Sunday, January 15, 2012

Exploring food security in Papua New Guinea


Food security is often viewed narrowly as an issue of production.
Many people when we talk about food security often argue that we have in abundance of everything: sweet potato, cassava, taro, banana, sago, variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts, fish, fresh water and so why worry. 
Distribution of improved planting material in the Kokoda area of Northern province as part of a food security project undertaken in the area

They are convinced that we have everything and there is there should be little concern towards food insecurity.
But we must ask ourselves ‘why does food insecurity continue to exist’ even when we have in abundance of everything.
First, we must note that food insecurity is not about insufficient production and availability, but a lack of physical, social or economic access to food.
Other important requirements for food security are stability, and ensuring food contributes to health.
Food stability refers to developing resilience to shocks impacting production and access, such as natural disasters, while health refers to nutritional quality.
For example, a food-secure outcome has not been reached, if someone is getting an adequate amount of food but is developing a nutritional disease.
So food security is achieved when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.
It is on this basis that food security remains a key issue globally.
In Papua New Guinea, food is produced mainly through subsistence agriculture and fisheries. Traditional food systems are secure and resilient when land is available and fisheries are abundant.
This holds true in most rural areas and hunger in such situations remains at low levels.
However, with the increase in population and climate change, food security is at risk.
There is a risk of increased malnutrition and hunger.
 Rapid urbanisation is leaving the urban poor without access to land and income opportunities. And climate change will be putting pressure on the countries’ rural food producers.
It is becoming obvious that current food production is insufficient to feed the increasing population.
 The problem of food insecurity is clearly seen in symptoms of malnutrition and other related diseases, partly due to consumption of processed and frozen food from supermarkets.
Imported food is increasingly being consumed in both rural and urban settings due to changing preferences and a lack of locally produced food in markets.
This trend is quiet common in the urban and peri-urban areas.
The urban poor lack direct access to land and fisheries, and with low job prospects, this group is one of the most foods insecure.
Our food systems are changing.
People are moving to urban centres, where food is sourced from the supermarket instead of the garden.
Imports are increasing, as preferences are shifting and local production has not kept pace with the population increases.
Food crises are biting, resulting in pockets of food insecurity, particularly among the urban poor.
The increased availability of imported food is increasing dietary options, but also has health implications.
The trade in unhealthy food is a source of controversy, such as the import of fatty lamb flaps. Poor nutrition has caused rates of non-communicable diseases to soar.
With climate change, the health of our people will probably worsen before improving.
 For example, malaria is reported to be spreading in the highlands where it was unheard of before.
Food security is being pursued at all levels globally, particularly in relations to threats posed by climate change.
What is unfolding in the Horn of Africa is evident enough for us to work towards sustaining food security.
We need have appropriate policies and investment to for sustained food security.
PNG and other Pacific island countries face many challenges: land scarcity, water shortages, and crop vulnerability from climate change.
Achieving productivity improvements in the face of these pressures certainly is a challenge.
While we remain relatively food secure, the present situation cannot be used as an excuse for inaction.
Under business as usual, food insecurity will increase in all dimensions.
We need to invest now for long-term food security.
 We need to help smallholder farmers to diversify crops and livestock, create local markets, improve postharvest skills, better manage their water resources, and improve their nutrition.
We need to develop new technologies to bolster drought tolerance, pests and disease resistance and improve crop yield.
Developing countries have been criticised for turning a blind eye when it comes to investing in agriculture in general, and particularly in food security.
 PNG is no exception.
This has to change.
It is important for us to invest now for long term food security.
While sustaining food security remains a challenge, we can work towards it by pooling our resources and efforts together.
We have to reach more farmers and communities, and multiply our impact.
We have the resources.
We have an advantage because of our huge resource base and potentials which are yet to be explored.
We are fortunate to have organisations like NARI has made modest advances on the technology front in terms of improved varieties and practices for a range of agricultural commodities and environments.
There is a huge potential in applying modern biotechnology, processing techniques and value adding, and linking farmers to markets.
 Much of these can be achieved through appropriate policy, capacity development and adequate investment.
There must be concerted efforts, by the government and the people to help ourselves.
The primary responsibility naturally lies on our own hands.
We certainly know what needs to be done.
We need to pool our resources together and rededicate ourselves to achieving a sustained food security.

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