Ag Summit unearths sector limits, but also opportunities

Weekender

LAST week’s inaugural National Agriculture Summit proved an outstanding success, with key stakeholders across our agriculture sector exchanging forthright, but productive, viewpoints on the current limitations of our industry – but also the opportunities to evolve it.
There were a number of strong keynote addresses that offered an accurate summary of the issues our sector faces, but there was cause for optimism as well. With the “Three P’s” – our People including landowners and farmers; our Political representatives; and our Private sector – working in tandem to tackle these issues, then our industry can really take off from here.
Trukai Industries CEO Greg Worthington-Eyre provided an accurate viewpoint in his address and I think many points are worth revisiting.
Firstly, while our sector, including the rice industry, is limited by our geography and land suitability for agriculture there is ample land with growing potential still to be developed.
The issue of economics does stymy this, as does a lack of enabling infrastructure such as access to power, water and transport which inhibits development of that land. A high cost of inputs and a lack of secondary, supporting industries is problematic, as is a limited availability and cost of currency for inputs.
As a result, we still have an unreliable, high-cost supply chain and limited access to large areas of potential production. The high cost of production limits the ability of the PNG rice industry to be competitive with lower cost, subsidised established international producers such as those based in South-east Asia.
Land tenure is also an issue. There is a lack of legally secure tenure and an inefficient system for resolving land disputes, creating a high risk environment for commercial development. There is limited access to viable microfinance and therefore limited smallholder development.
On the plus side of the ledger, there are still abundant opportunities in the agricultural sector to be realised.
Direct job creation through the development of inputs, services and operations, with the help of government and established industry investors like Trukai Industries, is still an area that can be substantially evolved. Resulting indirect job creation along outside supply chains would occur – meaning economic stimulus, increased disposable income within communities, and a secondary industry growth.
So, where to from here?
The sector needs a continuation of infrastructure development, with roads, power and water for storage and irrigation a priority.
Subsidies and incentives for large scale producers to drive market access for smallholders would give smallholders greater scope to drive productivity gains.
Micro finance for smallholders to grow, and exposing them further to extension services such as Resource Centres would also stimulate our industry.
There is a blueprint for growth and with the Three P’s working closely together, it need no longer be a pipedream.

  • Humphrey Saese is Rice Development Manager for Papua New Guinea’s leading rice supplier, Trukai Industries.

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