Will Agriculture Summit Focus on the Right Areas?

Rural Farmers Need Support - Not Foreign Owned Agri-businesses. Photo: Oxfam

Author: Eddie Tanago

Papua New Guinea's first ever National Agriculture Summit should be focused on helping Papua New Guinea’s 3 million rural farmers and not on assisting large foreign owned industries to grab more customary land.  

The summit, planned for November 13-16, was announced last week by Agriculture Minister, Benny Allan, with the theme of 'Unlocking the Economic Power of Agriculture to Sustainably Grow our Economy’.

The government needs to focus its resources on better extension services for rural farmers and the improved infrastructure they need. This is because our rural farmers, and the customary land that supports them, drive a K40 billion economy that is far larger than the foreign owned export economy the government obsesses over.

Despite the size of this rural economy, and the fact it supports 7 million people, the last National Agriculture Survey was done in 1963 and the most recent agriculture development plan was 2009-11; extension services are almost non existent; and the transport infrastructure is a disgrace.

The Agriculture Summit must not be used to promote the expansion of industrial agriculture which is driven by outsiders who want to disposes local farmers and exploit workers.

Our experience as a nation is that we have all seen the serious negative impacts of the recent SABL land grab and illegal logging and the damage the oil palm industry does.

It is of great concern to see the former Lands Minister, who oversaw 5 years of government inaction on the illegal SABL land grab, associated illegal logging and the unlawful encroachment of oil palm onto customary land is now the Minister in charge of agriculture.

The impending climate crisis, our population explosion and lifestyle disease epidemic that can all cause so much suffering can be mitigated if the government supports rural farmers to stay in control of customary land. 

If the government wants to unlock the power of agriculture to grow the economy it must do so by supporting rural farmers and ensuring they are not displaced from their land by outsiders. 

Mr Allan must not be allowed to use agriculture as an excuse to grab more land on behalf of foreign companies and destroy more livelihoods.