Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A vibrant Papua New Guinea – bold thinking can make it possible

Last year ACIAR’s Partners Magazine ran a special edition on Papua New Guinea (PNG) and our program of research helping smallholder farmers to overcome poverty. An underlying theme was that of optimism, from the scientists and farmers, that agriculture could help create a brighter future for many.

Last week the ANZ Bank released its latest ANZ insight series report, Bold Thinking: Imagining PNG in the Asia Century. The report examines key opportunities for PNG in mining and agriculture to “drive forward a vision of a vibrant, dynamic PNG”.


The idea of a better future connects our programs and the ANZ vision for PNG, as does the understanding of the role agriculture is playing in the country’s current and future growth.

Half of all global growth in food consumption to 2030 will come from Asian countries. Those countries able to tap into this growth have before them an opportunity to create new export markets, and build existing ties. A feature of growing demand is the desire for higher value, and higher protein foods, as well as the adoption of many western dietary traits. You can read more about these changes in another report released recently by ABARES, What Asia wants: Long-term food consumption trends in Asia.

As an example of changing consumption, Asian demand for chocolate is likely to rise by nearly 30% over the next 10 years. This will, the ANZ Bold Thinking report says, create a supply gap of up to 25% of the current global supply of cocoa by 2020. The opportunity for PNG, already a cocoa exporter, is considerable. As Bold Thinking cites, PNG has already tapped into strong pricing and volume gains, producing double-digit growth rates in soft commodities like cocoa and palm oil. This growth has resulted in total soft commodity exports rising by 12.8% per annum from 2001-2010, compared to GDP growth of 10.8% over the same period.

The opportunities on offer are game changers for many involved in PNG agriculture; the more so if smallholder farmers can be part of this potential.

Bold Thinking is aware of the challenges, and articulates the means to address these. Perhaps the most sizable challenge is the level of funding to agricultural aid. As the report says “Of the US$3.1 billion of aid commitments  PNG received between 2007 and 2011, agriculture received 4%, or US$120 million.”

This level of funding seems, says the report, inconsistent with the vital role agriculture should play in PNG’s future. The report references the role ACIAR plays in delivering Australian agricultural aid, and the importance of directing specific aid to agriculture. That vital role for agricultural research takes several forms within the report:
  • improving quality and yield
  • linking reinvigorated and focused research and development and extension services towards yield and quality improvement, particularly in key export commodities like cocoa and coffee
  • linking research to industry body activities
  • increasing skill levels.
The report cites as an example of specific reforms, the East New Britain province balsa wood operations. For some people, balsa is the wood that kids build model airplanes from, yet it is also used in a range of industrial applications, from wind turbines to boat building and transport industries. PNG is the world’s second largest balsa supplier (after Ecuador). The East New Britain model cited by the ANZ report is also the subject of ACIAR research, examining how to both expand the industry and to understand and manage the research issues confronting the industry.

ACIAR is also doing research in PNG on cocoa, coffee, forest industries, fisheries and the development of business acumen for women. Our program is working to link the smallholders engaged in ACIAR projects to the cash economy, to build partnerships that link the private sector, industry bodies and NGOs in partnership with government to further research outputs, and to understand the social, cultural and economic issues affecting farmer decision-making.

The ANZ Bold Thinking report articulates a plan for agriculture that can help create a vital future for agriculture in PNG. The common ground in this report and ACIAR’s program is reassuring, built on a view that sees possibilities for the future of PNG. There is much to be done to achieve this future, so we welcome the Bold Thinking of ANZ and all those optimistic about PNG.


By Warren Page, ACIAR Communications and Public Affairs


More information:
ANZ insight series report, Bold Thinking: Imagining PNG in the Asia Century
ABARES report What Asia wants: Long-term food consumption trends in Asia
ACIAR's research strategy for PNG
ACIAR's current research in PNG
Partners Magazine special report on PNG


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