THE impact of the recent earthquake and its ongoing aftershocks is a tragic and timely reminder of the value of agriculture to large numbers of Papua New Guinean citizens who exist outside the formal PNG economy.
Once the initial emergency response to immediate needs such as medical aid, sanitation services and food aid has been implemented, the focus of relief efforts then shifts to the next steps for the rebuilding of affected areas.
The cost of the damage to infrastructure such as buildings, roads and extractive resource projects can be easier to quantify, and the bulk of the funding for disaster relief will flow into these areas.
The impact on the damage to agricultural production can be harder to assess, however, given that a significant amount of the value of subsistence farming is realised at home by families who consume their own produce without it ever being part of the formal economy.
Stories of whole gardens of kaukau disappearing with landslides have begun to filter from down from the Southern Highlands to Morobe from this most recent disaster, with the proportion of affected areas not yet known.
The replacement of the nutrition that would have come from these gardens still has to come from somewhere.
We see glimpses of the true value of PNG Agriculture during tragedies such as the current earthquake relief, or the 2015/2016 drought.
Companies including Trukai Industries have worked tirelessly behind the scenes at short notice, to put together substantial donations to address the most pressing food shortages driven
by the lost local agricultural production.
But the true value of the damage to the industry will become apparent over the coming months as we realise the necessity for a combination of food aid, and an increased reliance on packaged staples, while lives are rebuilt and gardens are replanted.
PNG farmers have demonstrated many times before their ability to rebuild and replant.
The renewed focus on the agriculture sector by the O’Neill government is heartening.
However, we must be careful that in the focus on commercial investment into the industry that the true value of the subsistence farmer is not forgotten, and that extension and development services to improve the resilience of the industry at its grassroots are prioritised accordingly.
- Humphrey Saese is Rice Development Manager for Papua New Guinea’s leading rice supplier, Trukai Industries. Humphrey welcomes reader feedback or new story suggestions at HSaese@trukai.com.pg