The developmental initiative for NARI goes back to the early 1990s when the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) promoted the idea of establishing an independent research organisation for the food and livestock sector in Papua New Guinea. This idea arose because research and research-related technical functions carried out by DAL were seriously constrained by lack of funds, shortage of trained personnel, bureaucratic obstacles, inadequate institutional and infrastructure arrangements, and ineffective linkages with extension services, farmers and development agencies.
Under the Government's 1996 Medium-Term Development Strategy, NARI became one of the major initiatives towards contributing to and realising sustainable development in the agriculture sector. The Institute was officially launched on 5th May 1997, and formally took over the research and research-related technical functions of DAL in June 1998.
Since its establishment, NARI came under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and NARI council reported directly to the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock on matters concerning the Institute. With effect from September 2002, NARI was transferred to the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology.