We are what we eat

Editorial, Normal

A LETTER published in The National yesterday made quite a telling comment that what our Kumuls eat is important for optimum performance on the rugby field.
He was wondering why the Kumuls must eat cereal and rice for breakfast when preparing for important challenges such as the recent disastrous Four Nations outing when their daily staple for most of the time had been local staples such as taro and banana.
The letter writer could not understand why the Kumuls had to munch on the staples of Australians, Englishmen and the New Zealanders going into battle with them and forget our own taros, sweet potatoes and bananas.
It is a telling and most obvious point that Kumul minders are most likely to forget as we look for the magic “kawar” that could change our fortune once in a while.
We are what we eat.
Changing the diet suddenly, however healthy the new nutrient contents might be, could have adverse effects on the functioning of the body that could impair judgment and performance. This is something that coaches and managers must take into account when putting their charges in camps to prepare for major competitions.
It might not be practicable to transport our own staple foods with our teams but, what a wonder it would be if PNG grown foods that our players have grown up with were to be found in major shops of cities around Australia, New Zealand and even England.
Increasingly, locally grown foods from Island nations such as Tonga and Samoa are making their way to supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand.
PNG is closer to Australia and New Zealand. It has bigger and more fertile land. It has far better variety of each of the food crops.
So, why are PNG grown taros, bananas, yams and sago not found in great numbers in those shops?
In The National yesterday, we had a small news item which might provide part of the answer to this dilemma.
Members of a group, calling itself the Morobe Taro Cooperative, turned up last Friday at the provincial headquarters in Lae with the fruits of their labour and demanded help from their government.
The group, led by deputy chairperson of the cooperative Otta Giria, showed up with bundles of taro which they have been farming as an organisation and demanded that the provincial government provide a vehicle, container coolers, organise markets for their produce and provide subsidies for transport costs.
The Morobe Taro Cooperative represents the bulk of the 6.2 million people of the country.
Those bundles cooperative members produced for the provincial government officers represents 90% of the productive effort of the people of the nation. This effort is completely forgotten by the economist when he is tallying up the gross domestic product of Papua New Guinea.
Policy makers have long been sold on a falsehood that the small grower cannot be trusted. It has been said that the supply chain might be interrupted, and not sustained, if a market were found or that the small farmer might not sustain a certain quality.
This mentality will be disabused when one looks at the tree crop sector.
This sector is almost wholly sustained by smallholder growers. That is to say that the bulk of coffee, copra and cocoa produced for export comes from individual households. The best organic coffee grown in Aseki or Chimbu or Jimi comes from smallholder farmers, not plantations.
The same households are quite capable of producing what they have always been producing – taro, yams, bananas and sweet potatoes for export if only they had the incentive, the market and the support that they require.
The PNG farmer takes very special care of his crop and animals. He keeps his animals and feeds them as they were are part of his family. He sweats and toils at his field and takes very special care of his field, including defending it with his life when necessary.
If that is the nature of the local small farmer, it is only a small step to increase his production with improved farming methods, with good seeds that will withstand extreme weather conditions, with good breeding and assistance in transportation and markets for his crops.
Imagine what wealth exist if all of PNG farmers’ efforts are counted. The total agricultural production, if they could be mobilised into capital, would make the LNG project a midget by comparison.