Annastasia's Story

This article is one from 15 different Papua New Guinean scientists taken from the manuscript of the new Grade 9 Science Outcomes textbook prior to the design and editing processes currently being undertaken at Pearson Education Australia. This is Anna's story. I hope all the parents, teachers and students read and enjoy it. More scientists’ stories will appear here during the next few months. This photograph is of Anna in the laboratory working with her plants.

Brian Robertson

Anna in her laboratory

My name is Ms Annastasia Priscilla Kawi and I come from Karawap village, Boikin East Sepik Province. I am employed by the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) as a scientist with the Entomology section based at the Islands Regional Centre, Kerevat, East New Britain Province. I graduated with a Masters in Crop Protection from University of Queensland in July 2008.

Currently I am the Project Leader of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded project on “ the biological control of Mikania micrantha in PNG”. Mikania micrantha (mile-a-minute) is a serious weed having significant implications for plantation crops (cocoa, coconut, oil palm etc), subsistence food gardens and the natural environment. The weed smoothers plantation crops and food crops causing competition for soil nutrients, reducing the photosynthesis process and therefore causing unwanted deaths in young crop stages. The main purpose of this project is to introduce a Biological Control Agent (BCA). The BCA will be mass reared, released into the field and then we will monitor the impact of the agent in managing the growth of mikania weed. The BCA is a pathogen rust fungus—Puccinia spegazzinii. It is the first of its kind to be used in weed management in PNG. The main tasks in my job are to

  • successfully mass rear the agent and release it into the field in lowland provinces where mikania weed is present
  • conduct scientific studies to monitor the impact of the rust fungus on mikania weed biomass, its population density and its spread over time
  • monitor the rust establishment in all lowland provinces where it was released and confirm its host specificity
  • conduct impact assessment surveys and teach awareness of the impact of the biocontrol on mikania weed during field days, community meetings and provincial field trips
  • produce reports on project activities as required by the funding agent (ACIAR) and my employer (NARI).

This research is important for several reasons

  1. Weeds are a problem to subsistence and commercial farming systems and management and field control depends on one’s capabilities. Commercial setups can afford the costs of herbicide when spraying large hectares of land. However to subsistence farmers, herbicides are expensive and not affordable on a regularly basis. Additionally slashing is tedious and time consuming. Therefore, biological control is the alternate method of good field control as fewer costs are involved and importantly it is also environmentally friendly and has no bad effect on the environment when compared to herbicide sprays. Biological control is a good option for pest management in this case.
  2. It is important that the public, especially the up-coming generation know about the presence and the importance of biological control agents and are able to appreciate their presence in our natural environment. Creating the initial awareness is very important so that people can further transfer the information. Distribution of awareness posters and pamphlets enables the public to see the picture and relate this to real field situations.
  3. Conducting scientific studies on the impact of the biocontrol agent in the laboratory and field conditions is very important so that the facts about biocontrol in managing weeds are reported accurately. Other scientists can use written articles in the future for reference. Facts and figures must always be available to back up the research observations and conclusions. This kind of research needs to be statistically analyzed before accurate conclusions can be drawn and this is the main task I have been involved in.

I enjoy my profession because I believe that the biocontrol package that I’m mandated to deliver to the rural farming communities will assist in improving their livelihood. It will assist people in controlling the mikania problem in their subsistence gardens.

Currently, the work involves a lot of travelling to other provinces, creating contacts and meetings with provincial DPI offices, colleagues from sister research stations, NGO workers and interested public and the villagers. This travel has enabled me to tell people what research NARI has done on weed management in the past and present. The exciting part is I get to travel and explore many sites in lowland provinces to find the presence of mikania weed and release the biocontrol agent. I also enjoy meeting colleagues and briefing them about the impact of the biocontrol agent and how it works in the field. Most unique is the fact that this pathogen is the first to be introduced in PNG and what information and knowledge I have learnt from working with this biocontrol is a bonus for me because it is broadening my knowledge as well as improving NARI’s service.

The information collated from the impact studies conducted in the laboratory and the field is new for PNG and thus has great potential for publication in peer reviewed journals. Other Pacific Island countries such as (Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa) would have mikania weed and will be eager to learn how successful control has been in PNG before they try to implement biocontrol in their countries.

I was originally engaged at NARI as a Research technician assisting in collating data for 3 ACIAR funded projects on

  • Identification and management of fruit flies in PNG,
  • Management of Fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae), a serious pest of fruits and vegetables,
  • Management of Red Banded Mango caterpillar (Deanolis sublimbalis), a serous pest of mangos.

My main task was assisting scientists involved in these projects to implement project activities and achieve milestones within the given timeframe. However due to my work commitment and more than 20 years experience, I was offered a scholarship to study at University of Queensland (Gatton campus) and obtain my Masters in Plant Protection. My studies have allowed me to be recognized by NARI as a scientist in my own right, and that was a major achievement in my career life. For the future, as a scientist, I intend to develop more project proposals on Biological control, and Crop protection with other NAIS organizations and overseas collaborators and continue to deliver these improved technologies to the farming communities to improve their livelihood and food security.

In 1981 and 1982 I was a student at Manus High and took Agriculture as a subject. We had to plant and maintain small plots of different vegetables as a course requirement for assessment. The class was also scheduled to clean pig pens and feed them and this built up my interest and desire to study Agriculture after Grade10.

After graduating from school my career began with NARI and included—conducting agro-forestry studies with intercropping food crops and cocoa, conducting market surveys, maintaining and describing different yam varieties, and pest management on vegetables and staple crops. The different duties I was involved in helped built up my knowledge and work experiences. It brought me to a stage where work was my entire commitment. I felt I had to assist in successfully achieving the funded project milestones.

Through my participation in ACIAR projects and collaborating with well-known Australian scientists (Fruit flies & Red Banded Mango caterpillar projects) I had the good fortune to become very experienced in my field of work. Even though I don’t have Grade 12 or a first degree from a PNG University, my 20 of years work experience guaranteed me a place to study and obtain a Masters degree from a recognized University in the world. I was a Research technician before I went away for studies, and after completing my studies I am now referred to as a scientist. This gives me great satisfaction.

During the earlier years of my career, I saw my colleagues going away for studies with their families or travelling abroad for workshops and meetings and I had this feeling that ‘I wish I was like them’. I had a motto and that was Dedication (to my work and employer), Devotion (Physically & Spiritually) and Determination (If they can do it I believe I can do it too). The motto enabled me to continue work harder and produce qualitative and quantitative results, which helped to impress my employer.

Additional note

To the up coming scientist, after graduating from a University with Agriculture Degrees, I encourage you to explore or be exposed to real work situations in the field before trying to further your ambitions. By doing that you will gain work experience in different fields of agriculture and it will broaden your knowledge. Learn to evaluate situations, write reports, develop contacts with peer groups etc. You will also be able to relate situations from theory (books) to the practical (hands on). This will potentially groom you to be a knowledgeable scientist able to work and to serve the rural communities.