Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 6, pp 801–814 | Cite as

Diffusing Risk and Building Resilience through Innovation: Reciprocal Exchange Relationships, Livelihood Vulnerability and Food Security amongst Smallholder Farmers in Papua New Guinea

  • Gina Koczberski
  • George N. CurryEmail author
  • Veronica Bue
  • Emmanuel Germis
  • Steven Nake
  • Geraldine M. Tilden
Original Research


This paper examines how oil palm migrant farmers in Papua New Guinea are responding to shortages of land for food gardening. Despite rapid population growth and planting nearly all of their land to oil palm, virtually all families continue to grow sufficient food for their families. The paper outlines the diverse range of adaptive strategies that households have employed to maintain food security, involving both intensification and innovation in farming systems. While gains from intensification have been significant and built resilience, they have been incremental, whereas innovation has been transformative and led to large gains in resilience. The adoption of more flexible land access arrangements on state leasehold land that ‘revive’ and adapt indigenous systems of land sharing and exchange that operated through kinship networks on customary land are innovative; they have increased the supply of land for food gardening thereby reducing risk for individual households and the broader smallholder community. The paper highlights the value of understanding farmer-driven innovations and the role of indigenous institutions and cultural values in sustaining and enhancing household food security.


Food security Adaptive capacity Vulnerability and resilience Farmer-driven innovation Agricultural intensification Oil palm smallholders Land tenure Papua New Guinea 



This study was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (grant number ASEM/2012/072).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Curtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.PNG University of TechnologyLaePapua New Guinea
  3. 3.PNG Oil Palm Research AssociationKimbePapua New Guinea

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