Agriculture is a mainstay of PNG’S economy, a major employer, and a vital source of export revenue.
While agriculture accounts for about 25% of PNG’S GDP, about 85% of nationals are engaged in food production at a subsistence level. Palm oil is the country’s most valuable crop, followed by cocoa, copra, rubber, spices and tea.
Between 2001 and 2010 PNG’S soft commodity exports grew in value by 12.8% per annum to almost K4 billion for the first time, with forestry being a significant contributor to this growth.
The key commercial livestock in PNG are pigs, poultry and cattle, with livestock contributing 13% of total domestic food production.
The PNG kina’s fall of about 14% in the second half of 2013 provided a ‘parachute’ to some of the agricultural industries suffering from lower commodity prices, according to Paul Barker, the Executive Director of the Institute of National Affairs. However, he sounded a note of caution: ‘For those industries requiring substantial imported inputs, whether plant and equipment, or livestock feed and fertiliser, the weaker kina imposes costs as well as providing gains.’
Despite growing demand for cocoa around the world, the cocoa industry in Papua New Guinea is in crisis, with production in East New Britain alone plummeting by 82% between 2008 and 2012.
The cause is the cocoa pod borer (CPB) pest, which has hit many cocoa-producing regions around the world.
According to the PNG Cocoa Board, production in East Sepik Province and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville ‘will likely crash’ over the next two years, all due to the pest.
But programs are in place to mitigate the effects of CPB. Just over 1,000 of East New Britain’s 23,000 growers are taking part in a trial and training program through the PNG cocoa buying and exporting company, Agmark, and the PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute.
Most of them are getting higher yields now than they were even before the pest arrived, according to George Curry, from Curtin University, Perth.
‘Typically, before CPB they were getting 300-400 kilograms of dry bean per hectare.
‘And then with CPB hitting, it almost went down to zero but under the Agmark strategy, a lot of growers are getting a tonne per hectare; some a good bit higher than that.’
The World Bank is carrying out similar recovery programs.