Women leading and influencing



Changing young minds with sweet potatoes: Philmah’s internship

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Sweet potatoes may be versatile. But can they help to influence young Papua New Guineans’ (PNG) attitudes towards agriculture?

Philmah Waken believes so.

The Master's of Agricultural Science (University of Queensland) student interned with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) to research the PNG staple and how it’s grown.

Now she hopes to use sweet potatoes to get young people in her country excited about agriculture and its enterprise potential.

Philmah Waken sweet potato growers WLI internship

Pictured: Philmah Waken conducting research alongside team members 

About the QDAF research internship

As part of the two-month internship, Philmah undertook sweet potato research trials in the fields of virology, nematology and soil health.

The main aim was to produce relevant applied results for growers.

Through her placement, Philmah strengthened her practical, research and leadership skills. She also built networks and coalitions with other researchers, sweet potato grower groups and industry leaders.

Philmah said that the internship was a great opportunity to further progress her skills. “The ability to develop my social skills, particularly those relating to understanding the issues and values that are important to farmers”.

She also learned the importance of communication, and how best “to engage with growers, information sharing [and] going out of the way to provide information and communicate with important research stakeholders”.

Philmah Waken sweet potato WLI internship

Pictured: Fellow team member (left) and Philmah Waken (right) analysing sweet potatoes 

Encouraging the next generation of agriculturalists in PNG

With her learnings, Philmah plans to help young people in PNG understand the importance of agribusiness to the country’s development and to pursue career opportunities in this area.

She also hopes to change attitudes that agriculture is only relevant to rural areas.

“Creating and building interest and pathways towards contributing to the industry is vital” says Philmah. “Being exposed to and having an experience to learn, network and collaborate can lead to appreciation and attitude change towards something,” she explains.

Philmah believes a focus on the next generation of agriculturalists will build a more active agronomy industry in PNG.

She hopes it will also encourage governments to invest in and bring basic services to the area.

She says her new knowledge and experience “will also be shared with the wider farming communities that I will engage with and ultimately the broader PNG agriculture industry.”

The internship was secured with the help of Philmah’s mentor Liz Brennan. Liz is an agricultural entrepreneur who received the Most Outstanding Emerging Leader Award (2014) at the inaugural Women in Australian Agribusiness 100, among other accolades.


Learn more about Philmah and her mentor Liz, and other thriving WLI mentoring partnerships.