Agriculture needs a comeback


THROUGH agriculture, the people literally hold their own destinies in their hands.
Agriculture has taken a backseat to the rise of the mining industry and the extraction of other valuable resources.
At independence, the country had among its chief exports coffee, copra, cocoa and tea.
These cash crops were one of the first means for the people to make their own revenue and take part in the local economy.
Papua New Guineans have worked the land for their survival over thousands of years.
The people who first inhabited the island of New Guinea developed methods to till and irrigate their soil and to live off the bounty while hunting and gathering was still the most common method of surviving for people in other parts of the world.
It makes sense that one of the leading industries in a developing economy such as PNG’s should be in the agricultural sector.
Agriculture is indeed the backbone of the country and the people needed to remember this.
Our people must be encouraged to invest in their land and to generate an income from the growth of market produce and cash crops.
But with a booming mining sector over the last quarter century along with existence of oil and hydro-carbons, many have lost sight of what the land can produce instead choosing to focus on what can be extracted from its depths.
While the revenue from the gold, copper and nickel is significant and the reserves of gas seem abundant and seemingly inexhaustible, this wealth will not endure simply because they are non-renewable.
The fishing industry is another area where the country gains revenue from but in terms of having the most involvement by the people – agriculture, and its related industries, is the obvious foundation on which this country’s economy should be based on.
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 running a similar venture.
Some cottage industries have tried to take off but have met natural deaths.
The growth of pyrethrum was once mooted as a cash crop that could have significant effect on the rural communities particularly in the Highlands.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the growth and production of vanilla beans became a lucrative enterprise after the world’s leading producer Madagascar had most of its crop wiped out by disease and bad weather.
That opportunity saw many growers in PNG bank in on the high prices.
The Highlands provinces and Morobe are seen as the potential food bowl of the country.
That these provinces have been producing large amounts of garden produce for the domestic market for years.
The majority of sweet potato consumed in the country’s main cities and towns originates from the Highlands.
While gold and copper can be taken and a royalty paid to the state and the landowners the harsh reality is that very few actually partake in the transaction.
There needs to be a paradigm shift back to the land as it was seen in pre-independence times, when agriculture was seen as the bedrock that the economy could be built on.
That is no longer the case.
We are on the right track with agriculture and whoever will be in Government come August must continue to transform agriculture into an efficient earner will naturally benefit the people and country.