Sunday, February 10, 2013

The ‘paper farmers’ of PNG


This article first appeared in The National Weekender on Friday, February 8, 2013

The Department of Agriculture and Livestock needs a complete overhaul, writes MALUM NALU

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill admission last week that bogus farmers swindled up to K300 million from the National Agriculture Development Plan (NADP) fund from 2009 to 2011 is a sad story of con artists stealing from the genuine, hardworking farmers of PNG.
All pictures are of fresh vegetables being sold in Goroka Market, Eastern Highlands, by genuine farmers.-Pictures by MALUM NALU

Further to this, revelations that the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) overspent its budget by K40 million last year, raises questions whether or not it should exist at all – in this, Peter O’Neill’s ‘year of implementation’.
I have grown up with agriculture, have worked within the industry for the Coffee Industry Corporation, and have covered it widely over the last 25 years as a journalist.


Nothing, however, has been more saddening than the saga of the “paper farmers of Waigani” and the non-performance of the DAL.
In my wanderings around the country, I have stories about these insidious, grim reapers using their ill-gotten funds to buy expensive new vehicles, drink beer and play pokies, and even campaign for the 2012 elections.
Back in 2009, one of the best-ever former secretaries of DAL, Mathew Wela Kanua, warned at the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Committee’s national development forum that the NADP should be abolished.


At the very same forum, vice minister for agriculture and livestock Jimmy Simitab, dropped a bombshell when he declared that his department was no longer capable of running agriculture in PNG.
More than three years later, and with millions of kina lost to the “paper farmer” con artists, it now looks to me that the government should have listened to the words of Kanua and Simitab.
A number of speakers at the 2009 forum questioned where the funds for NADP in the last two years were and what the programme had achieved.
Kanua fired a broadside at the NADP as well as the DAL, which he formerly headed, saying that it should be abolished.
In a no-holds barred comment at the forum, Kanua said it was the overwhelming feeling of the agriculture sector that it was getting nowhere, despite the massive K1 billion to be poured into the NADP over the next 10 years at K100 million annually.
Kanua, who was outspoken in his fight against corruption at DAL during his tenure as secretary, also bluntly told the forum that the DAL should be abolished as it was unproductive.
“It is worrying and it is sad that we are getting nowhere,” he said.
“It seems to be an overwhelming concern from the agriculture sector that we are getting nowhere.
“What are we going to show for the K1 billion?
“What are we going to have in 10 years time to show for it?”
Kanua said this money should be spent in partnership with the private sector to grow agriculture in PNG.


“That was the reason why we created the National Agriculture Development Plan,” he said.
“When I left the department, I said that it should be closed, because it was completely incapable.”
Simitab made the frank admission that DAL was incapable of running the much talked about NADP and all overriding functions should be taken over by the National Agriculture Council (NAC).
The minister recommended the establishment of the NAC as the apex body in agriculture be given high consideration by the forum and the CIMC.
Simitab said one of the most-important recommendations of the Public Sector Review and Monitoring Unit (PMRSU) in 2005 was an overhaul of the DAL; however, this had not been implemented over the last five years.
“The findings of this review remain unimplemented, hitherto, the sad state of affairs in DAL over the last five years,” he said.
Simitab said it was perceived that the NAC, once legislated, would recognise existing commodity and statutory bodies, with overriding powers to maintain and sustain the NADP.
“In fact, the national government, in approving and adopting the NADP in March 2007, had directed that a further institutional and legislative reform be undertaken to improve the management of the sector with NADP,” he said.
“Given the state of reforms that have occurred in agriculture to this point, it is obvious that DAL is neither a capable nor an appropriate ‘lead agency’ without an entity such as NAC as its apex body.
“The suggestion that NAC be chaired by the minister for agriculture and livestock, with membership of no more than 10 people appointed by the head of state on advice, has great merits, on a number of fronts.
“First, it will act independently of all agencies of the sector, and has links to DAL only for policy and technical guidance.
“Secondly, it will establish its own sub-sectoral liaison mechanisms to capture development resource requirements of each sub-sector as well as from each district, for budget purposes and for monitoring and evaluation.


“Thirdly, the entity shall provide a one-stop-shop for investors, and coordination of donor support for agriculture.
“Finally, it shall provide an effective mechanism for the policy coordination of the sector, and the management of annual fiscal support for agriculture through NADP.”
Simitab said the concept of an ‘agricultural council’ being an apex body for the sector was not a foreign concept as it had already been practiced in several emerging Asian economies, including Taiwan and South Korea.
Magical Tambul, Western Highlands, on the foothills of the mighty Mt Giluwe, is one of my favorite places in the country where the ‘bestest and freshest’ vegetables in PNG grow.
In fact, it is the single biggest producer of fresh vegetables in the country such as potatoes, broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower.
In March 2011, while in Tambul for the National Agriculture Research Institute field day, I bumped into Tambul-Nebilyer MP and then civil aviation minister, Benjamin Poponawa.
He says the lessons of the massive corruption involved in the NADP must never be repeated if 
agriculture in PNG is to prosper.



Poponawa has, in the past, been blunt in his anger at NADP funds being stolen by “paper farmers” in Waigani who may have never touched a fork or spade in their lives.
“We already know the experience of the NADP,” he said.
“The people who ran the NADP did not think about the people, rather, about filling their own pockets.”
Poponawa called on the government not to forget about agriculture, despite the massive resource developments in the country such as gas, minerals and oil.
“Agriculture will be with us all the time,” he said.
“Gas, oil and gold will run out.
This week, visiting ANZ CEO, Mike Smith, talked about the enormous potential for PNG agriculture in the ‘Asian Century’.
No “implementation”, however, Mr O’Neill, in the face of ‘paper farmers’ and the farce that is the DAL!

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