Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO honours model farmer from Papua New Guinea

FAO honours model farmer from Papua New Guinea

Bangkok, 17 Oct 2011 -- Today, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to five farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture (Japan), aquaculture (Lao PDR), small island agriculture (Maldives), forestry (Papua New Guinea) and rice farming (Thailand) during the Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day in Bangkok.

A model forester from Papua New Guinea
Mr Tafi Keus

Raised in the village of Gogol Naru in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, well known for its tree farms, Tafi Keus taught primary school for 29 years in some 17 different primary schools while also working as an agroforester. Keus grows Accacia mangium trees on about 210 hectares of his 500-hectare farm. He also grows garden foods like taro, bananas and tapioca. Accacia mangium plays a major role in providing commercial tree products while reducing pressure on natural forest ecosystems. But, for local agroforesters in Papua New Guinea, Accacia mangium provides much needed income to help with school fees and other necessities of life.

Keus came by tree farming naturally. His father was an agroforester, planting the first Accacia mangium trees in the Gogol Naru project in the early 1980s. Over the years Keus grew concerned that the country's native hardwood trees, like kwila and rosewood, were rapidly disappearing because of illegal logging and the need to provide firewood and charcoal for cooking. In a country where many tribes in the isolated mountainous interior had little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, Kaus decided he would have to begin saving the country's endangered trees on his own. Around 1995 he set aside land on his own farm to preserve threatened trees native to Papua New Guinea.

Because so many indigenous hardwood trees were already extinct, Accacia mangium forms the country's first line of defence against the growing effects of climate change. "We try to reduce the amount of trees we harvest each year by as much as 20 percent. But, at the same time, we continue to plant even more trees because they provide much needed nutrients for the soil and also help protect against erosion and landslides during the rainy season."

The idea, says Keus, is to have a well-balanced system of agroforestry that will sustain the project over time so it can benefit many future generations.

Today Keus is the Deputy Chairperson of the Gogol Naru tree plantation project. He organizes the many groups of people involved in planting and harvesting trees on the 17 000-hectare project. He works tirelessly to cement good relations among all the plantation's stakeholders and he also shares his passion for conservation with these groups while working to improve forestry incomes and the quality of life in rural Papua New Guinea where some 80 percent of the country's people live with few of the facilities of modern life in a largely non-monetized economy that is mostly based on subsistence agriculture.

"Working in agroforestry," says the soft-spoken Keus, "is very rewarding because it helps people develop their own rural areas and provides them with a better overall standard of living. It will always be rewarding because we replant more trees than we harvest to ensure a promising future for generations to come.”

In spite of his generally positive outlook, Keos warns that a dark side is looming in agroforestry. "People would have more interest in planting trees and sustaining the plantation if timber companies would pay a better price for the wood. Maintaining the plantations and harvesting the trees is very difficult work and currently prices don't reflect that. So, many agroforesters are giving up and looking for better sources of income."

Keus is married with three grown daughters and an 18 year-old son, who is still completing his studies. Asked if he’d like his children to follow in his footsteps, he smiled and said: “Two of my daughters already help me with the forestry work. The third is a Catholic nun. As for my son, well, that's a decision for him to make on his own.”