Agriculture gets the care it deserves


THE increasing attention given to the development of agriculture by the Government makes sense.
To become the mainstay and backbone of the national economy, agriculture, as reflected in the huge slice of the 2018 national budget allocated to it, has been given all the assistance and support it needs to contribute more to national growth.
We have been distracted for too long by the glitter of gold and the heaps of minerals pouring of the mines, and the gas pumped out of the ground. We have ignored or paid little attention to what farming the land can bring to our lives.
So much potentially productive land lie idle around us in the highlands, inland areas, river plains to be farmed, yet we choose to buy vegetables from overseas.
So much flat land with lush vegetation ideal for livestock farming, yet we spend millions to buy our meat and pork from overseas.
So much customary land lie idle near our villages waiting to be planted with cash crops, yet we flock to the towns to live in settlements and unable to feed ourselves. Our agricultural export is nowhere near the level we want it to be. Thus it is good to see the government driving the sector which promises to generate income and bring wealth to thousands of families in this country.
More agricultural projects to drive development, more incentives to the landowners to use their land for farming, or lease it to others if they cannot do so. Joint ventures with landowners is also an option.
The initiative which has started must be allowed to gather momentum and roll onwards. Agriculture has the potential to generate 50 per cent of the gross domestic product.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill summed it well last week when he told the inaugural agriculture summit that the agriculture sector has not been given the attention it deserved. Revenue from agriculture can cater for the increasing expenditure the Government has to take care of as the population increases.
The 2918 budget has allocated funds to initiatives such as the productive partnership in agriculture programme, national cattle breeding farm, freight subsidy for cocoa and coffee, strategic defence against coffee berry borer and the regional cocoa nurseries projects.
It is also good to see K100 million allocated to the agriculture commercialisation fund, plus K100 million funding to the National Development Bank for the small-to-medium businesses.
Small agriculture-related businesses are a driver of growth. They create wealth and jobs.
The National Development Bank spent K554 million in the SME sector in the past eight years. And the demand for small business loans has increased to an average of 20 per cent every year. We must not forget that people of this land had worked the land for subsistence over the years. The people who first inhabited the island of New Guinea developed methods to till and irrigate the soil and to live off the bounty.
At independence 45 years ago, the country had among its main exports coffee, copra, cocoa and tea. .
Other agricultural products have since increased their presence and importance. Sugar and oil palm are now two of the country’s major industries. Although sugar is produced for domestic sale, other industries have shot off the Ramu cane fields. Small beef industry is up and running with cattle being tended to supply the local market. This livestock opportunity is not lost on another major oil palm producer in West New Britain who running a similar venture. So we must revisit all these. The agriculture sector needs consistent and adequate funding so it attracts those who are currently unemployed in cities and towns to return home and work the land.
There has to be an incentive provided to lure young people doing nothing in the municipalities to return to the land and earn a living from it.
The government is right to give agriculture the attention it deserves. There is so much wealth to be made from it to benefit the family and the country.