The future is in agriculture

Editorial, Normal

There is a policy in the soon to be new Hela province that every one of the 200-plus families ought to have 1,000 coffee trees each.
Few families actually agree with that.
Most think that the LNG project will mean that the entire province will be inundated with money such that no person has to work ever again.
And that is where they are wrong.
The Coffee Industry Stabilisation Fund was the richest in the country after the Mineral Resources Stabilisation Fund.
Not so any more.
With the advent of oil and other mineral revenue, interest in the labour intensive cash crop industry took a plunge.
The demise of the cash crop industries was completed by the removal of other protective measures as PNG moved to join the World Trade Organisation and other globalising influences such as Apec.
Unfortunately and unbeknown to PNG protectionism remained in the United States and in the European Union, the supposed bastion of world free trade and commerce.
Today – coffee, cocoa, copra, rubber and tea – are only a small percentage of the former vibrant industries.
Meanwhile, protectionism thrives in the developed economies which were pushing for removal of protectionist policies of governments in Third World nations.
Today protection of agricultural industries in the developed nations are so huge that a cow in the European Union is subsidised very many times more than most people get to survive in the poor nations of the world.
It is time Government gave more than lip service to the agricultural industry in PNG.
In the end, the majority of people live off agriculture.
When the gold, copper, silver, nickel, cobalt, oil and gas are exhausted, the agricultural sector will remain.
Unless that sector is given proper support, it will be curtains for the sector and there goes the future of the country.
Vanilla, for instance, was a miracle crop when a cyclone wiped out the world’s greatest source of the crop at Madagascar.
The crop was fetching K700 per kilo of A Grade beans at one stage.
Despite this the Government failed to regulate the industry properly to the extent that cheats and greedy agents quickly damaged PNG’s reputation in the small niche market for the crop in the world.
Today, vanilla is grown everywhere the crop can grow but PNG’s share of the market is shrinking.
The spices market around the world appears to be in flush but there is nobody in Government who appears interested in developing the industry here in PNG where just about any spice can be grown in healthy quantities.
And now we have the politician going around with money dishing them out to all and sundry to “develop” agriculture.
This is plain stupid.
First, the politician is just one person.
Few of them are actually trained in agriculture.
Most have competing financial needs coming from their electorate that are far removed from agriculture.
There is no capacity to remit and account for funds.
There are no extension officers or programmes for any agricultural work attached to the staff of Members of Parliament.
It is just plain waste of money.
That is what happened to the K100-plus million that was parked in the national agriculture development programme fund.
Each MP was given K1 million to distribute in his electorate.
For the reasons stated above, we can safely bet that between 80% and 90% of the money went into anything but agriculture.
Indeed, Agriculture and Housing Minister Andrew Kumbakor admitted if free-ly.
The money went to “paper and computer farmers operating in Waigani”, he says, referring to the countless proposals that elicit payment out of NADP funds but which are never put into agricultural development.
This is a shameful state of affairs and yet the programme continues.
Developing agriculture as an industry seems, for the time being, to be a lost cause.