Sweet potato farmers in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have gained valuable insight into consumer buying preferences, which is helping to identify new market opportunities.
The recent market analysis, supported by the Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership through ACIAR, was the first of its kind in PNG and revealed an increasing number of consumers in Port Moresby are preferring to buy their fresh produce from supermarkets, citing convenience and safety.
While this trend could see a decline in customers at traditional farmer markets, PNG and Australian researchers say it could create new market opportunities for rural communities.
‘Farmers are looking for stable markets where they can receive more consistent prices for better-quality produce,’ said Professor Philip Brown from Central Queensland University (CQU), who is leading the research project.
‘The research shows that consumer behaviour is likely to support an expansion in the supermarket sector in large urban centres and this is positive news for the farmers.
This could allow commercial focused farmers to secure more stable market access,’ said Professor Brown.
The survey, which sampled 353 consumers, was part of ACIAR-supported sweet potato research led by CQU and the PNG National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) working to enhance sweet potato value chains by improving the quality of the roots harvested.
Better quality and increased production of sweet potato is leading to growth of supplies to supermarkets, which are keen to offer better fresh produce to customers.
‘The project, with support from the Fresh Produce Development Agency and NARI, is helping farmers to build their business skills and connect with emerging supermarket opportunities,’ said Professor Brown.
CQU Researcher, Kirt Hainzer, worked with researchers from NARI on the survey and said it was the first research effort to incorporate consumer behaviour and explore what role supermarkets could play in further developing PNG’s commercial sweet potato industry.
‘The research sought to better understand and compare how consumers buy staples from open markets and supermarkets and to explore the preferences for purchasing staple foods as supermarkets increase the availability of convenience staples like rice.
‘Although expanding formal sales represents a huge step forward in developing a commercial sweet potato industry, continued research on consumer preferences and the market for fresh produce will help better understand trends in staple food purchasing and what market opportunities exist for growers,’ said Mr Hainzer.
NARI economist Raywin Ovah said with over a hundred varieties of sweet potato in the country, the study also hoped to find out which of these consumers prefer.
‘Not all the varieties are preferred from a consumer point of view.
There are only a few that consumers want based on the taste or health properties and that is what we want to also find out. Farmers can be provided with that
information, so they produce those varieties that the market wants,’ said Mr Ovah.
The project to improve commercial sweet potato production and marketing in the PNG highlands is one of five projects under the Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program.
The program is supported by Australia in partnership with the government of Papua New Guinea through the ACIAR, and aims to improve the livelihoods of rural men and women through private sector-led development, increased agricultural productivity and quality and building individual and institutional capacity.