SITTING down to a chef-prepared meal with sweetpotato as the hero ingredient at a leading Bundaberg restaurant seems a world away from the highland villages of Papua New Guinea.
For a select group of PNG sweetpotato growers, this was the opportunity provided last month as they soaked up information on better farming practices as exhibited by Australian growers.
A joint initiative between CQ University, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Federal Government's Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) saw 18 PNG growers and researchers visit Qld to explore sweetpotato production.
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They also visited Bundaberg's HSG at the Gardens Restaurant, to promote alternative ways of preparing sweetpotato.
Research officer with the PNG Fresh Produce Development Agency, Chris Bugajim, is in charge of the sweetpotato commercialisation project in his home country.
Mr Bugajim said the purpose of the trip was to learn about sweetpotato production, marketing and processing.
"They were excited to see how large-scale sweetpotato production is done in Australia and they've learned a lot especially in terms of irrigation and the use of clean seed to improve production," he said.
With most PNG growers working as subsistence farmers, the mechanisation of the farm was one particular point which stood out for growers, as was the scale of irrigation used.
"I just hope they are able to go back and try to improve their current activity in PNG," Mr Bugajim said.
Some common ground between the two countries has been the focus on using clean seed material.
Clean seed is grown within a laboratory before being multiplied within a screen house and then released to commercial farmers.
CQ University senior researcher, Kirt Hainzer, said that clean seed operation comes from an Australian-led project.
"The Australian industry implemented a clean seed scheme many years ago to remove viruses from planting material," Mr Hainzer said.
"If you start with virus-free planting material you often get a stronger crop and a better yield.
"The PNG growers have not had access to this technology. The Australian industry brought that technology to PNG and they've seen it used on a number of local varieties."
The exchange of technology and information has also reinforced the Australian industry.
"It's a good chance to get on top of biosecurity risks before they come to our country," Mr Hainzer said.
"The cleaning of the viruses and vines in PNG helps us get on top of them before they come to Australia."
Irrigation was another area of keen interest to the visiting growers, albeit on a scale which Mr Hainzer said was still a long way off for most of them with no formal irrigation of any kind in place.
"It's very important you have some water when the vines are planted so a lot of the time these farmers will have crop failure because the rain doesn't come when they need it," he said.
"So to see farmers using irrigation is a big deal for them."
Sweetpotatoes are a staple in PNG and are usually just parboiled or steamed. It's also used as livestock feed.
In more recent years though, the vegetable has seen increasing competition with rice among the food choices of PNG residents.
"However this move towards rice is not in the best interest of PNG communities, as sweetpotato is a lot more nutritious and is grown locally," Mr Hainzer said.
Mr Bugajim said he hoped the visit would lead to plenty of improvements.
"We are hoping we can get into that level where we have a longer chain," Mr Bugajim said.
"We are really excited to work with them to improve sweetpotato in PNG."
The story PNG sweetpotato growers learn from Aussie industry first appeared on Good Fruit & Vegetables.