THERE IS A LOT OF LIP SERVICE given to developing the rural areas of Papua New Guinea. The truth is that the distribution systems are undeveloped for anything other than servicing expatriate dominated sectors.
This has led government advisers to promote SABLs (agricultural leases) and land alienation for major export crop production. Under this regime the developers do most of the work themselves, relieving the pressure on the government.
It does, however, result in the intensification of the plantation economy and mentality; and mean PNG continues to be an importer of goods that should be produced locally for internal consumption.
Because of continued lack of local development in the rural areas there is a constant supply of agricultural labour for major export crops. In effect the villages subsidise export crops.
The villages have become labour production units; where the price of labour does not reflect the actual cost of maintaining the labourers’ family. The family is maintained by subsistence gardening back at home.
I would like to refer to how the agriculture sector started in Australia. Early farmers in Australia had a hard life; they did, however, have the benefit of competing against imports that came a long way by inefficient sailing ships. They had no need of tariff assistance. The tyranny of distance effectively acted as a high tariff on imports. This produced viable farming communities.
When advisers talk of breadbaskets like the Markham and the Papuan coastal plains, they are thinking of food for people. That the market is undersupplied is due to distribution problems not due to lack of productive capacity.
The bulk of the produce imported into PNG are not tomatoes and potatoes but wheat, maize, soy beans and various animal feeds. PNG cannot compete with the now highly efficient Australian farmer on equal terms.
We need tariff assistance sufficiently high, in concert with a purchasing policy on import replacement that will enable our farmers to start developing their skills to an adequate level to compete with the world.
We have the land, we have the people, and we need the tariff assistance to enable us to compete with imports.
Of course prices of products using agricultural imports may rise. When government increased the price of labour, businesses had to accept this for the benefit of the nation.
The entry of the rural people into the produce market will have enormous benefits for PNG. There will be excess production that can be mopped up by an increase in livestock numbers. There will be more and cheaper food in the markets.
In time, there will be excess production that will service an Asia that, as this century goes on, will be increasingly interested in food security.