Make food security a priority

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday June 18th, 2013



PAPUA NEW GUINEA has charted a focused direction for a “smart, wise, fair, healthy and happy” society in its Vision 2050 master plan. 

The plan is based on seven important strategic interventions referred to as pillars.  

Food security directly impacts on achieving four of the pillars – human capacity development; wealth creation, natural resources, growth nodes; institutional     development and service delivery; and environmental sustainability and climate change.

Food security with its various dimensions is the first essential building block in realising 

Vision 2050.  

Without assured food security for today and generations to come, it is impossible to see any progress towards the realisation of Vision 2050.

Therefore, for us to realise the dream of Vision 2050, we need to have interventions in addressing food security. But this is not an easy task, due to the complex nature of food security. 

We first need to understand and expose the various manifestations and dimensions of food security. 

By doing so, we will be able to properly and meaningfully address food security issues in terms of appropriate interventions to be made under various conditions in the PNG context in the short- and long-term.

This is necessary as food insecurity in PNG has been identified as a chronic problem, particularly among smallholder farmers, rural communities and urban dwellers. 

This is recognised as a key factor contributing to low levels of human welfare and standards of living as reflected in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) rankings in which PNG is 153 among 187 nations listed. 

On welfare issues, the most seriously and adversely affected are women and children. 

This is also reflected in the low life-expectancy rate in PNG (on average, 57 years), as compared to the world’s highest rate of about 80 years.

With this scenario, we should be looking at how food security could be addressed in a way that could lead to alleviating poverty, raising life-expectancy or the HDI to an acceptable level.

Our journey to 2050 has already begun. We need to have interventions and strategies in place to address food security. 

Obviously, improving productivity in our agriculture sector remains the key strategy. This is because agriculture is our primary source of food security in PNG. 

Over 80% of our population depends on it for food, cash income and employment. This dependency on agriculture is likely to continue for many years.

Variation in food supply needs to be looked at closely as sustainability of food production is also a major concern, owing to climate change, land and environment degradation, loss of genetic diversity, pest and disease attacks and poor infrastructure and facilities.   

Unbalanced nutrition is yet another concern. Most rural people and many low-income urban dwellers are food insecure, being exposed to variable levels of food production and supply, unbalanced diets, high food prices, and lack of cash income and purchasing ability. Although people may have access to food in terms of quantity, there are deficiencies in nutritional status due to widespread problems in accessing food of adequate quality and variety for a balanced diet.  

While the availability of carbohydrates are moderate, the availability of quality protein, vitamins and minerals, especially for women and children, is grossly limited.  

The average daily calorie availability is around 2,660 calories per person per day for both urban and rural areas. 

This is well above the minimum requirement of 2,000-2,200 calories.  But, about 42% of the population in both rural and urban areas is unable to meet a target food energy requirement of 2,000 calories per person per day. 

The average daily protein availability in PNG is around 55 grams/day/adult equivalent. This also is well above the minimum requirement of 45 grammes per day. 

However, there are vast differences in protein intake between the urban and the rural sector and rich and poor people.

The daily protein availability in urban area is almost 50% higher than in the rural areas.  

Similarly, urban diets have a higher energy density than do rural diets. So the averages do not tell the entire story and individual segments of society need to be considered in addressing food security 

Most people are also able to access a form of social-cultural network (including the wantok system) in which food is shared and/or distributed among people in such networks. 

However, the cultural practice of food distribution may result in food insecurity within households, especially where men receive priority and are given the best part of meals while women and children are marginalised with respect to protein food.

Issues of employment and income are also important. About 15% of our people are employed in the formal economy and they live and work in urban and/or in mining areas. The other 85% are engaged in the informal economy, the majority of them living in rural areas.  Rural people have limited access to cash income with few income-generating opportunities, apart from agriculture. 

Despite the large amount of money generated by agriculture, on a per capita income basis, rural people earn very little.  

Studies have indicated that about 82% of the rural population earns less than K150 per capita per annum, while another 12% earn between K151 and K300.   

There is uneven distribution of cash income in the sector, as with the economy. 

This is reflected in the low disposable income and purchasing power of rural households with implications for access to food, especially items that they do not produce and need to purchase.

These are some dimensions of the current food security situation that need to be considered strategically in addressing food security in the country. If we have to work towards realising PNG Vision 2050, food security must be recognised and addressed. 

We believe this is the first essential building block.