WHILE I have reservations about the term 'subsistence' farming, I believe that some form of subsistence living will remain a globally important means of livelihood for the foreseeable future.
To assume that everyone in the whole wide world will gain paid employment is perhaps stretching the reality of environment, economy and human society a bit far. (We may hope for better, but what works best is usually what we have to arrive at.)
It is worth pointing out that, even in oil rich Middle East nations, herders still thrive in areas far from the shadow of modern sky scrapers. They face challenges which are not dissimilar to many small-scale farmers and herders in other nations.
In agriculture, Papua New Guinea may well be a microcosm of the world at large.
The lesson is that we need to be wary about setting unrealistic objectives for the direction we want to take as opposed to the path that we are able to follow.
Perhaps 'sustainable' living is a better word than ‘subsistence’, since it encapsulates the need to survive and thrive within economic and environmental limitations.
On the other hand I do agree that subsistence livelihoods should be supported and the people enabled so that, if they so choose, and indeed need, they may take part in the cash economy.
This is apparent in local markets along the roadside in PNG. The same type of local producer-marketer systems are characteristic of many thriving economies in other developing countries.
I believe some degree of respect should be accorded to subsistence farmers, since in essence we in the modern economy don't do much for them despite the cultural link within our societies based on this lifestyle.
Moreover, subsistence farming is the most fundamental means of survival for households and human populations. Civilisations developed around it, not the other way around.
That is a fact that needs to be understood completely if PNG is going follow its own path of development.
Agrarian societies built or supported some of the oldest and most successful civilisations in human history.
The Mayans and Incas ate corn and used gold for all kinds of stuff before the Conquistadors arrived.
Now gold may be the basis of currency but the price of corn grain can cripple an economy.
In PNG our ancestors were the first to domesticate banana, sugarcane and aibika. They dug garden trenches which are still visible today.
We domesticated the pig 5,000 years ago, eons before Australia was colonised, or the British empire existed. But today we import cheap pork meat cuts from Australia.
I agree that we can do better and more to raise living standards. But it is by enabling people to improve their own livelihoods that this may be achieved.
Technology, even agricultural, as history has shown us, is not a silver bullet. It is merely one means of assisting people and society on the pathway to development.
This development also needs to be sustainable. And that is an objective which is not far removed from those of subsistence farmers the world over.