Caption: Joshua Lumba of Yamiufa village, Eastern Highlands province checking his rice field. Smallholder rice growers such Lumba could be supported through an effective extension system, thus improving smallholder rice production in PNG
By JAMES LARAKI
In recent years, PNG agriculture sector faced many difficulties and has not fared well, except for one or two sub-sectors.
A number of factors have been identified as responsible for the lack of or limited growth and poor agricultural extension has been one of the significant factors.
The dismal performance of extension began with the decentralisation of extension services from the National Department of Agriculture and Livestock (NDAL) to the provinces soon after independence.
This created 19 extension systems without any plans and adequate resources.
This followed with the creation of commodity boards and proliferation of NGOs, church-based extension services and other service providers, all with varied plans and client base.
This resulted in extension services becoming very fragmented, with most of the providers working on ad-hoc basis.
In addition, lack of partnership, collaboration and coordination of the extension system had led to duplication of activities, leading to wastage of resources.
All these have collectively led to decline in the extension services delivery systems.
The overall result is the stagnating performance of the agricultural sector since independence.
This scenario is likely to remain unless something is done to revitalise the agriculture extension system in the country. The situation here calls for a policy intervention more than anything.
A new policy on agriculture extension system is required to focus on the development of an effective and efficient extension system.
The new policy should aim to developing a cost effective and sustainable extension delivery mechanism that is market and farmer-driven.
It will encourage the various partners and agencies within the national agricultural extension system to provide efficient and effective services which complement and reinforce each other, increasing the efficiency and productivity of the sector.
Existing national policies on agriculture are becoming increasingly irrelevant to farmers and other stakeholders in the sector.
While successive strategy and policy papers have emphasised agriculture as the most important economic sub-sector, their implementations have been impractical.
Agriculture extension forms a major component of the National Agriculture Development Plan (NADP 2007 - 2016) but its credibility has been seriously questioned over allegations of the alleged misuse of the K200 million allocated for its implementations.
It is considered as a wasted opportunity with accusation of grants under this plan made to individuals and 'paper farmers' through dubious practices.
As with the National Agricultural Development Strategy Horizon (NADSH 2002 – 2012), the NADP has been viewed poorly by many in the agriculture sector.
Some sub-sectors have queried the government's Vision 2050, claiming the projections of these commodities as unrealistic.
They claim the plan was put together by bureaucrats in Waigani without proper consultation with respective commodity organisations and other stakeholders.
The general consensus with this scenario is that agricultural development, in general, and extension services in particular, will continue to decline.
Thus, the need to revive agriculture extension and make it effective is of great concern nationwide.
The National Extension Summit (2004) noted the seriousness of extension delivery failures and the desire of the sector agencies to revive the extension system.
This summit called for the need to improve the performance of the agricultural extension systems through better coordination and linkages between the various sector agencies.
The recommendations of the summit to set up a National Extension Steering Committee (NESC) needs to be revisited and considered as the national coordinating agency.
Such committee will oversee and provide advice, guidance and direction on national extension delivery system and needs.
Currently extension services are being promoted without any consideration for their sustainability.
The establishment of NESC will ensure extension systems and packages are environment and community friendly, and address specific needs of the farmers in each sub-sector for effective stakeholder participation, benefits and sustainability.
The NESC would have guidelines in place to monitor and evaluate the performance of the national extension system on a regular basis.
Effective extension delivery systems also require enabling environment in terms of resources, coordination and capacity building.
Lack of credit access, declining road and infrastructure and inadequate marketing infrastructure are some of the reasons for the decline in the agriculture in PNG.
Women are resources and assets for development, but they are ignored in the development planning process.
The disadvantaged position of women is considered as a key constraint in developing the agricultural sector as women play a significant role in the production of food and other agricultural products.
Effective linkages between research and extension are very essential, to ensure innovations and technologies developed from research are disseminated to stakeholders on timely basis. Except for some of the export crops sector, integration of research, extension and the farmer is weak.
These linkages need to be prioritised based on national importance and on community needs.
Agricultural information development, promotion, and dissemination and capacity building have been on the decline, and this is unfortunate in this era of information and technology advancement.
There is a need to promote access to adequate information, resources and enhance capacity to effectively implement the national extension services.
Enhancing the capacity of extension agents and farmers through increased information, knowledge and skills will equip them towards improvements in agriculture production and productivity.
Other development issues confronting smallholder households such as climate change, HIV and AIDS, and food and nutrition security calls for all stakeholders to make a positive contribution to innovative agricultural development.
It is essential that government and responsible stakeholders intervene to revitalise the declining performance of the agriculture extension system.
This is because, unless the extension services delivery systems improves, improvements in agriculture sector which supports the livelihood of over 80% of the population will remain dismal and thus compromised.