fresh water.

Taking ownership and investing in a process of acquiring and maintaining good water access often falls onto individuals or families rather than the government, especially in rural areas of PNG. For example, to assist my parents with their fresh water needs, a water storage item close to the house would suit them. In my first year of formal employment, I had set aside enough money to buy a tank. I can’t really recall the amount but it was my first significant investment back to my parents. It was, and is still, a 1000 litre Tuffa tank that I bought from Lae’s manufacturing company, KK Kingston.

I worked in Lae and bought the tank in Lae. After buying the tank, I needed to figure out how to transport it from Lae, Morobe Province, to Lorengau in Manus, a journey of around 500 kilometers over the Bismarck Sea. I finally placed the tank on a Lutheran Shipping vessel and shipped it to Lorengau, Manus. Once it arrived there, it was then loaded onto an outboard motor for an hour on the northern coast line to Andru Point, Liap village. Once it arrived there, my parents built a small cement base and then put the tank on top, connected a gutter on the roof and downpipes to the tank.

Water tanks are a part of the solution to acquiring and maintaining good water access. The tank made my parents’ lives easier. Today, over 15 years later, this tank is still with me. My parents moved to our new area in the village so we transported the tank to our new place. We ended up rebuilding our house and starting out again. As I fix the family house and reset the tank stand next to our house in the village, I think about why we make personal investments. I have made investments of time, money, energy and emotions into people, equipment, machinery and places over the years.

Some investments, like this tank, I actually see it as a quality investment because over time it has provided water to not only my parents but those who are our neighbors as well. Its durability too makes this a worthy investment for me. It was difficult and costly to buy the tank in Lae and bring it all the way to my village in Manus, but it has been worth it as the benefits have outweighed the costs over time.

Me and my tank!
The Tuffa tank under the house. I’m still deciding which corner of the house I should stand this tank.

So invest in a water tank for your family today and help reduce water, sanitation and hygiene issues in our communities.

Sago beating: An example of a timeless innovation at work

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, producing sago is hard work. This is because it involves numerous processes, each containing smaller activities requiring the use of skills, innovation and utilizing available resources. Take for example, the first process which is the cutting down of the sago palm tree. You first have to identify the tree, make sure it has matured, then decide where the sago tree will fall when cut. This is important because failure to place it correctly will mean the tree palm tree falls and breaks into several pieces. It doesn’t break off but the outer shell covering is broken making it very difficult to remove the outer covering of the palm tree. Even when you are actually beating the sago, the sago pulp will fall through the crack and be lost. Losing sago means loosing food. Even the crown of the fallen tree must be intact as some of it’s parts will be used to create the basin for washing the sago. This is only the first part of the other processes that need to be done but you can already see the type of work that must be done to make sure the work of producing sago is easier to manage.

In the Kurti language group area of Manus Province, the men stand upright alongside the fallen sago palm and beat the sago with the wooden bow.

Some of the processes involve men and some processes are for women. For example, after the sago tree is felled, the outer hard bark like covering of the sago palm must be removed with an iron digging bar. It requires that a man must be physically strong to handle and maneuver the steel bar and must be experienced enough to plow the outer bark off. Meanwhile another process is that of the sharpening of a bamboo piece to put at the end of the sago beating bow. In this process, a man must go into the bush, look for right bamboos, cut them and bring them back to the place where the fallen sago is.  He must sharpen the bamboo and place it on the end of the wooden tool used to beat the sago. Even the intricate part of sharpening the bamboo takes time and skill to master the right edge required for beating the sago. Another process is that actual sago beating. One must stand beside the sago and swing the wooden bow to ‘beat’ the sago flesh into pulp. Improper stance will make a person swing the wooden sago beating bow awkwardly resulting in the bamboo piece breaking. Striking the sago with the bow is a repeated process so one must adjust themselves into a stance that enables them to strike in a rhythmic cycle. Then men pack the fine pulp into bags and then bring them to where the women will be washing the sago. This is just three processes so far for the men.

Some of the processes involve women. The women also have their own work cut out for them. They have to manually build a filtration system using some parts of the crown of the the sago palm, matting of the sago palm, maybe some pieces of a mosquito net and sago leaves. The decanting part of the sago washing system needs to be a place where the water for the washed sago is captured. This may include a dugout canoe or a collection tray made up of canvas. After the decanting process is done, the sago is placed into bags and placed on a stand to allow more water to drain out. Then the fresh sago is taken to the house and fried to eat. These numerous processes take place each day until the whole sago palm has been beaten.

In my view there should be around 5-7 different processes that are carried out to make sure a sago production is effectively carried out. Here is my list: 1) Identification of matured sago palm tree and cutting down 2) Removing outer shell/bark of sago using a digging bar 3) Collecting and sharpening of bamboo 4) beating the sago 5) cutting and packing the sago and transporting sago to wash area 6. Washing the sago using a filtration and decanting system 7. Packing and transporting sago bags home.

Although it seems like hard work, it is essentially a show of basic innovation on display. You see, the numerous process all use bits and pieces of the objects found in the natural environment. The individual objects have been picked out from the bush, trialed and practiced over many decades and have proven to be reliable in getting the job done. Our ancestors have used these to innovative practices to develop a system of processes that work together to produce sago. I have done this video to only show the beating sago (Process part 4) where the bow is used to beat the sago. In the Kurti language group area, the men beat the sago and the women wash the sago. This short video explains and shows the process of beating sago done by men. It does not show the next process where women wash the sago. I hope I can be able to record all the steps to develop a longer more informative video. In the meantime, here is a video of myself and my male relatives beating the sago.    

Home is where the heart belongs

Sometimes when we think about rural areas, we often imagine the hardships and difficulties faced by those who live in these places. There is often no reliable communication and energy infrastructure and very poor public utilities like roads and transport. Those who live in these rural areas often fall back and rely on the resource that is around them – land, water, sea – to sustain them. The natural environment is pristine in many areas as in the case of Manus province. However, there are rising social pressures that are beginning to have an impact on the reliability and the sustainability of the land, water and sea. This includes a growing population which has led to overfishing, increasing deforestation and encroachment onto places where once were idle in many parts of Manus.

Care should be taken to not trivialize or sensationalize life in the rural setting. It is home. It is where many Papua New Guineans first lived, grew up and become part of great communities. Communities that had intricate knowledge of how the land, water and sea worked and where they would dwell. These are places where fresh air, clean water and seas filled with coral still abound and make life meaningful. Like the principle of ‘Opportunity Cost’ in economics, we have to be reminded that one has to give up something in order to get a benefit from another. We all make choices. Opportunity cost is what one sacrifices when they choose one option over another. Many have been drawn to a better life outside of these rural communities in search for opportunities in education, health care access and places where public utilities function better. In turn, the cost is that they miss the rural life, interacting with relatives and living in the village. But when one is far away from the rural areas, one should never forget home. Home is where the heart belongs. Some may come back to these rural areas to live but others may never come back home. Life is such a rollercoaster of turns and events. But one must know that your heart will always have a place here.  

Lopoki Inc created this video to remind those who live far away from their village, land or community that their heart will always be at home. This video depicts the life of people and places in the Liap and Derimbat vilages in the Kurti Langguage group area in the Pomotu Ndrehet Kurti Andrea (PNKA) Local Level Government area in Manus.


New beginnings, new gardens

So I started my new project which was a garden. My parents have planted kaukau, tapioca, bananas and pineapples all over the place. There are some gardens here and some gardens there. So I decided that I should do mine as well and contribute to the household as well.

There is this mountainous area beside the house. It is very steep but it would be a great place to plant something. I first started by cutting the shrubs at the edge of the mountain and then into the smaller trees. Although this mountain looks like a forest, it isn’t. In 1997 during the El Nino season, fire raged through much of the forests here. I used to live on the coast and during evenings, we would look up to the mountains and see fires on the mountain tops. In the distant, the looked like fiery orange embers like eyes of something malevolent lurking, waiting for an opportunity to strike. The fires burnt through the old trees and now, new ones have grown. Most are softwood so it was easy to chop down using an axe.

After chopping down the shrubs and trees, we left them for a while to dry up. After a couple of days, when some of the shrubs and leaves were dry, we burnt them. As the place cleared up, I began cutting the fallen trees to clear the place. The idea is that once we clear the placed the place and removed the debris, we can start planting something.

Chopping the small tress after burning some of the shrubs
Dad already surveying the area….maybe thinking about placing his new pandrol…hehehe
So we filled the bag with pineapple heads….
…..and now planting some of the pineapple heads in the ground.
Standing where the garden is and looking back to the house. Its not even far at all

My father has already decided that one part of the mountain should form a road from the top of the mountain down to the bottom of the mountain. I don’t know what he is up to but there is no use arguing with an old man. He has already planted pineapples to mark his road. I’m doing my bit to clear the fallen trees and shrubs and hopefully start planting some banana trees. Hopefully when my kids come for the holiday break, they will have some kaukau and pineapples by then.

I will keep up updated on my progress.    

A call for technical advice: Resilient Manusians having a go with Agarwood but need technical assistance

Manus, an island province of Papua New Guinea with a land area slightly smaller than the island nation of Samoa, has had its fair share of challenges. Manus, located just two degrees south of the Equator, is often associated with its colourful garamut dancing, unique green snails, fried sago and fish but recently has been in the mass media due to the controversial Australian Government funded detention center. Even now, with the announcement of the Australian Government funded AUD$ 175 million re-development of the Lombrum Naval Base, the Manus name is getting all the talk again.

But away from the all the limelight and the hype these past years, it has been the ordinary farmer, fisherman and market mamas living in rural villages who have been resilient through it all. The simple Manusian is helping himself and herself in the best they can on their land and the sea they live on. I was fortunate enough to meet one man and his wife who consider themselves as ‘mangi na meri ples’ who are making the best of what they have. Mr. Micheal Ngai Popen 52, and his wife Christine, 42 are simple villagers who live in Liap village on the northern coastline of Manus. Liap village is around a 45 minute boat ride from the main town of Lorengau. Most of the villagers live on the coast but have their gardens in the bush and tropical forest mountain areas. Liap is one of ten villages in the Kurti language group area in the Pomutu Drehet Kurti Andra (PNKA) Local Level Government area.

Almost ten years ago, Mr. Popen planted seeds of Agarwood and today he has a plantation of around a 1000 trees. He is part of the Wapomo clan and started planting the trees as part of his clan’s income generating project but over the years everyone’s interest has faded and he and his wife are the only ones who have cleared and tended to the trees all these years. His plantation is among the lush and tropical rainforest of the Manus hinterlands island around 200 meters above sea level.

Michael Ngai Popen and wife Christine stand in the middle of the plantation

So what is Agarwood? According to published research (Tan et al, 2019), agarwood is a resinous part of the non-timber Aquilaria tree, which is a highly valuable product for medicine and fragrance purposes. The formation of agarwood is generally associated with the wounding and fungal infection of the Aquilaria trees. The resin is secreted by the trees as a defense reaction and deposited around the wounds over the years following the injury, where the accumulation of the volatile compounds eventually forms agarwood. Published research by Ismail et al (2015) point out that Agarwood oil extracted from the tree is estimated to cost between USD126 to USD633 per 12 milliliters and the wood prices for low qualities are estimated to cost USD19 per kg and up to USD100,000 per kg for superior quality.

Since the Popen family lives on the coast, he and the wife make the three hour walk up the mountains every other couple of weeks to make camp. They stay for a few days to clean, prune the trees and at the same time make their gardens for food as well. The trees are lined in neat rows of 10 and 12 trees spaced 3 meters apart in two blocks of land and a fresh water runs on the side.  They are some young trees that you can wrap your arms around but others are much bigger with most trees above 10 to 15 meters in height.

Mr. Michael Ngai Popen explaining how he looks after the trees.

While Mr. Popen and numerous other Agarwood farmers like him in Liap and Manus are eager to cash in on the demand for this ‘wood of the Gods’, issues around sustainability, conservation and ability of trees to produce the valuable resinous wood are also key emerging issues. Mr. Popen and wife have realized this and now wish to move along this path to ensure the tree is protected and sustains the family and clan group into the future.

He said: “Mi mangi ples na mi nogat bikpla save lo displa samting. Mi laikim husat man igat displa ol technical save lo displa Argawood lo plis kam helpim mi, family blo mi na clan blo mi Wapomo. Lo kisim gutpla save em bai cost money tasol mi nogat displa olsem na tokim mi tasol na bai mi wokim” ( Iam an ordinary villager and I have very little knowledge on this process. Whoever out there has technical knowledge on this Agarwood, please come and help me, my family and my Wapomo clan. I know technical knowledge costs money which I don’t have but just tell me and I will do it).

Mr. Michael Ngai Popen and his wife Christine stand in front of their garden hut while the Agarwood trees are in the background

Mr. Popen is a resilient man. To me, being resilient simply means being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Manus is a difficult place to do business or even start one. There are high transportation costs, government funding constraints, a growing young population without formal jobs and even rising law and order issues. But amongst it all, there are people in the rural areas who are giving it their best shot. They are resilient because no matter the situation everywhere they turn, they have decided to look back to the land and sea to support them. They are not giving up. 

There is very little data on how many farmers like Mr. Popen are in Manus and how many tress there are but they need sound technical assistance. They need technical advice in terms of growing, pruning, infecting, grading, markets, sustainable practices and forest conservation. Like many rural areas of Papua New Guinea, often good and sound knowledge on agriculture, sustainable forestry, environment conservation are lost in the urban areas and do not make their way to where it most needs to go – to the people who are resilient.