What future for agriculture in the Pacific?
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Setae, Miri. 1996. What future for agriculture in the Pacific? . Spore 66. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48579
What future for agriculture in the Pacific?Miri Setae was lecturer at Vudal Agricultural College, Papua New Guinea before becoming Livestock Development Officer forMorobe Province and then Provincial Rural Development Officer, East Sepik Province....
Miri Setae was lecturer at Vudal Agricultural College, Papua New Guinea before becoming Livestock Development Officer for Morobe Province and then Provincial Rural Development Officer, East Sepik Province. Subsequently, he held a number of senior positions in the Department of Agriculture and Livestock before taking up his present position as Chairman of the Central Supply and Tenders Board of Papua New Guinea. Farming in the Pacific is changing. Agriculture used to provide employment and income for the majority of the people but more recently some alarming changes have started taking place. Young people are looking elsewhere for employment, being drawn away from agriculture. This is a result of their poor perception of agriculture as a career, a perception which is bolstered by the behaviour of governments which favour industry, mining and tourism. But, agriculture has a key role to play in any society; it cannot entirely be replaced by such alternative sources of income. The lack of government support for agriculture in many countries has resulted in farming having a very poor image. Over recent years agriculture has increasingly become associated with hard labour and low income, causing people to move away from agriculture and towards other professions. This has created a gap within the sector as people have gone searching for what are perceived to be the glamour jobs in finance, foreign affairs and other occupations. Talented people are being lost, something which agriculture cannot afford. In Papua New Guinea and many other Pacific island countries, society is still rural based, dependant on agriculture, fishing and the processing of the products of these activities. To move away from this agricultural base would, I think, be a mistake as it would result at the very least in most rural areas going hungry. To avoid this, the attitudes of our leaders must be changed. It is important to make clear to them that agriculture, which provides a secure economic and cultural base for our people must be maintained to keep our society the way it is: rural based. Support, including increased funding, must be given to agricultural institutions in the region. Capacity must be built in each country in the region to help tackle the specific needs of our agriculture. The current situation of lack of support has resulted in extension officers and agricultural research scientists becoming disillusioned. A general lack of resources means that scientists are unable to continue agricultural research programmes and consequently they fail to provide farmers with useful advice. Even when they do have information, extension workers do not have the funds to visit the farmers so they stay in the office doing nothing. Without the help of the latest research, farmers find it increasingly difficult to produce crops on a competitive basis. The farmers blame the extension workers for this and the extension workers blame the governments. It would appear that governments do not want to help with agriculture and this provides another incentive for people to abandon farming. This situation is by no means unique to PNG, and can be seen in other countries in the Pacific region. Some small island economies within the Pacific feel that they do not have the natural resources for a viable agricultural economy and now concentrate on other activities like tourism. They use the income from tourism to buy in food and other necessary resources. In the past, agriculture in developing countries has always given way to new activities such as industrialization or the tourism industry. But this is the wrong approach. Investment in agriculture must be the priority. A sound agricultural base can support these other new activities. If a country is attractive as a tourist destination then by all means encourage tourism as well. Tourism has been taken up in a big way in Pacific islands like Fiji and Samoa and this has introduced its own problems. In the Caribbean many places have been very quick to adopt tourism as a major source of foreign exchange, but this has resulted in a very heavy dependence on imports. Eighty cents of every tourist dollar may leave a country to pay for the import of food and other products. Often tourists think they are buying traditional food from the area, not realizing that most of it has been imported from overseas! This is an absurd situation and should not be encouraged. We need to produce those foods for which we have natural advantages. As a nationalist I think we should grow an optimum diversity of products and process it locally, to enable us to reap the benefits of each of these stages of production and processing. Our visitors can then enjoy not only scenery and culture but also our traditional foods. For agriculture to be successful, we need to attract the younger generation, whose perception of agriculture is just a case of labouring in the fields. They would rather work in an office than out in the fields getting their hands dirty. To counter this we have to promote agriculture as scientific employment: young people must come to see it as more than just feeding an animal or digging a hole and planting a crop. Those entering agriculture need to use their brains effectively, creating new varieties of crops, or breeds of animals. They need to explore current demands and find the best way of using the land to meet these demands. This approach is more challenging, but also more rewarding and should also increase the financial returns from agriculture. I think that once the younger generation see this, they will be more inclined to go into agricultural employment. Nature has blessed us in PNG with so much, the weather is good and the soil is rich. These resources should be tapped and the produce made available on markets both locally and internationally. To do this successfully agriculture needs a new look and support from the leaders of countries in the region. Only by ensuring modernization of the current agricultural sector and by making available sufficient resources for research and training, and together with support for infrastructure, can the full potential be realized. I am hopeful. If enough people share the same dream then I think the dream will be realized for the long term benefit of the great majority of our people. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA