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PNG determined to grow important agriculture sector

Man walking through agriculture

As Prime Minister James Marape recently put it, agriculture is PNG’s “lowest-hanging fruit” when it comes to future development. After hosting an expert workshop on the topic in May, Oil Search Foundation (OSF) applauded his determination to grow this important sector.

“There’s no time to waste, says OSF Executive Director Stephanie Copus Campbell. “PNG’s population is growing, and come 2030, the country will have close to 30 million citizens, the majority aged under 18 years.

In many ways population growth can be helpful if the right conditions are in place. But a large population can also have a high cost – to the quality of services, environment, land and food security. It can also affect stability, especially if the growth isn’t accompanied by a boom in jobs and other opportunity.

In Hela and the Southern Highlands, for example, over 60% of all residents are under the age of 18. “All of us at OSF want to help to provide opportunities and career paths for them to follow’ said Copus-Campbell.

Agriculture is an important sector because it can address so many different issues. It provides jobs, helps to protect PNG’s food security and generally encourages better nutrition. Because the sector employees a great number of women it can also provide a pathway to gender equality.

The key issue, then, is how to help boost agriculture growth – and it’s one which OSF has been busy addressing. In partnership with Oil Search Ltd, the Australian National University and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Foundation hosted a high-level Agricultural Roundtable.

Featuring 34 experts from tree, crop and animal industries as well as market development and the PNG Government, the two-day workshop examined proposals for agricultural development in Hela and the Southern Highlands which together make up 10% of PNG’s population.

‘What we learned is that while most people think things grow easily in PNG and the Highlands this is not so true for the provinces the Foundation is partnering with. Factors such as heavy rainfall and poor soil limit what can grow. A lack of access to infrastructure is also a problem in linking to markets’.
- Stephanie Copus Campbell OSF Executive Director

Despite these challenges, experts identified five promising ideas which partners are exploring:

These were:

1. Developing a plan to offer courses on agricultural production, marketing and nutrition at the secondary school level and building extension services.

2. Supporting new vocational and training programs on a range of areas that link to agriculture including mechanisms and construction.

3. Supporting investigation into the potential for growing and processing sago and introducing cocoa to the Highlands region which experts deemed would grow well with a high demand in the international market.

4. Exploring opportunities to link young people to Australia’s Pacific Labour Program in areas that build their skills back in their own communities.

5. Helping Rotary, the Evangelical Christian Program and the Bosavi community in Southern Highlands to expand a successful community training program addressing child nutrition and village agriculture.

PNG is a country with amazing economic potential. And if we all continue to work together, OSF shares the Prime Minister’s confidence that this potential can be realised.