Introducing the Watung Sisters
In 2019, Noylene Levis formed a 12-member strong agriculture association called the Watung Sisters, a subgroup of the Markham District Women in Agriculture. Based in Markham District of Morobe Province in Papua New Guinea, the women joined forces to make the most of what their land had to offer. On top of overseeing 12 full time farmers, Noylene is a full-time farmer herself and also a baker who enjoys making scones to sell at Mutzing and Umi markets.
Cultivating local fruits and vegetables
With Noylene at the helm, her team of female farmers cultivate cabbage, taro, pok choy, onion and banana, shipping some of their proceeds overseas. Taro is especially popular with purchasers in Port Moresby. Initially, the buyers based in Port Moresby were purchasing only five bags of taro but have increased their numbers gradually over the course of the last year. Noylene’s Taro is sold in supermarkets too. “Normally, two bags are sold to supermarkets and the rest I sell at the market in Gordons and Waigani.”She takes orders to Pacific Advantist University and CPL Group. It usually takes Noylene four days to sell her bags of taro before she begins her journey back home to Lae, sharing the final numbers of her proceeds with the group treasurer and dividing her income from the day with the rest of her farmers.
Working closely with her local department of agriculture and livestock
Under Noylene’s leadership, the farmers have seen first-hand the importance of farming on their own land, and understand that benefits from their sales, will one day return to them. Noylene and her team work closely with the Markham District Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL), who supply the farm’s vegetable seeds. The DAL also conduct training sessions with Noylene’s farmers, in partnership with the office of Fresh Produce Development, on things like pest management.
Noylene is an advocate for the growth and development of the women she employs and is keen for them to attend financial literacy and business management courses with the DAL so that they can up-skill themselves as farmers.
It isn't easy being a farmer during COVID-19
With the ongoing pandemic, things aren’t easy for Noylene, and there are struggles she hopes will one day improve. “Irrigation and transportation are challenges that we face when it comes to farming in the valley. COVID-19 is also another factor that has disrupted the agriculture activities in the Mutzing area significantly.”
Noylene's 5 year plan
Noylene has hopes to purchase a tractor for her group to plough the land and ease the financial burden of leasing – hiring a tractor costs K100 per plough, and Noylene needs at least three ploughs to get a day’s work done, so costs can add up quickly.
“We aspire to purchase our own tractor to plough our land and transport our vegetables to the market. And we also want to build homes for all our families. This is our five year plan.”
Noylene wishes to leave the women of Morobe Province and PNG with some pearls of wisdom:
“If you have arable land at your doorstep, please get your hands dirty. You don’t have to sit down and wait for your husband or the government to come and tell you what to do. Find a spade or a digging stick and start planting so we can create our own change at home.”
She believes that if all women set aside their differences - much like she has done with her group - and work together in unity, positive change can be achieved within their communities.
“Women need to realize they have the potential to drive change. Change starts with us.”