Modernising PNG Agriculture

We all know that over 80% of our population rely on agriculture for their livelihood, with most farmers continuing to survive by growing enough food for their subsistence and selling any surplus to the market for cash.

We also know that many farmers dream of a better lifestyle; to have access to running water, regular electricity, good schools and health systems and roads that enable them to freely move around.  We all wait for the Government to supply services, yet our national budgets never seem to have enough money to filter to all our people.

When I think about it, we have all the natural and human resources we need to create a better life for ourselves, one where we can afford to pay for our own services rather than continuously rely on the Government.  We are blessed with fertile soils, plentiful water and hardworking people.  Agriculture really should be the industry that lifts our incomes and creates wealth for the nation.  Our population is young and growing.  Our Asian neighbours are the fastest growing region in the world.  The demand for food is growing at a rapid pace and we are struggling to take advantage of that.

There is so much evidence in the world that productivity growth in agriculture has the largest impact on poverty reduction.  Every developed nation grew to their existing wealth levels by starting with agriculture.  It was the precursor to the industrial revolution that created increasing wealth for residents of those countries.  In today’s world, we have the advantage of technology which can make the transition from low income to middle class even faster.

Our agricultural production continues to remain mainly based on subsistence farming efforts.  We are not using technology in agriculture well.  Interestingly, everyone seems to know how to use Facebook, but we struggle with technology in agriculture.  We lack a basic understanding of how modern technology can benefit us as farmers and a nation.

Technology and the modernisation of agriculture is becoming increasingly important.  Global food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59% to 98% by 2050.  Farmers worldwide will need to increase crop production, either by increasing the amount of agricultural land to grow crops or by enhancing productivity on existing agricultural lands through better technology, for example fertilizer and irrigation systems and adopting new methods of farming.  If PNG does not modernise, we will miss out on these opportunities.

The issue of climate change creates even further challenges if we don’t adapt the way we farm.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018), climate change models predict an increase in temperature of 1-2 degrees by 2050, potentially causing lower yields in critical commodities.

Attempts to modernise agriculture by the large agribusinesses are often hampered by land disputes as landowners seek to gain the most benefit from their land.  There is often an inherent distrust between landowners and agribusinesses due to the way land is valued.  Landowners do not value land as a commodity that can be used as financial security for investors, but as a domain for life that must be preserved for future generations.  Yet, landowners want a better future.  We must be able to establish businesses that achieve better value for farmers without compromising their ownership of the land, nor impact their traditional customs and values.

I believe it all starts with the farmers education.  Farmers have been doing the same thing the same way for so long, it is difficult for them to modernise.  But the reality is, the world is changing fast and PNG must change to ensure our farmers and country do not lag behind.  We must take advantage of the blessings bestowed to our country and prosper.  If we truly want to be a prosperous nation, we must work smarter, modernise our approach and educate our farmers to be professional, business-minded farmers.

Once farmers grasp financial and business concepts, they will be able to derive more benefit from their land and be more confident to negotiate commercial arrangements; that could include securing a loan for their farm, negotiating a land deal with an agribusiness or even facilitating partnerships with neighbouring villages to get better access to business inputs and markets.

The Government of PNG has announced a significant investment for financing to SME’s, including farmers, to enable the development of agriculture.  Farmers need to understand how financing works, the commercial risks involved and how to turn financing into a profitable small business.  The Government has an opportunity to drive sustainable change.  Let’s hope the investment in financing is supported with an investment in developing farmers understanding to use that investment wisely.

Warm regards
Nicole Isifu
February 2020