By James Laraki (February 24, 2013)
MANY working in or associated with agricultural research for development would agree absolutely with the statement in the 2008 World Development Report that the rural and agricultural sectors have suffered from underinvestment and neglect during the past two decades.
Global leaders share the same view. They are concerned that many of the developing countries are not being responsible enough, even though there is evidence of lack of agriculture and rural development in these countries. They are concerned that governments are not investing in agriculture in general and particularly in agricultural research.
The Global Centre for Agricultural Research and Development Road Map developed in 2010 also highlighted this. This Roadmap which highlights the urgent changes required in agriculture research for development systems (AR4D) globally, identified decades of chronic under-investment in AR4D systems around the world as a major barrier to development. It highlights that a very significant increase to investment is required if AR4D systems are to deliver the global changes required. And it calls for government commitments to lead these processes.
Global leaders and organizations are advocating for increased investment in AR4D and are working to bring greater coherence and efficiency between national governments and development partners.
While this is being pursued at the global level, governments in many developing countries continue to neglect this sector.
PNG is unfortunately in this category.
Many factors have contributed to the lack rural and agriculture development in PNG. Chief among these is of course underinvestment. This we cannot deny. The sector unfortunately has not been given the priority it deserves in the last 37 years even though over 80% of our people partly or wholly depend on it for their livelihood.
Over the years, we have seen the national government as well as our major development partners recognizing other sectors as enablers of growth and development. While we do wish dispute these, we believe agriculture should be in the mix.
We are of the view that if development is to take place and be self-sustaining; it has to start in rural areas in general and the agriculture sector in particular. This is simply because the masses of our population are in rural areas and core problems of widespread poverty; growing inequality, rapid population growth and rising unemployment are direct effects of stagnant and declining economic activities.
We see agriculture development as key to rural development. Agriculture development not only delivers outcomes directly related to increased agricultural productivity but also contributes to necessary outcomes in other sectors such as health, education either directly or indirectly by empowering rural communities to look after their health and education through improved food production and increased incomes.
Agriculture needs to be viewed as a central sector in the country delivering long‐term outcomes and impacts to all other sectors while other sectors only contribute with short‐term outcomes to agricultural development.
In the last couple years, the European Union has been focusing on education, health, and social sectors as per their strategic change. Australian aid has also changed priorities, now focusing on health (HIV/AIDS), education, law and order and social sectors. This is an indication of declining investment in the agriculture sector.
The national government is focusing on education, health, infrastructure and transport, and law and order. This means that the increases both in recurrent and development budget in 2013 will be going to these sectors. Again this is an indication of declining investment in the agriculture sector.
Our fear is that this trend is likely to continue.
Such trends are not helpful towards global efforts on agriculture development. We get not continue on this trend, we must make efforts to reconsider our priorities. Agriculture has to be placed among to the top priorities.
Realistically, PNG should be investing around K400 million per year in agriculture if the nation is to avail the real potential of the sector for economic growth and national development. This is as per the international recommended rate, 10% of agricultural GDP, when agriculture in PNG contributes an estimated 37% (K4 billion) of total GDP.
The current level of public investment in agriculture per annum, is only about K190 million, which is less than 5% of the agricultural GDP including recurrent, NADP allocation to districts, National Development Bank and others.
PNG’s public investment in agricultural research is equally disappointing. The current annual public investment in research is K30 million, which is only 0.75% of agricultural GDP while the ideal rate is 2.0% (K80 million per annum). Many developing countries have received very attractive rate of internal return to agricultural research investment and their figures are as high as 43% while it is disappointing for PNG. This explains the current gap and highlights the huge scope for increasing both public and private sector investments in agricultural research.
The government has a duty to its citizens. Thus smallholder and subsistence sector demands public sector investment. We have a more favorable environment now than ever before to make positive contribution to innovative agricultural development, in general, and to research, science and technology; in particular.
As called on by global leaders, it is necessary for the government to improve investment in agriculture, particularly in research to generate improved technologies. It is these technologies and innovations that will determine and shape the way we do agriculture.
Photo: NARI staff displaying African yam and taro at the 2012 Morobe Provincial Agricultural Show