Changing lives through fish farming in Papua New Guinea

Changing lives through fish farming in Papua New Guinea

Fish farming in PNG has added quality protein to diets and brought about positive social impacts that have transformed lives.

Many people in rural Papua New Guinea (PNG) live off less than $1.25 a day. Access to protein is often limited resulting in health problems from malnutrition, such as stunting in children and increased susceptibility to disease. An Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded project, led by Associate Professor Jes Sammut from UNSW’s Centre for Ecosytem Science has worked collaboratively with PNG government agencies and NGOs to help improve inland fish farming practices across PNG. Although the research focus has been on developing and improving fish farming technologies, the project also engages directly with the community through several capacity building and outreach programs. 

A Fish for Prisons Program, established by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) is managed by the ACIAR inland aquaculture project through its project team’s technical inputs and prisoner training program. Prisoners in correctional centres in the Highlands of PNG are taught to farm fish so that they have a livelihood after their release from prison. Farming fish at the prison also adds high quality protein to the prison menu.A/Prof Jes Sammut with Bihute Correctional Centre inmates and staff, Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, PNG

“Fish farming teaches prisoners responsibility, fosters team work, and helps them to feel accomplished. They can earn an income on release and often do not reoffend,” says Sammut.

Some communities were at war with neighbours. We brought warring tribes together to farm fish and consequently brought about peace.

Associate Professor Jes Sammut, UNSW-GWI

Sister Pauline Kagl from the Order of the Sisters of Notre Dame is a key member of the project team. Sister Pauline manages a training and outreach program under the project in which she integrates fish farming with personal viability training. With the support of the wider team, including the scientists and technicians, Sister Pauline has helped gang members, drug addicts, and petty and hard criminals to turn their lives around through fish farming. The training program has also helped to reduce domestic abuse, particularly against women, and has empowered people to not only grow their own food, but to also to overcome personal challenges and live a more meaningful life.

“We have helped outcasts to reintegrate with society and do good for themselves and others through our fish farming training. We teach people responsibility, respect, discipline and the importance of self-worth under our program,” says Sister Pauline.

Sammut has also seen considerable community benefits. “Some communities were at war with neighbours. We brought warring tribes together to farm fish and consequently brought about peace,” he says.

Former adversaries now share water, infrastructure and tools to farm fish. In one valley, former tribal warriors have constructed over 100 fishponds. They have downed their weapons and now work together to feed their communities and generate income that supports better schooling and health care.

“Seeing how our project can transform lives is deeply satisfying. The research is a means to an end – in our case it is about making a difference to the health, happiness, and food and income security of people in rural PNG,” Sammut continues.

The project also coordinates a Fish for Schools Program, which uses fish farming as a basis for teaching biology, physics, mathematics and other subjects. It also teaches teenagers the principles of fish farming which they can apply when they leave school or share with family members. 

The project runs for another three years and is the flagship research program for inland aquaculture in PNG.  The project is led by UNSW in partnership with the National Fisheries Authority, UniTech, The Maria Kwin Centre, the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, ANSTO and RDS Partners.


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