By MALUM NALU
Agriculture dominates the rural economy of Papua New Guinea.
More than five million rural dwellers, representing 80% of the population, earn a living from subsistence agriculture and selling crops in domestic and international markets.
Hence, it is only fitting that Food and Agriculture in Papua New Guinea (cover pictured), the most up-to-date and arguably the most-informative publication ever done on the subject in the country, was launched in Port Moresby on Friday August 6, 2010, by former deputy prime minister Sir Puka Temu.
The book is edited by Dr Michael Bourke of The Australian National University, a household name in agriculture in Papua New Guinea, and Tracy Harwood, and is a welcome addition to PNG literature when reliable and up-to-date statistics about the country are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Contributing editors apart from Dr Bourke are Dr Bryant Allen, Dr Matthew Allen, Dr Andrew McGregor, Prof John Gibson, Prof Alan Quartermain, Dr Kate Barclay and Dr Jean Kennedy.
Many aspects of agriculture in PNG are described in this data-rich book of 650 pages, which took eight years to research and write from 2001-2008.
Topics include agriculture environments in which crops are grown; production of food crops, cash crops and animals; land use; soils; demography; migration; the macro-economic environment; gender issues; governance of agricultural institutions; and transport.
The history of agriculture over the 50,000 years that PNG has been occupied by humans is summarised.
Much of the information presented is not readily available within PNG.
The book contains results of many new analyses, including a food budget for the entire nation.
The text is supported by 165 tables and 215 maps and figures.
“Basically, we received a grant from AusAID to do a project which was called ‘Information for Rural Development in Papua New Guinea’,” Dr Bourke tells The National.
“And this book is one of the components of the project.
“What we’ve done is we’ve assembled a huge amount of information relevant to agriculture in PNG.
“This covers issues like the physical environment, land and people, and secondly, we’ve got a lot of information on food production, consumption and imports on village food production systems and cash income from agricultural development, policies and governance.
“Some of the things that are in the book include a major section on the history of agriculture in PNG.
“There is a lot of data on the production of staple food crops.
“This date covers all of the cash crops, both in the formal sector such as coffee and cocoa, and in the informal sector such as fresh food, betelnut or firewood.
“We look at the factors that will determine whether a cash crop will be successful or not, and we’ve also examined a number of issues relevant to agricultural development such as rural development projects, gender issues and transport infrastructure.”
One of the outstanding things this book does is to dispel 20 common “myths” about agriculture in PNG, which are:
1. Food production is not keeping pace with population growth;
2. PNG is a food-deficit country;
3. Papua New Guineans live mainly on imported rice;
4. Imports of rice are increasing rapidly;
5. The Australian Administration did not promote rice production in PNG and Australians are attempting to stop local rice production to protect the Australian rice industry;
6. During the 1997-1998 food shortages, Australians saved many Papua New Guineans from starving to death with an emergency famine relief programme;
7. Imported meat, particularly lamb flaps from Australia and New Zealand, is increasing rapidly in volume;
8. Lamb flaps are an unhealthy food;
9. PNG agriculture has not changed for thousands of years. The practices and crops that are used today are traditional and unchanging;
10. PNG has an abundance of high-quality land for agriculture and any tropical crop will grow well anywhere in PNG;
11. With the exception of palm oil, production of export cash crops is static (sometimes expressed as: production is the same now as it was in 1975 at independence);
12. Women do most of the work producing food in PNG;
13. Villagers have a lot of spare time and it does not matter to them how much labour is used to produce a certain crop;
14. Agricultural production is seriously constrained by customary land tenure arrangements;
15. There are few roads in PNG and this reduces agricultural production;
16. There is little information about PNG agriculture with which to develop sound policy, or for planning;
17. There is significant potential to export fresh food to New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia;
18. Global climate change is now causing significant problem for many people on very small islands;
19. There is no poverty in rural PNG because there is plenty of food to eat; and
20. Poor governance of agricultural institutions does not matter because rural people grow their own food and look after themselves.
The good news for PNG is that the book is being distributed freely throughout the country by the University of PNG Bookshop.
“We’ve received a grant from AusAID to publish and distribute 4,000 copies,” Dr Bourke tells The National.
“So the book is being very widely distributed in PNG to universities, government departments, commercial sector, high schools and individuals.
“Extra copies can be obtained by sending an email to Sue Rider at email@example.com.
“As well, all the tables in the book will be available as Excel files on the new website PNGweb.com.
“The website is not yet public but will be in about one month.”
The concept for this book was developed by Dr Bourke, Dr Bryant Allen and Prof John Gibson.
The idea was presented to the PNG National Agriculture Research institute, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, and Department of National Planning and Monitoring.
Staff at these institutions including Raghunath Ghodake, Valentine Kambori, Mathew Kanua, Roy Masumdu and Geoff Wiles, supported the idea, commented on the proposal and suggested additional material.
Many people from the commercial sector, industry bodies and government departments in PNG provided data, as did some based in Australia and elsewhere.
Some sections were sent to specialists for comments.
Most of the information on village-sector agriculture was collected from hundreds of people from every district in PNG who willingly gave their time and immense knowledge about their food production and cash crop systems.
The book was produced by members of the Land Management Group, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.