The National, Tuesday 10th July, 2012
By JAMES LARAKI
RICE has become popular and its consumption is increasing in Papua New Guinea, yet its cultivation and overall development locally has been stagnant.
This is despite the fact rice was introduced by missionaries some 100 years ago and has been adopted and grown in certain parts of the country.
Consumption is estimated at 300,000 tonnes per annum and the trend is increasing day by day. Despite its popularity, almost all the rice consumed in PNG is imported. Importing rice is one of the most contentious food policy issues in PNG and commentators have suggested that the local population is becoming too reliant on imported rice.
These concerns prompt policymakers in the 1990s to set an ambitious target to produce about 50,000 tonnes by the end of the decade. Despite these goals, rice production in PNG has made little progress.
Rice research and development efforts have received on and off attention in recent years, and many attempts made have been uncoordinated. Lack of well researched policy and strategy for rice development in PNG has also contributed to this setback.
We also have a situation where many organisations are working in isolation of each other and lack proper and coordinated partnership and collaborations.
This situation calls for all key players concerned with rice development in the country to work together and set a common goal.
The National Agricultural Research Institute’s (NARI) initiative to organise a rice stakeholder last November was a step in this direction. This workshop was to bring together all key players in the areas of rice research, policy, and development to share their experiences, achievements and understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
This was to set a common goal and device the way forward for all stakeholders.
The workshop provided an avenue for all players to have an understanding of the various constraints and opportunities and other issues that may arise in rice research and development.
Such understanding will enable us to develop a well articulated strategy and implementation plan for prioritised activities and to enhance partnership and collaboration between the different stakeholders.
Limited awareness; skill and knowledge at farmer level; rice is labour intensive crop; limited availability of appropriate and affordable milling options; limited, uncoordinated or lack of support services (extension, credit, transport, etc); lack of suitable seed system (coordination, certification, promotion); non-availability of suitable choice of varieties; and lack of consistent coordination and effective promotion have been highlighted as the major constraints in
Key opportunities identified includes: ready markets; increasing demand due to LNG and others projects coming on stream; population at large eating rice; storability and transportability is easier; appropriate climatic conditions; possibility of restriction on imported rice; milling and packaging facilities available; knowledge and technology available; and institutional /government support is available.
Increasing rice production in PNG (smallholder or large scale rice production initiatives) will contribute significantly to food security and self-reliance through opportunities for production, distribution and consumption. Increased smallholder rice production could become a basis for addressing problems of unemployment, low income, poor income distribution and overall welfare of rural communities.
We have equally high but untapped production potential for rice crop. This potential can certainly be harnessed not only for reducing import, it will promote sustainable food security, generate substantial employment in rural areas, raising incomes, and improving income distribution in the country. Consequently, this will effectively contribute to socio-economic growth, national development and welfare of our people.
Fortunately, we have conducive climate (except for some high altitude areas) for cultivating rice. This means that rice can be easily integrated with other crops into their farming systems by rural communities.
In order to harness such potentials on sustainable basic, we require well coordinated efforts based on appropriate applied and adaptive research and development. The current development efforts, however, have been fragmented and lack focus.
We need to have
research and development activities that are focused on addressing real needs.
Any effort to rice research and development should aim to address areas of covering selection and making available suitable varieties, production, processing, marketing, and farming systems and policy issues through collaborative efforts and in partnership by all stakeholders.
There were a number of recommendations and the way forward considered and put together at the workshop. We hope these will be acted up by key players and follow up actions taken as rice is here to stay.
There is a need to have a realistic approach to rice development; taking into consideration food and nutrition security, rising global food prices and global trade, climate change, rising kina value among others that we are faced with.
We need to have a clear understanding of the many constraints and opportunities and how we can translate these into rice research and development activities.
It is also essential to have a clear pathway of how national government agencies can respond in light of these. And, obviously, we need to establish what sort of partnership and networking should be in place as a way forward.