Rice is the second most important cereal in the world and staple food to about two billion people.
Rice germplasm evaluation field at NARI Bubia, outside Lae
Although rice is not a traditional crop to Papua New Guinea, it has been cultivated for over 100 years and has become a staple food to many people, with an estimated consumption of over 300,000 tonnes per annum.
Rice and grains have emerged strongly during the post-war era in PNG.
It has now become prominent in the household food basket, thus contributing a significant part to national nutrition and calorie requirements.
Despite its popularity, almost all the rice consumed in PNG is imported.
Importing rice is one of the most-contentious food policy issues in PNG. Commentators have suggested that the local population is becoming too reliant on imported rice.
These concerns prompted policymakers in the 1990s to set an ambitious target to produce approximately 50,000 tonnes by the end of the decade.
NR 1- 'C Fields'
The estimated 10,000 tonnes produced is not sufficient to meet the growing demand. The scale of production has been limited by various technical, sociological, economic and institutional constraints.
PNG’s shifting farming systems, labour intensity and productivity, pests and diseases, have become major contraints.
These have been compounded with lack of continuous supply of pure seed, appropriate milling facilities, and lack of information and training.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) has been active in promoting rice and grains development through scientific research since 2001 when all rice and grains research was transferred from the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL).
Research on rice and grains is aimed at addressing issues of food security and self-reliance with opportunities for people to participate in national development of rice production, distribution and consumption.
NARI rice and grains project takes heed of smallholder rice production using new and improved knowledge, information and technologies derived from scientific research under PNG conditions.
The current focus of NARI rice and grain project is on introduction and evaluation of upland rice varieties to contribute to improved productivity, quality and quantity of production.
Most of PNG’s local rice production is taking place in remote areas like Finchhafen and Garaina in Morobe, Maprik in East Sepik and inland Bougainville.
Therefore, it is necessary to have a number of varieties available for farmers at any given time that are high-yielding under low input, resistant to important pest and diseases, good eating qualities spread over diverse agro-ecological conditions.
In May 2006, NARI released four rice varieties to the PNG farming community (NARI Rice (NR) 1, NR 9, NR 15 and NR 16) suitable for upland production in the lowlands.
With a total of 1100 varieties obtained from the International Rice Research Institute in its germplasm collection, the project is identifying varieties that can stand out and suit a wide range of environments in PNG.
In some rice growing places such as Finschhafen and Garaina, growers have selected and maintained suitable landraces from earlier introductions.
“Waria Sunlong” of Garaina and Waria valley, and “Finsch Brown”, “Sukong Turung”, and “Finsch White” of Finschhafen are some examples.
Supply of good quality seeds is vital for rice production in the country.
Currently, the supply of rice seeds is coordinated by DAL.
Seeds of NARI rice varieties are distributed from NARI regional centres and can also be sourced through provincial DALs.
With annual import bill running into millions of kina, efforts to reduce import dependency remain a major challenge.
These efforts are being aided by various overseas governments, aid agencies and NGOs.
The government’s efforts are manifested in DAL policy document: ‘Papua New Guinea Rice Development Policy 2004 – 2014’.
This document is the successor to the National Rice Policy of 1998.
The latest policy document recognises the importance of rice as a staple food for the people of PNG and proposes a range of policy and programme interventions to provide a clear policy environment to mobilise resources to promote sustainable domestic rice development.
It provides a framework for partnership between the government and its development partners and donor agencies to support the domestic rice development.
Attempts to achieve self-sufficiency in domestic rice production over the years have had limited success, although it is a proven fact that rice can be grown in PNG. Despite renewed interest and recent reports of a surge in rice cultivation by local farmers throughout the country, domestic rice production is still remains minor and highly local.
This calls for coordinated efforts to review the factors which hinder domestic rice production in the country. Issues on access to rice milling facilities, shortage of trained personnel, technical support and credit facility, poor infrastructure and market access, continuous supply of pure seeds, information and support services, quality of locally-grown rice, and other contributing factors need to be addressed.
Research and extension support also need to be strengthened and supported to drive rice development in PNG.
Rice development needs to be promoted to the farming community for food security, income opportunity, and improved living standard of the rural population.
|NR 1- 'C Fields' (before flowering)|