Recognizing that she had an important role to play in lifting up other women like her, Betty eventually took on a leadership role to support women like her, becoming one of the first lead farmers for PPAP in East Sepik – the only woman among 28 lead farmers in her entire District to do so.
Betty has also become a key member of the Foundation for Women in Agriculture Development (FOWIAD), a community group that continues to lift up the role of women in agriculture, a critical sector for PNG that remains integral to supporting more Papua New Guineans out of poverty.
“The display of male superiority in the agriculture sector was a major barrier to the advancement of many women,” says the group’s founder, Monica Otto, who says that Betty’s community of Wora is typical of most communities in East Sepik and even across PNG: still deeply patriarchal, with ‘Big Man’ culture very much just as alive today as it has been for generations; with women continuing to take on the role as “the ‘beasts of burden’”, while men have the voice.
Betty is now a well-respected figure in her community and continues to advocate for single mothers and older women with a potent mix of confidence and determination. She provides advice and support to nearly 100 widows who are part of the 250 active women farmers registered as part of the FOWIAD group.
The group’s founder Monica Otto says that women like Betty are now, ever so slowly, breaking down the barriers to women’s participation in PNG’s agriculture sector; meaning they are earning from cocoa and coffee means that can pay school fees for their children, pay for transport to health posts and meet the cost of medical treatment.
“This project is changing these women’s lives, allowing them to access training and markets where they can get much higher prices for their produce,” reflects Monica.
The Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project which is the largest agriculture program in PNG has supported close to 70,000 cocoa and coffee growers is set to wrap-up at the end of 2020.The World Bank is now supporting the PNG Government to build on the successes of this project to also include coconut, spices and small livestock, with the new, five-year, US$40 million PNG Agriculture Commercialization and Diversification Project approved in April 2020. The new project will also contribute to improving the nutrition of Papua New Guineans; a key driver behind the World Bank-led Human Capital Project in PNG.
For women like Betty, who are now earning a regular, steady income from cocoa growing, it has been a long, slow and steady road to building confidence and financial independence with the support of PPAP. And the commitments and immense sacrifices that Betty has made – both for hundreds of women in her area, and for her family – are not lost on her daughters, Mimi and Gladys, who say that their mother’s involvement in the project is a big inspiration: it demonstrates that women, when given the opportunity, are able to help transform lives of many other rural women.
“My mother is able to assist and teach other farmers new skills in farming their cocoa,” said Betty’s 14 year old daughter, Gladys, who is in high school and hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps.]
“We have our own cocoa garden which we help our mother clean and maintain; it helps us pay for our school fees and [gives us the opportunity] to continue on to tertiary education.
“After we complete our studies, we too can do the same type of work our mother is doing helping others.”
The PNG Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project is a US$110.7 million project, co-funded by the World Bank through the International Development Association (IDA) (US$55m), together with the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) (US$39m), European Union (US$6.4m focusing on cocoa) and the Government of PNG (US$10m). Implementing partners involved include PNG’s National Department of Agriculture and Livestock, and the Coffee Industry Cooperation and Cocoa Board.