By JAMES LARAKI
TODAY, all eyes will be on Treasurer Don Polye, who is expected to hand down the much-anticipated Papua New Guinea money plan for 2012.
We gather it will be a balanced one, as reportedly claimed by the Treasurer in the lead-up to it over the last few weeks.
Of interest to the country and our international partners will not only be the money plan itself but how balanced it is taking into consideration the all enablers of development and growth of PNG.
Balanced or not, it is anticipated that health, education, infrastructure, and law and order will be featured prominently, which has been the trend over the years.
This trend is expected to be retained, while other important enablers of growth, in particular agriculture will be pushed to the edges as usual.
While these areas are important enablers for development, we are of the opinion that any money plan that is considered balanced should feature agriculture among the top enablers of development and growth.
The reason: agriculture remains the backbone of the country supporting the livelihood of over 80 % of the people.
And agriculture remains the fundamental instrument for sustainable development and poverty reduction in the country as reported by the World Development Report.
This will remain so for the next 50 years or so.
It is for this reason that we firmly believe that agriculture should take a clear and central position in any development strategy including money plans.
The agriculture sector continuous to be neglected despite many policy documents and speeches by politicians have emphasised agriculture as the most-important economic sub-sector.
Sowing of paddy rice fields by students of the Pacific Adventist University. Appropriate investment can lead to improved rice production for our own consumption as well as export
These claims have never been translated to actual implementations in terms of investments and budgetary support.
Budgets over years have not reflected its importance and the sector continuous to be neglected.
We have maintained and will continue to do so to emphasise the importance of the need to invest in the agriculture sector.
The government and our major development partners have continued to consider and recognise other sectors as enablers of growth and development and have left agriculture out.
This is very unfortunate as we are of the view that for any meaningful development is to take place, it has to start in rural areas in general, and the agriculture sector in particular.
This is simply because over 80% our people are in the rural areas and core problems of widespread poverty, growing inequality, rapid population growth, and rising unemployment are direct effects of stagnant and declining economic activities.
We agree other sectors deserve investment but it must directly compliment to investment to agriculture.
What is the use of establishing a rural health centre when people it intends to serve have no money to pay for medicine?
We must not forget that agriculture development is and will remain the key to rural development and improvement of livelihoods.
It will not only deliver outcomes directly related to increased agricultural productivity but also contributes to necessary outcomes in other sectors such as health, education, infrastructure and law-and-order either directly or indirectly by empowering rural communities to look after their health and education through improved food security and increased incomes.
It is, therefore, very essential for us all to view agriculture as a central sector in the country delivering long‐term outcomes and impacts to all other sectors while other sectors can contribute with short‐term outcomes to agricultural development.
We urge the national government and donor agencies to reconsider their priorities and include agriculture on equal footing with the other sectors currently given priorities.
We are of the view that in reality, PNG should be investing around K400 million per year in agriculture if the nation is to avail the real potential of the agriculture sector for economic growth and development.
This is as per the international recommended rate, 10% of agricultural GDP, when agriculture in PNG contributes an estimated 37% (K4 billion) of total GDP.
The current level of public investment is only about K190 million (including allocations of National Agriculture Development Plans funds to districts), which is less than 5% of the agricultural GDP.
Where and how NADP fund is used in the district also needs some explanations.
Public investment in research and development is equally disappointing.
The current annual public investment in agricultural research is K30 million, which is only 0.75% of agricultural GDP while the ideal rate is 2.0% (K80 million).
This explains the current gap and highlights the huge scope for increasing both public and private sector investments in agricultural research and innovations in PNG.
The government has a duty to the smallholders and the subsistence sector through public sector investment.
There is growing concern that PNG is not anywhere near placing agriculture as the centre of development agenda.
Resource development such as the LNG project and others coming on stream are good opportunities for us take affirmative actions.
However, the current trend is not helping this cause and not a good signal as reflected in our money plans over the years and change of strategies by donors.
We need to seriously reconsider our stand if PNG is to be prosperous.