Natural resource use in smallholder farming communities in Papua New Guinea

ResearcherMirjam Hazenbosch

Period: July 2017 – March 2021

Title of DPhil: Seeing beyond the smoke: natural resource use in smallholder farming communities in Papua New Guinea in the context of social-ecological changes



Outline of research:

“Our land is our life”, says Hogoli (pseudonym), clan leader in Ohu village in Papua New Guinea. Hogoli, like 250 million farmers in tropical countries, relies on his garden for his daily food and income. These farmers produce a large part of the food for the developing world, the place where most undernourished people live. They also contribute to the global food supply chain. Nowadays the population in many tropical countries is growing rapidly. To feed the additional mouths, small farmers should produce more food. However, there is limited land available to expand farms. And many farmers are seeing their yields declining rather than increasing due to climate change. So the question is how can these small farmers best adapt their farming practices so they can produce enough food to feed the growing population, but in a way that is sustainable? I have been working with farmers like Hogoli to figure out exactly this.

Watch this video to learn more about the background to the research.


The overall aim of this study is to contribute to our understanding of how swidden farmers can best manage their resources to produce the food required, while at the same time safeguarding the environment, especially in the context of social-ecological changes, taking swidden cultivation in Papua New Guinea as a case study. The research aim is addressed through the following objectives:

  1. Quantify pest-related ecosystem services and disservices impacting smallholder agriculture along an elevational gradient in Papua New Guinea.
  2. Examine whether using locally-available fertilisers can enhance agricultural production and the time an agricultural field in a swidden farming system in the lowlands of Papua New Guinea.
  3. Examine the role of social networks in the dissemination of innovative agricultural techniques in a swidden farming community in Papua New Guinea.
  4. Understanding past, current and future resource use in rural Papua New Guinea using participatory photography.
Food garden in PNG
A food garden in Ohu, Papua New Guinea. The vast majority of people in Papua New Guinea rely on their garden for their daily food and income.

Summary of planned activities: 

  • Research the effect of herbivory on crops in smallholder agriculture in Papua New Guinea along an elevational gradient ranging from 200m a.s.l. to 2700m a.s.l. For more information about this project see here.
  • Set-up experimental gardens in a smallholder village in the lowlands of Papua New Guinea to test the effect of soil enhancing techniques on the yield of sweet potato.
  • Conduct interviews with local farmers to understand how information about new agricultural practices spreads, and what potential barriers for taking up new agricultural techniques are.
  • Organise a participatory photo project with local farmers to better understand local perspectives on natural resource management.
  • Disseminate the findings to the communities and relevant institutions in Papua New Guinea.

For my fieldwork I collaborate with the New Guinea Binatang Research Center, a local NGO specialised in biodiversity research in Papua New Guinea. My field sites are located in Madang province in Papua New Guinea.

Experimental gardens in Papua New Guinea
One of the experimental gardens in Ohu, Papua New Guinea. In these gardens we tested different soil enhancement techniques, including compost, chicken manure and NPK fertiliser on the yield of sweet potatoes.

Project outputs:

  • Papers on smallholder agriculture, information dissemination and natural resource use in Papua New Guinea. Ecological- and social data collection has been completed, and the first outputs are expected in 2021.
  • Establishment of partnerships with relevant institutions in Papua New Guinea, such as the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to allow for broad dissemination of the results.
  • Training of farmers, para-ecologists and post-graduate students in Papua New Guinea.
  • Contribution to a synthesis project in which the effects of El Niño on livelihoods, food security, ecosystem services, disease vectors, and key infrastructure across twelve affected countries are examined.


Sweet Potato project handbook: 

Download in English here

Hanbuk Kaukau Projek Ol steps



More information: 

For more information e-mail Mirjam (, or follow her on Twitter (@m_hazenbosch).

Mirjam Hazenbosch