Food Security and Vulnerability to ENSO in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Theme: Pan-disciplinary

Primary Supervisor:

Andrew Brooks

Geography, KCL

Secondary Supervisor:

Thomas Smith

Geography, KCL

Project Description:

Rural smallholders in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are facing increased food insecurity due to climatic variability. In 1997-98 an ENSO-related drought destroyed subsistence sweet potato crops and caused widespread food shortages. Dry conditions spread across Southeast Asia and severely diminished water supplies resulting in widespread famine affecting 700,000 to 1.2million people.

Such famine events are highly uncharacteristic and this drought was at least as severe as any other in the twentieth century. From studies of precipitation in Australia, we know that the strength of the relationship between ENSO and precipitation can vary with interdecadal oscillations in the Pacific, whether this holds true for PNG is not known.

This project will have two aims i) To model climatic vulnerability and the reoccurrence of extreme ENSO-related drought events in PNG ii) To investigate alternative agricultural practices which provide greater livelihood resilience than sweet potato based practices.

Policy Impact of Research:

Due to the dearth of environmental research on PNG this project has strong potential to influence policy making at the national level.

Impacts can extend to influencing new agricultural projects and the development of policy to mitigate and adapt to ENSO vulnerability.

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