The National, Tuesday July 9th, 2013
By JAMES LARAKI
WE all know that agriculture has been, and still is, the backbone of the PNG economy.
This, despite the fact that the non-renewable sector (mainly oil, gas, and minerals) has become the leading contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in recent times.
We also know that agriculture supports about 85% of the population but only accounts for about 25% of GDP.
So, how do we improve on this figure?
The answer is we must be innovative.
First, we must understand what innovative agriculture is in our own context.
We also need to understand why we need it and what we wish to become by being innovative.
For NARI, innovative agriculture is akin to “designing a fishing net”.
We often hear the words “fish” and “fishing net”.
Usually, it is preferred to give a fishing net rather than fish in PNG.
There is an underlying assumption that the fishing net is appropriate to our waters, our people and the type of fish that we wish to fish.
But our waters are different, our people have different skills and we have different kinds and types of fish.
That means we need to have different fishing nets, thus the need for designing appropriate nets.
This example of designing fishing nets is applicable in the context of innovative agriculture.
Our farmers and rural communities have particular skills and knowledge.
We have different sets of agricultural resources and conditions.
And we have different options and opportunities in producing and marketing agricultural outputs.
Therefore, we need to have innovative agriculture based on scientific research and new knowledge.
For us to be innovative, scientific research is crucial.
It has to be at the heart of innovative agriculture. Improved technologies and practices have to be developed from science and research.
These are essential tools for innovative agriculture.
Certainly, traditional and indigenous knowledge available in the system is an integral part of the process of innovation.
Innovative agriculture responds to the ongoing needs and aspirations of farming and rural communities.
It addresses current and emerging constraints, problems and opportunities for farmers and rural dwellers.
It is also participatory – it involves all actors and players engaged in the various stages of development such as production, processing, transportation, marketing, trading and consumption.
This is crucial not only to meet their needs and aspirations but to also reap benefits from their involvement.
It is vital for innovative agriculture to be linked to and supported by appropriate policies and strategies by all levels of governments.
Such policies should include science and technology, agriculture investment, international trade, credit and input supply and taxation to name a few.
We are grateful to Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion, who stated that innovative agriculture was the way forward.
In his keynote address at the annual Innovative Agricultural Show in Lae last month, he commended NARI for taking the initiative in promoting and raising the awareness of innovative agricultural development.
He noted that the Government was aware of such needs and an effort would be made to support such developments.
“The Government is aware of its obligation to support the renewable resource sectors,” Dion said.
“This needs to happen in short to medium terms and continue in the long term.
“That should be the basis so that we empower our people to create wealth, participate in socio-economic development and benefit from these outcomes,” he added.
NARI appreciates this undertaking.
Such empowerment is essential for sustainable development of any nation.
We need to ask ourselves why we must invest in innovative agriculture and also understand our environment and the opportunities present.
We also need to have a clear understanding on how to go about investing in innovative agriculture.
PNG has great potential in developing agriculture.
It has rich soil, genetic resources and also very congenial weather and environment for advanced agriculture.
These resources remain unexplored to a large extent.
We must therefore take bold steps to invest in innovative agriculture.
We must also look at the opportunities presented to us by international trade.
Rising food prices and food crisis all over the world in recent years has resulted in more than one billion people mired in poverty and needing food.
Emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa together have billions of mouths to feed.
PNG has the comparative and absolute advantages in certain commodities such as fruits and nuts and vegetables.
It has the potential to take advantage of these international developments by producing and exporting food and other crops to these needy nations.
This is possible through innovative agricultural development.
NARI certainly notes the challenges that confronts the country.
We understand the need to be innovative.
The institute is certainly taking on the challenge but its efforts need to be understood and appreciated. – NARI