HUMANITY IS ON A GENERAL COURSE to betterment. It could be likened to travelling on a river a long way from the Sea of Contentment.
Papua New Guinea has some people who can compete with the best, their eyes are firmly fixed on joining the fastest. They can do it, but there is room only for the favoured few.
The villagers’ and settlers’ canoes are left far behind with hardly a tow line extended by the leaders. There is scarcely a competent farmer in all of PNG after nearly 37 years of dependence on external aid.
Competent farmers are defined by the ability to farm the same area for a generation at least.
Now, without imported rice, flour and meat, PNG would be beginning to face food security issues.
Today the farmers exploit the land and move on.
I write here today about a subject in which I have expertise and which is dear to my heart: the development of small farms in PNG.
Hunter farmers are humans who practice shifting agriculture and hunt when at all possible. Each family will slash and burn a new plot every year.
In the early civilisations (BC and AD) much settlement was on land renewed by annual flooding. Small farms were of a permanent nature and had some form of secure tenancy to enable improvements to be made; major improvements are in the hands of the rulers.
As later civilisations emerged, Asian and European nations had permanent farms and the progressive farmers knew how to put back the animal manures to renew the soil. They also knew how to make rotations of various crops to maintain fertility. These farms had tenure that allowed improvements to be made between wars.
The South American Mayan corn based civilisations apparently understood green manures.
Quite large populations supported a big government and cities on soils similar to the Trobriand Islands today; no surface water and limestone based soil, sometimes the water was many meters below the surface.
It seems that they, unlike the Trobriands, the Mayans maintained fertility by heavy use of leguminous green manures.
With this background established, I want to make some recommendations for PNG:
Encourage PNG villagers to stop slash and burn gardening, this should not be termed farming.
Villagers should be encouraged to use agricultural techniques suitable for a permanent farm.
These would include draining across the slope and crop rotation with green manures to retain fertility.
Where the land is level enough to use mechanized plowing by animal or tractor, Vetiver grass should be used to control sheet erosion.
In some areas, deep drains are needed; priority should be given to covered sub soil drains opposed to deep open drains. Deep open drains ensure that large quantities of topsoil will be eroded. The UK is still subsidizing subsoil drains to improve farmland.
Because Papua New Guineans own their own land, the village elders should give a provisional title to any land that is cleared for a permanent farm. This title should be approved and registered by the relevant PNG authority as a customary title. This title is to be transferable only other customary landowners of the area. These transfers are to allow for land consolidation within the community.
Do you think it reasonable for every PNG villager to pass a viable registered farm to his son and not a bit of forest clearing?
Consider that after a lifetime of clearing, fencing and draining there is nothing of permanent value left.
No wonder most youths consider the village to be a place of last resort, a place for the failures who cannot find a place in the “real” economy.
This attitude has to change!
Footnote: All successful nation states in the days before industrialization and the aid culture knew that they rode on the farmer’s back and the condition of agriculture and the farmers was important. In PNG most of our politicians are joined at the hip to all and any aid donors and give only lip service to the state of the village farmers.
Some relevant links: