Papua New Guinea is a rural society, where 80 to 85% of the population live in traditional communities, many of which are in remote coastal and inland areas. Over 2 million Papua New Guineans (an estimated 40% of the population) are poor or face hardship (2013 Pacific Regional MDG Tracking Report).
Many people depend on subsistence agriculture, fishing and informal cash cropping for food, employment and income. About half of the labour force work in agriculture, which generates 15% of gross domestic product (GDP). While an estimated 30% of the land is suitable for agriculture, only 2.2% is used for commercial agriculture. PNG’s agricultural productivity is low due to poor farming, infrastructure and market access and inadequate access to essential knowledge and farm inputs.
According to the National Agriculture Development Plan 2007–2016, growth in the agriculture sector averaged only around 1% over the last decade, while population growth averaged 2.7%. This slow growth particularly affected rural families. The Plan aims to enhance agricultural productivity, scale of production, market access and income generation through smart partnerships and innovative, sustainable and entrepreneurial farming systems and agro-industry.
Despite recent high average rates of economic growth, PNG stands at a critical moment in its development. PNG has a booming economy and vast natural resources, but poverty rates remain high at 39%. Food poverty in rural areas, where customary land should lead to better access to food, was nearly twice that of urban areas (28.5% of the rural population compared to 14.4 % of the urban population). Dependence on subsistence agriculture increases vulnerability to natural disasters and changing environmental conditions. ACIAR is researching adaptation to climate change in response to a request from the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), after the most recent El Niño event caused drought and frost damage to crops.
Sustainable management of the forestry and fisheries sectors is also vital for PNG’s economic growth. The PNG Forest Authority estimated in 2014 that forests covered more than 70% of the country; they contribute significantly to rural livelihoods through timber and non-timber forest products and are an important buffer against climate change. Fisheries are also a major source of revenue; many coastal communities depend on marine and aquatic resources for food and trade. Sustainably managing fisheries and forestry is essential to ensure they keep contributing to the economy and livelihoods.
Despite many development challenges, PNG intends to graduate to middle-income status by 2050. It recently endorsed a new National Strategy for Responsible and Sustainable Development (NSRD), which identified forestry and biodiversity, fisheries and marine resources, agriculture and livestock as strategic assets for investment and pillars for economic growth.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) contributes to PNG’s development. ACIAR’s work supports the PNG Government’s Medium Term Development Plan to promote economic growth in the rural sector (comprising agriculture, forestry and fisheries). PNG faces many challenges to agricultural development, including poorly developed infrastructure, weak market signals and services, new pest and disease threats, poor product quality, and pressure on land and renewable resources as a result of population increases and mining development. ACIAR’s research in PNG aims to help secure improvements in food supply, food access and rural incomes for smallholders through increased productivity and enhanced access to markets and services.
Australia values its long-standing ties with PNG based on a shared history and geography. PNG is Australia’s nearest neighbour and close regional partner, so a stable and prosperous PNG is clearly in Australia’s interest. Australia’s response to PNG’s development priorities is mature, focused and innovative. Its bilateral aid to PNG aims to support sustainable economic growth and equitable development, in line with the recommendations of a 2014 PNG Aid Assessment and the 2014 Economic Corporation Treaty. Under the Australia–PNG Aid Investment Plan 2015–2017, the bilateral Aid Program will:
- provide economic governance;
- support human development; and
- enable inclusive economic growth.
Australia’s support to agricultural research, through ACIAR, contributes to all three objectives and supports PNG’s ambitions for promoting responsible and sustainable development. A country consultation to reassess priorities is planned for late 2017.
The Transformative Agriculture and Enterprise Development Program (TADEP) is a key component of Australia’s involvement with PNG’s agriculture and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB). This multidisciplinary research program is co-invested by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and ACIAR. It aims to improve the livelihoods of rural Papua New Guineans through five component research projects. In line with the PNG Government Medium Term Development Plan 2 (MTDP2) 2016–2017, these five projects collectively aim to foster private sector-led development in agriculture, increase agricultural productive capacity, and improve access to markets for farmers, particularly women farmers. Targeted activities within projects meet training priorities, although postgraduate degrees in Australia also develops capacity.
The key research priorities of ACIAR’s program of collaborative research with PNG are to improve livelihoods by enhancing incomes and market access, through:
- overcoming social, cultural and policy obstacles to gaining benefits from agricultural technologies, particularly with respect to gender equity and women
- smallholder vegetables and starchy staples
- commodity and market-chain analysis to guide policy and improve production and marketing for cocoa, coffee, coconut and oil palm crops
- enhancing germplasm quality for high-value tree species, improving community forestry and agroforestry systems and developing markets and adding value to wood and non-wood products
- working with private sector partners and farmers to adopt promising agricultural technologies
- enhanced livelihoods from smallholder fisheries, and inland and marine aquaculture
- increased household income through diversifying enterprises
- making production systems, including livestock health and production, sustainable and resilient.
Key principles in designing and executing the program include:
- building capacity at both research and institutional levels
- engaging with the private sector, industry bodies and non-government organisations (NGOs) in partnership with government, in both research and implementing research results that develop the economy
- research that helps smallholder farmers and landowners to improve their incomes through increasing their access to market
- understanding the social, cultural and economic issues affecting how farmers make decisions and manage risk, and the factors influencing adoption of new technologies
- close linkages between ACIAR-funded programs in PNG and Pacific island countries (PICs) where relevant
- gender awareness and the empowerment of women and girls