PNG Agriculture Exports Drop
PNG agriculture export tonnages have dropped sharply in the past decade with the 2020 March quarter figures suggesting improved outcomes for the nation’s farmers could take years to realise on the basis of improved government support.
The latest official data from the Bank of Papua New Guinea (BPNG) show coffee exports are running at the lowest level in seven years, leaving aside the earthquake-impacted March quarter in 2018, while March cocoa output is the lowest in three decades.
In July last year, Prime Minister James Marape announced plans to double the nation’s agriculture output in the two years to 2022. In line with this ambition, he appointed three Vice Ministers for Agriculture with a goal to ensure agriculture “grows to newer heights”.
However, newly published BPNG data shows the production of virtually all agricultural products have been plunging to relatively low levels even though PNG has one of the highest population growth rates in the Asia-Pacific.
The production performance has been camouflaged by fluctuating prices for agricultural produce. Export revenue hit an all-time high of K4.01 billion in 2017. The second-best export revenue was 2018 at K3.8 billion followed by 2011, one of the best year’s on record in terms of production levels, coming in third with export revenue of K3.79 billion.
Coffee exports, the biggest contributor to rural incomes, saw March quarter exports fall by 2200 tonnes from 8500 tonnes last year to 6300 tonnes in the March quarter this year, according to BPNG.
Exports were significantly better than the 5000 tonnes exported in the March quarter of 2018, when production and exports were hit by the Highlands earthquake. However, leaving aside this figure, the latest March quarter exports are the lowest in seven years – 6000 tonnes of coffee were exported in the March quarter of 2013.
This contrasted sharply with the best March quarter export figure of18,600 tonnes achieved in 2012.
Coffee, which is PNG’s largest smallholder crop providing incomes to hundreds of thousands of families, has been on a declining trend for many years.
BPNG data showed coffee exports in the five years from 2007 to 2011 inclusive amounted to 313,200 tonnes, for an average export of 62,640 tonnes annually. In the subsequent five years, from 2012 to 2016 inclusive, output fell to 263,200 tonnes or an average of 52,640 tonnes annually.
In the latest three-year period from 2017 to 2019 inclusive, total exports amounted to 147,000 tonnes or an average of 49,000 tonnes annually, pointing to a decline that averaged an annual drop of 13,640 tonnes/year compared with the period from 2011 to 2016.
Coffee export revenues, which hit an all-time high of K927.4 million in 2011, have since collapsed to K415.1 million last year with first quarter exports this year valued at K55.7 million, down from K77.9 million in the same quarter last year.
Cocoa exports fared worse than coffee in the latest March quarter. They fell to a low of 3300 tonnes, which BPNG records suggest is the lowest figure since the March quarter 1990. This was 2300 tonnes lower than the 5600 tonnes exported in the March quarter last year.
BPNG statistical data showed cocoa exports ranged between 8,000 tonnes and 16,800 tonnes in the March quarters from 2004 to 2011. Since then the highest comparable March quarter figure has been 7200 tonnes in 2017.
As in the case of coffee, average annual cocoa production has dropped sharply since 2007 to 2011. In that five-year period output totalled 52,000 tonnes for an average annual output of 10,400 tonnes compared with 28,900 tonnes averaging 5780 tonnes annually in the next five years (2012 to 2016).
While some of this can be attributed to the cocoa pod borer problem, the declining trend in cocoa output has persisted with total output from 2017 to 2019 falling to 17,200 tonnes or an average of 3440 tonnes a year – only one third of the average annual output between 2007 and 2011.
PALM OIL, COPRA AND TEA
The only agricultural commodity to exhibit an improving trend has been export of palm oil, which is dominated by large plantations led by New Britain Palm Oil and other producers.
Nevertheless, palm oil exports in the March quarter of this year totalled 112,500 tonnes, which is the lowest for any March quarter since 2006.
Palm oil exports have been running at record levels since 2017 when it hit a peak of 621,800 tonnes. It fell to 614,300 tonnes in 2018 and amounted to 581,000 tonnes last year, the lowest export figure since 2016.
Copra oil exports of 3200 tonnes in the March quarter this year is the lowest figure for the comparable quarter since 2015, while copra exports of 11,700 tonnes are the lowest since the March quarter of 2017.
Tea exports, which have fallen from 6,900 tonnes in 2005 to a low of 1300 tonnes in 2015, only amounted to 400 tonnes last year. It has been running at 100 tonnes a quarter since the December quarter in 2018.