Agriculture, the centre of world agenda

Nari, Normal

Seniorl Anzu and Raghunath Ghodake

Agriculture is currently getting international attention as a way forward for world development.
The World Development Report (WDR) 2008 recognises this and calls for developing countries and international communities to place agriculture at the centre of development agenda with greater investment.
This is essential if they are to meet the Millennium Development Goals of halving the share of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.
The report, titled Agriculture for Development, is the 30th in the series by World Bank, which provides guidance to governments and international communities on designing and implementing agriculture for development agendas, particularly in connecting smallholder agriculture and rural development to poverty eradication.
Principal author, Dr Derek Byerlee, presented the WDR in Port Moresby before key ONG agricultural stakeholders in February last year.
The findings and recommendations of the report are based on experiences around the world in which nations were grouped into three categories – agriculture-based countries, transforming countries and urbanised countries.
According to the WDR, countries in the first category have 82% of the rural population living in agricultural activities where the sector, deemed essential to poverty reduction, food security and overall growth; generates on an average 32% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
These countries have some 417 million rural people with 170 million who live on less than US$1 a day.
With about 87% of the population depending on agriculture, PNG is very much in this category.
In PNG, agriculture is a major economic activity, a livelihood and a provider of environmental services.
The sector is the basis for growth, development and improvement in quality of life for the majority.
It can be instrumental in reducing absolute and relative poverty, help create wealth, and improve overall welfare as emphasised by the Medium Term Development Strategy (MTDS) and the National Agricultural Development Plan (NADP).
Agriculture in PNG can also be a precursor to industrial revolution, especially in downstream agro-processing and manufacturing, using agricultural outputs such as starch from sago and bio-fuels.
Arising from these are tremendous likely positive development impacts through spin-off benefits, multiplier effects, income distribution and welfare improvements.
There are many opportunities in PNG’s rich natural resource-base and the potential to achieve substantial productivity/profitability gains through agricultural research, technology and innovations.
New innovations in science and technology, institutional and markets; public/private partnerships, especially in out- and up-scaling; revolutions in biotechnology and information technology; and bio-fuels are offering new opportunities which can bring substantial efficiency in smallholder farming.
However, the sector is also confronted by many challenges and crucial issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, droughts and frosts, and natural disasters like volcanoes, cyclones, and tsunamis.
Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera, malaria, and potential zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza, swine flu and some exotic animal/plant diseases have tremendous negative impact worldwide, and given the current trend, such impact would likely be disastrous in PNG if appropriate measures are not taken.
Other issues include the non-
existent of land rental market, lack of water management and harvesting, the dire need for human capital development in agriculture and low productivity of most resources (land, labour, capital) in most agricultural activities in many areas of the country.
Agricultural research, science and technology have the potential to deal with these issues and address the challenges.
This will require much higher investment in agriculture and agricultural research.
Currently public investment in research is about K20 million per annum (which is only 0.5% of estimated agricultural GDP of K4 billion), while the internationally recommended rate is 2.0% of GDP (which is K80 million per annum).
This is very well justified as many developing countries have experienced very attractive rates of internal returns to agricultural research investment (as high as 43%), while PNG recorded 35%.
Similarly, the total public investment in overall agricultural development at present is only K60 million per annum (excluding NADP funding), which is about 1.5% of agricultural GDP.
The WDR stresses that total investment in agricultural development should be 10% of agricultural GDP if a nation is to move from the category of agricultural-based countries to transformed economies, a transition towards the developed world.
This means PNG should be investing around K400 million annually in agricultural developments.
Such funding should go hand in hand with two priority areas – policy and capacity development.
The first issue relates to influencing the political economy of agricultural policies to overcome policy biases against smallholder agriculture, encourage long-term investment in agriculture and avoiding mis-investment.
The second is strengthening of governance and capacity for the implementation of agricultural policies, programmes and projects that would have long-term impact for sustainable development.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for concerted efforts by all concerned to organise higher investment in agricultural development.
This must be done NOW if the current generation is to improve its well-being and the next generation is to be prosperous.