Study to rediscover agriculture


New Ireland takes practical approaches to utilising its agricultural potential
Kavieng MP Ian Ling-Stuckey’s response to the “disappointing 2019 Budget” included practical suggestions for getting growth going again in Papua New Guinea in ways that truly benefit the people.
The Shadow Treasurer and Finance Ministet is progessing with agriculture development in Kavieng and neighbouring Namatanai.
“Three experienced agricultural development specialists have just completed field work for a study of agricultural possibilities on New Ireland,” Ling-Stuckey says.
“This work aimed to identify the untapped potential for village agricultural development.
“As well, production and sale of agricultural products offers the chance for many villagers to participate in the cash economy and enjoy the benefits that arise from this.
“Meetings were held with villagers from Kavieng and Namatanai districts in the Tikana, Lavongai, Sentral and Namatanai LLG areas including New Hanover and Tabar islands, Panamecho, Lelet and Danmirik.
“They met with agriculture, education and public health staff from provincial, district and LLG levels of government to consider issues and options for support.
“They also had discussions with catering and community engagement staff from Lihir and Simberi gold mines, representatives from the World Bank, the Market Development Facility, the Phama (Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Programme), KIK (Kokonat Indastri Korporesen), PPAP (Productive Partnership in Agriculture Project, UNDP and Aciar cocoa projects, Kavieng agri-business managers from Poliamba Oil Palm, Bisi Trading and Emirau Marine Products, as well as myself and the Member for Namatanai, Walter Schnaubelt.”
Ling-Stuckey says opportunities abound in fresh produce marketing.
“Opportunities to benefit from sales of fresh produce to Simberi and Lihir mines are only recently being realised,” he says.
“More support is needed to ensure scheduling of production to match demand, ensure the most appropriate crop varieties are being grown, attention to quality in production and post-harvest, and that the logistics chain functions as efficiently as possible.
“Support from experienced, commercial fresh produce producers and marketers will be important to addressing these issues.
“The didiman team identified improvements for both subsistence food production and cash crops, such as pathogen-tested sweet potato, improved varieties, agronomy and scheduling of fresh produce for formal markets, and introduction of clonal cocoa varieties combined with improved management practices.”
PT kaukau: “PT or pathogen-tested sweet potato, is a technique used to produce disease-free planting material.
“The tips from rapidly growing shoots are developed into plantlets using tissue culture.
“The plantlets are then grown in a screen house that excludes the insects that transmit diseases.
“Further bulking up is done in the field, with the vines being sprayed regularly to control insects.
“The result is planting material with the capacity to produce crops of up to 100 tonnes per hectare, compared to 15-25 tonnes per hectare. This technology was developing in Hawaii, but perfected in Australia, where yields of over 80 tonnes per hectare are now common.
“Cash crops examined included cocoa, fresh food, oil palm, coconut products, galip, vanilla, betel nut and balsa.
“Information was gathered to prepare business plans for each possible cash crop.”
Cocoa: “The consultants considered cocoa to be a key crop for New Ireland as it provides a high return on labour inputs and is well-suited to the environment and culture.
“Issues with cocoa pod borer and black pod can be managed through introduction of selected clonal budwood from the Cocoa Board and better cultural practices.
“There is an opportunity to link with an Aciar programme, as well as the future PNG Agriculture Commercialisation and Diversification Project (PACD) – a World Bank programme due to commence in 2019/20.”
Crop integration: “Cocoa also offers opportunities to integrate crops such as galip nut and coconuts as over-story species, and vanilla, daca and food crops as under-story species.
“Crop integration is an excellent way to spread risk and ensure a more regular income for smallholder farmers and of course has been done in various arrangements for thousands of years by PNG farmers.
“Galip nut is a crop with a bright future in PNG.
“Like vanilla, it offers a very high return on labour inputs and fits well into local farming systems.”
VEW extension support: “A form of farmer-centric extension support will be promoted, based on a system used in the Highlands. “The Village Extension Worker (VEW) system identifies lead farmers who are directly supported by DPI, commercial agricultural companies or other expert agriculturists with their farm production.
“These lead farmers then support a group of around 20 farmers, who meet regularly, inspect one-another’s farms and obtain expert support through the lead farmer.
“Training in food production and basic nutrition at high schools, as well as village agriculture will also be recommended.
“Cash crops examined included cocoa, fresh food, oil palm, coconut products, galip, vanilla, betel nut and balsa. Information was gathered to prepare business plans for each possible cash crop.”
Ling-Stuckey is pleased that this expert team, in consultation with the people, considers that some of the proposed activities can be commenced early in 2019 as there is sufficient information and expertise in PNG to start these soon.
“Other activities need to be examined in more detail before a decision could be made on their suitability,” he says.
“These types of activities will be built into our district’s five-year development plans.
“We all know that over 80 per cent of our population is dependent on agriculture.
“It is the true backbone of our economy. However, we have neglected this key area over recent decades.
“In the first decade of independence from 1975 to 1985, agriculture, forestry and fishing exports accounted for more than half of the value of all our exports.
“This was even at the time when the Bougainville copper and gold mine was in operation – and just shows how important agricultural exports used to be.
“However, over the last decade, agriculture exports have dropped to under 20 per cent of all exports as too much attention has focused on the oil, LNG and minerals sector.
“We need to get back to a better balance for the sake of our people – a more inclusive model of development.
“As I said in my budget response ‘So rather than planning a massive agriculture subsidy to ‘besties’, a subsidised cow herd or plans to bring tens of thousands of foreign workers to grow rice, I am starting with some very specific possibilities to improve agriculture. The aim is to both lift growth, but equally importantly, the plan is to raise the level of nutrition in my district.”

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