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Focus back on agriculture and downstream processing

THE young must be encouraged and motivated to venture into the agricultural sector.

Less and less youngsters are interested in venturing in agriculture – majority of those remaining in the agriculture sector are the elderly aging from 40-60 years.

This was revealed in an article earlier this year by Malum Nalu in the National newspaper about coffee, which has dropped in production from over one million bags to now only about 800,000 bags annually, while global demand for coffee has risen dramatically over the years and demand for organic PNG coffee high on the world market.

Many of our elite young today are captivated by much of the new stuff that has come with fast changing development in technology, programming, mobile phones, tourism, digital platforms, Facebook marketing, cloud computing and others. There is no sustained interest in venturing into agriculture as a business.

Yet, according to national reports and Google’s Wikipedia, agriculture currently accounts for 25% of Papua New Guinea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports 80% of the population.

Generally accepted as the backbone of Papua New Guinea’s economy, agriculture has not received the government support needed to encourage more young to venture into agriculture and thus, enable the sector to realise its enormous potential. Well, not until now with the new Marape-Steven Government putting the spotlight back on agriculture.

The World Bank quarterly report, the third in the 2019 series on Papua New Guinea, says that agriculture is one of the main drivers of development in PNG. The report advises that Government should focus on the agriculture sector if it wants to achieve the goal of inclusive sustainable development for all people.

Without a holistic approach supported by clear institutional and policy frameworks that will get more of the young in the 15-45 age group to venture into the agriculture sector, PNG may see a drain in support and a continual downturn in agriculture.

This is according to London representative of Papua New Guinea’s Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) Mick Wheeler, during his interview with Nalu.

Wheeler said agriculture and coffee production activities were seen as allied to subsistence living.

“You’re not seeing coffee as a business. You need to attract the young into the industry. “Why would they want to go into an industry that their fathers slaved over for hours daily to earn very meagre returns or incomes?

According to Wheeler, the issues are linked to land tenure, education, policies and priorities in the agriculture sector and the Government.

“We need a more holistic approach to agriculture, in particular coffee, because of the commodity’s business potential and greater economies of scale.

“We must aim to compete on the world stage, not with smallholders and subsistence agriculture. We are not going to get anywhere forward if we do not change or transform our policies and actions.

“We need to modernise coffee production and downstream activities to attract the educated young to return to rural areas and turn coffee production and related activities into a really rewarding business.

“We can do it and succeed,” Wheeler said.

The new Marape-Steven government has now put agriculture back on the agenda as a government priority with focus on financial support, incentives and education. It has reached out to businesses involved in agriculture and wants to work in partnership with farmers and businesses with a focus on downstream processing and adding value to produce for local farmers.

Though, the fact remains that agriculture is generally not seen as a business, agricultural education is now starting to fare high on national primary educational curriculum with the CIC now publishing coffee educational handbooks for Primary schools. While Mr Marape is pushing reviews of the national policy and institutional framework and introducing incentives to grow agriculture and PNGs Small Medium Enterprise sector to 500,000 by 2030.

These and other new incentives in government support, access to finance and markets is expected to encourage more of the young to venture into agriculture as a business working in partnership with Government and businesses.

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