By MALUM NALU
National Planning and Monitoring Minister Paul Tiensten seems to have ignored feedback from agriculture professionals in favor of “false statistics” from his department and Department of Agriculture and Livestock, according to Institute of National Affairs executive director Paul Barker.
Barker said this at the weekend after a full-page advertisement by Tiensten in The National last Friday defending DNPM from criticisms leveled at it by cocoa, copra, palm oil and coffee experts in this newspaper last week.
Cocoa, copra, palm oil and coffee experts last week rubbished huge increases projected for 2030 by Tiensten’s PNG Development Strategic Plan (PNGDSP 2010-2030), saying they had not been consulted before making such projections, which were impossible with government attitude towards agriculture.
Staff from the two departments have since been pointing fingers at other over who was responsible for the figures, which will also be part of the much-vaunted Vision 2050, while the farmers continue to work their land oblivious to all the fuss going on.
Tiensten hit back with the advertisement, and a strong personal attack on PNG Coconut Cocoa Institute chief executive officer Dr Eric Omuru, who had described the projections as a “joke” at a workshop the week before.
“False statistics are useless for everyone,” Barker said.
“It is disappointing that the planning minister should choose to criticise the feedback being provided by professionals with respect to the 20-year strategic plan (DSP), and notably the agricultural forecasts.
“Constructive feedback should be encouraged, recognised and appreciated, not condemned.”
Barker said with respect to the agricultural targets, it had long been pointed out that these were unrealistic, with eight-fold increases in coffee production, six-fold in cocoa, and others having little link with reality or past experience.
“When asked where these figures were sourced, planning department staff stated they obtained them from the agriculture department,” he said.
“Agriculture department staff stated they didn’t provide these figures, whilst the respective commodity institutions and other agricultural industry bodies stated firmly that the figures were unrealistic and that they’d not been consulted.
“Regardless of the source of these figures, and who’s right and who’s wrong, it was urged that the respect public and non-government bodies should get together promptly to ensure that realistic figures are prepared promptly and mutually accepted, so that there can be targets which everyone co-operates to achieve.
“It must be remembered that agriculture is undertaken by farmers making their own investment decisions, based upon their own perception of returns to their land and effort.
“Care must be taken by authorities to understand the needs of these farmer, their potential and constraints which need to be addressed.
“Many of these constraints relate to poor public infrastructure such as roads and ports, and services, whilst others relate to natural factors, such as local land availability and suitability, as well as to options for the farmers, or opportunity costs, such as whether they prefer to grow vegetables instead of coffee).
“If the bulk of the industry professionals say the figures are unrealistic, for various reasons, and need to be revised, these observations should be heeded and recognised and not dismissed out of hand.
“Maybe industry players are being too conservative and should be encouraged to see greater potential, but in all likelihood their views are based upon long and practical realities.”
Barker said in the 1960s and 70s the world saw great application of top-down “long-term plans”, largely emanating from remote bureaucrats in the capitals of the old Soviet-style “command economies”.
“In some cases, the targets were totally unrealistic, with requirements, for example, to double rice production in a few years,” he said.
“Officials didn’t dare challenge the targets given, for fear of losing their jobs or worse, so in many cases the result was extensive falsification of statistics.
“ It wasn’t even possible sometimes for the plants or animals, let alone the farmers and the infrastructure, to achieve the increased production levels required, but officials and departments/provinces would nevertheless announce that the targets had been achieved or even better.”