THE article “Data collection challenge” published on page 28 of The National on May 10, is vital information for socioeconomic development in Papua New Guinea. Similar sentiments were expressed by Minister for Agriculture and Livestock John Simon last year when he stressed the lack of updated data in the agriculture sector. Qualitative and quantitative data is needed. The Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) needs data to make strategic planning. The rice industry is the best scenario that requires sufficient data to devise an import substitution plan. The Government spends K800 million on imported rice annually. At the moment, there is a need for qualitative data to improve rice production. From a social research perspective, there are three levels of knowledge employed to collect qualitative data; indigenous (ancient), local and expert (trained) knowledge data. In PNG, most researchers utilise scientific research methods in rice research. However, indigenous knowledge is part of social research and it is lacking in our strategic planning for commercial rice production for import substitution.
The indigenous knowledge will be acquired through qualitative data (historical review). Who was the first country in the world to commercialise rice for trade? It is strongly believed that Egypt commercialised rice in 300BC. What form of labour was employed? It was the free labour (slaves) of the government. The government of Egypt used free labour to cultivate rice. Egypt is where agriculture economics was developed. Food security, the treasury system, land leasing, loans, state labour utilisation and taxation were devised there. Indigenous knowledge on rice production unveiled that Egypt utilised free labour (slaves) to cultivate rice for trade. There is a well-known quote which goes: “To make better plans for the future, today, we have to study the past”. In other words, it is about the knowledge of the past (history). We have to study the Egypt model of rice production. The government of Egypt used free labour, the land and specific climatic conduction to plan commercial rice production. In PNG, most of the research on rice is science-oriented. The National Agricultural Research Institute (Nari), Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and Chinese Taipei rice research were based on varieties of rice viable in local areas. The highly significant yield of a variety in a local area is recommended as suitable for a particular climate. However, socio-economic research on improving family labour in rice production is lacking. The Government needs to identify free labour to assist farmers. Prison inmates are available. State labour that could be engaged in family farms to assist in rice cultivation. The Government policy on public-private partnership in agriculture is the vehicle for collaboration in rice production. Thus, equal benefits could be negotiated for the prisoners and the local rice farmers. Family labour can be improved by factoring in inmates into rice farming. In Egypt, land is the second factor of production utilised for rice cultivation. As stipulated in the PNG strategic development plan 2010-2030, there are seven identified economic zones in the country. These are the Sepik plateau, Baiyer, Waghi Valley, Karimui, Papuan Economic Zone, Markham and the South Sea Economic Zone.
These are the viable land identified by the Government for commercial agriculture. Among the identified economic zones, Markham in Morobe and Central have viable rainfall patterns for commercial rice production. These localities have binomial and unimodal patterns respectively. History has unveiled that climate (seasons) play a vital role in rice production. Joseph, in the Bible, used the climate to plan rice production in Egypt. Hence, the rainfall patterns of Markham and Central are data that can be embraced for commercial rice production. The third factor of production is capital. Where shall the Government acquire funding to invest into rice production?
The K800 million spent on imported rice is one avenue that can be revolved into rice development. The agriculture grants hands length parked in the Department of National Planning and Monitoring, under the public investment programme, is another source. The National Development Bank is another source. As a local agriculturalist, I strongly believe that the challenge is on the political economy of rice production in PNG. Planners need to make historical review on price production. We need to understand the Egyptian model of rice production and integrate it into our rice farming systems. The Government needs to device a strategic plan to invest in the economic zones and employ state labour (inmates) to assist local rice farmers. Under such an arrangement, it is possible to achieve the targeted production required to meet the demand of the country.
Visaith Agriculture Consultant,