By James Laraki (January 27, 2013)
IN handing down the first ever budget for the new Hela province, Governor Anderson Agiru is reported to have declared that agriculture would become the single biggest employer of the Hela people.
This the Governor and his provincial cabinet wish to achieve through re-investment of the windfalls from the multi-billion kina PNG LNG project for the development of the agriculture sector in Hela. If this report has any merit, the Governor and his provincial cabinet should be commended for their vision and commitment. This approach if goes to plan should be the path we hope will be considered seriously by other provincial governments and at the national level.
The Governor’s vision to providing incentives to unemployed youths, women and men in Hela for agricultural activities should be commended.
The new province already has plans in place to develop two major agri-industrial centres at Koroba and Piwa in Tari. These centres are expected to be built this year at the cost of K20 million each in partnership with food technologists and experts, LA Group of Israel.
In line with this the Hela government has allocated K5 million for youths credit scheme and K1 million for women credit scheme to start up vegetable, cash crop and livestock production.
The plan is for the two agri-industrial centres to purchase local produce, store and package them, and export to local markets within PNG. The Governor says it is in his vision that as soon as Hela gas leaves the shores of this country by 2014, organic and fresh farm produces from Hela would also fill every food shelves of all major supermarkets and shops in PNG. We note it is an ambitious and mammoth task, yet an achievable plan.
The approach taken by the Hela government needs to be considered seriously as our economic growth and social advancement remain in the renewable natural resources sector, including agriculture. This sector has and will continue to be the mainstay of our country, supporting the livelihood of over 80% of our people.
As such, agriculture should take a clear and central position in any development strategy and provide the necessary investment it deserves. Hela has already has just done that.
Now that prominence is given to LNG and other projects coming on stream, there is fear already that the agriculture sector may be neglected. The impact that such project will have on our economy is of serious concern, particularly the agriculture sector.
Therefore, innovative agriculture development should be our target, irrespective of very exciting developments taking place in other sectors at this present time. The approach by the Hela government to re-invest proceeds from the LNG project in agriculture is commendable. We believe this should be the path taken by the national government.
Governor Agiru’s vision to have agriculture as the biggest employer for Hela people is achievable; the sector already is the biggest employer in PNG anyway. This can be further strengthened with necessary investment and support for innovative agriculture.
Not only gainful employment, but food security, cash income, reducing poverty and rural development can all be achieved through innovative agriculture. In doing so, it will help us in realizing broad-based economic growth. This is where our medium to long-term focus should be for the future. Our agriculture sector certainly has the potential for long-term prosperity. This, we can achieve through empowering the people and through wealth creation.
We need to be careful not put more emphasis on the LNG and other related projects, and ignore other aspects of the economy, particularly the agriculture sector. It is already evident that if we continue to neglect this sector, the people will turn their backs to agriculture, claiming it to be labour-intensive and migrate to cities and major project sites with the hope of getting paid employment.
We should view that agriculture will remain even after LNG is done and gone. And we have a duty to our citizens; the smallholder and subsistence sector demands public sector investment. We have more favorable environment now than ever before for all us to make positive contribution to innovative agricultural development. The new Hela government has demonstrated this for all us to follow when handing down its first ever budget. We hope agriculture will have its place in the many budgets to follow in the future. Let us follow the Hela path and once again develop the agriculture sector.
Photo: Harvesting potato field at the NARI Highlands Regional Centre - Tambul, Western Highlands. Hela will certainly grow more of this crop if all goes to plan – Picture by Ken Moui.