Agriculture, the agenda for development

Nari, Normal

Seniorl Anzu and Raghunath Ghodake

Agriculture needs to be appreciated and implemented by all stakeholders as the main agenda for development and prosperity of Papua New Guinea.
This is the sector that generates economic activities, provides environmental services, creates employment, and sustains the rural livelihood of more than 85% of the country’s population.
The sector involves all and benefits all.
Agriculture’s immediate contributions are in the areas of food security, cash income generation, employment creation and poverty alleviation.
In the medium to long-term, the sector has potential to empower people and create wealth, thus bringing greater prosperity to the whole nation.
The sector has a long history with human civilisation in agricultural farming, dating back 9,000 years as evidenced with the enlisting of the Kuk pre-historic agricultural landscape on the World Cultural Heritage List last year.
PNG’s Medium Term Development Strategy and the National Agricultural Development Plan (NADP) emphasise agriculture as instrumental in reducing absolute and relative poverty, help create wealth and improve overall welfare.
The Government’s resource framework must recognise agriculture as central agenda for PNG’s socio-economic development.
If this agenda is implemented effectively, agriculture has definite potential to manage law and order, take care of health, help educate children, bring peace and harmony, manage and sustain environment and its integrity, and bring overall prosperity to all.
This renewable resource sector is depended on by the majority, richly endowed with resources, comparatively advantageous, self-sustaining and supported by emerging world trends.
The country is richly blessed with tropical environment, fertile and rich land and soils, ample rainfall and sunlight, and rich bio-diversity.
These are complemented by industrious and committed farming communities with a wealth of indigenous knowledge developed over generations and with large appetite for adaptation of new science-based knowledge. No other economic sector can be so advantageous in the long-term on a sustainable basis than agriculture in PNG.
This is a unique God-blessed gift and no one can take it away from the country.
Focus on agriculture will also save PNG in the long-term, especially from external uncertainties.
Already the world has experienced such emerging trends. The recent skyrocketing of food prices and rising shortage of food worldwide and global financial and economic crisis have all had a downturn on the world and national economies.
These are coupled with emerging issues like climate change and long-term sustainability.
Other pertinent issues for PNG are low income generation despite having rich natural resources; low productivity of resources; lack of participation by skilled and hard working farming/rural communities; huge imbalances in income levels across regions; inadequate access to free and open markets by farmers; and serious health issues such as high rates of tuberculosis, malaria, heart diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Given these challenges, PNG needs to focus on specific high priority agricultural development areas such as biotechnology advancement; globalisation and marketing; mitigation and adaptation to climate change; the integration of science and technology to development; and the opportunity for research and development organisations such as NARI to remain dynamic and vibrant to create change for PNG’s development.
These all should be strengthened with increased investments, optimal policy mix, resource and capacity support and innovative strategic interventions and management.
The World Development Report (WDR) 2008 recognises agriculture as a way forward for world development and calls for developing countries and international communities to place agriculture at the centre of development agenda with greater investment.
The report stresses that agricultural investment should be around 10% of agriculture GDP if a nation is to move from the category of agricultural based countries to transformed economies, a transition towards the developed world.
PNG is far from the category of transformed countries.
That means we should be investing around K400 million (being agriculture GDP of K 4 billion) annually in agricultural development, as compared to K160 million (including K100 million under NADP) investment at present, which is just about 4% of agricultural GDP. 
Such level of investment should also be intensive and systematic in high impact areas such as science and technology.
A lot has been said and attempted with respect to law and order, peace and harmony, health, education, infrastructure, HIV/AIDS, gender and many other areas.
However, without wealth creation, empowering masses, and involving them both in participation and benefit sharing, there is no way the above issues can be satisfactorily dealt with on a sustainable basis.
PNG agriculture has that capacity. The nation is certainly not competitive in manufacturing, automobile, IT or garment sectors as others are well ahead.
The country’s much talked about non-renewable resources can come and go.
Their impacts remain limited on the lives of very few and that may even be counter-productive, generating enclave growth with negative implications.
The time is right now for PNG to strategically plan for the development of agriculture.
This is so when the country is reaping the benefits of its many non-renewable resources.
Besides, the lucrative LNG (liquefied natural gas) project provides an opportunity to strategise and invest in sustainable and innovative development.
The NADP provides the roadmap for agricultural innovations.
It is also timely that we are now developing the National Strategic Plan 2010-50 which must align and integrate agricultural development as the central agenda under its focus areas such as wealth creation, climate change and environmental sustainability, human development and people empowerment, and institutions and systems strengthening and alignment.
Can the nation, all its organisations and service delivery agencies embrace agriculture as the agenda for PNG’s overall development?
This is a challenge for the country and its people.
NARI has unequivocally taken this position and wish to challenge others to join in this movement of change.
If implemented aggressively, the nation cannot go wrong!