PM keen to boost agriculture

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The National’ senior writer MALUM NALU, in mid-May interviewed newly elected Prime Minister James Marape on Papua New Guinea’s strive to transform the agriculture sector into a world standard revenue earner.
And immediately after he was sworn in as PNG’s 8th premier, he said in his address in Parliament that engaging in downstream food processing and manufacturing activities were the way to go for farmers and agriculture.
Some 85 per cent of PNG’s 8.4 million people are still dependent on agriculture today.
Read what Marape said …

PRIME Minister James Marape says he supports the US$600 million (K2.03 billion) Papua New Guinea-China Integrated Agriculture Park Project if it follows “proper economic rationale” and there is “a return on our investments”.
The parks, to be located at Korofeigu in Eastern Highlands and Highlands’ Agriculture Training Institute (HATI) in Western Highlands, will be funded under China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
“I have issues when there are no direct returns on investments to our country. It then becomes a project that is for the convenience of sponsors of the project.
“The projects at Korofeigu and HATI are noble projects with great intentions.
“Everyone in Cabinet and in Government know the intentions of this project.
“I will support the project as long as it pays dividends to our people. The project is a goer, so long as I can see, visibly, our people earning money in five to 10 years’ time and it’s not just another ‘ghost project’,” he added.
Marape agreed that the value chain remained the biggest hindrance to development of agriculture, which he said had regressed in the country since 1975, despite agriculture being a natural for PNG.
He said PNG Defence Force soldiers, who were not being utilised, should be used to help rural farmers transport their produce to market.
“Defence Force right now has 4,000 to 5,000 officers doing nothing,” he said.
“We want to get them involved in civic activities, and one of them is logistics, including fresh produce logistics.
“I acknowledge that the supply chain remains a big issue – that of bringing produce to the market.
“Again, it depends on infrastructure, whether it be communication infrastructure, banking infrastructure, transport infrastructure.
“In my view, we have to involve the defence force in many of our Government logistics, which will mean military aircraft and soldiers being used in remote areas like Goilala (Central) and Karamui (Chimbu).
“This issue of mobilising produce and transporting them to markets is a big challenge that we have to address over the next five years.
“Highlands’ producers currently offload in Lae, and it would be good to have another port facility in Kikori (Gulf) so that produce can easily find Port Moresby in a day.
“Opening up infrastructure will complement movement of our produce to domestic markets such as Port Moresby and Lae.”
Marape said organic food was a major international industry and airports like Komo (Hela) and Nadzab (Lae), and Tokua (East New Britain) and Kavieng (New Ireland) for fish, could be used to transport to overseas markets.
“Asian markets will only be four to five hours’ flight away every day,” he said.
“A couple of years ago, while in Australia, I witnessed the opening of Toowomba International Airport, which specialised in export of organic agriculture produce to the Asian market.
“The inaugural flight was from Toowoomba to Hong Kong, an eight-hour flight to deliver 87 tonnes of vegetables like cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, capsicum, cauliflower.
“The flight is more expensive than out of Komo, Mt Hagen or Nadzab.
“My thought went to Komo – the biggest runway in PNG sitting there like a White Elephant.
“I am thinking big in the field of agriculture, not only in terms of the domestic market but the international market.
“Look at cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Tokyo which have millions of affluent citizens who are looking for food.
“We should pick up so that 10 years from now, we are a successful supplier of good, reliable food, not just coffee, copra or cocoa.
“Organic food is the way to go.”