Population and agriculture in PNG

By Seniorl Anzu

Feeding the growing population is a major challenge facing the world today. This poses a huge demand on agriculture which is unrelenting. It was until the 20th century when much of the changes in human population happened in billions within a shorter period of time. Human population left the 20thcentury with 6.1 billion when in the beginning of the century, there were only about 1.6 billion people.

PNG has a growing population to feed

Today’s net increase of world population stands at 2.5 people every second. That means 9, 000 more people are born every hour and 216, 000 every day. Global forecasts are that the planet will experience massive population increase in the coming decades, which mean that the current figure of seven billion would reach nine billion by 2050.

The rising population brings with it the effects of migration and urban drift. Worldwide figures show that the number of international migrants was 191 million in 2005, up from 155 million in 1990, constituting 3% of the world population. The major flow of international migrants is from developing to developed countries, with about 62 million migrants making the move in 2005, mainly to find work and send money home to their families.

Migration is common in PNG. While many people leave homes in search for employment, others migrate in search of better services and opportunities. Urban drift has implications in overcrowding, and depleting of food and household resources. Urban drifts by youths contribute to law and order and other social issues is major centres.

Overpopulating the planet puts everyone at risk of extreme environmental and social consequences that are being witnessed today. Clearing the forests for agricultural use has become one of the main threats, and high population growth rates are seen as one of the main causes.

The 2008 global food crisis was a manifestation of the relationship between population and food production. One of the reasons of this crisis was that the ‘world has been consuming more food than it has been producing’. Simply the world was not efficient enough in producing agricultural outputs, especially food commodities. Further, the world was not investing enough in agriculture. The sector is grossly underinvested and underused. It is often misplaced in policy decision making and development investments.  And PNG is very much in this category.

The need to accommodate the rapid rise in human population is eminent. It poses a major challenge to food producers and processers. The world will not only need to find ways to improve food production and access to food to meet the needs of this growing population, but to also satisfy their changing dietary preferences for meat and diary products. The challenge is also to halt the drift of young people from rural to urban areas and meet the growing demands for bioenergy sources.

Tackling the growing demand for agriculture requires a multi-pronged approach involving all stakeholders. Increasing agricultural productivity and food production can become the optimal strategy to accommodate population pressure. This can be supported with innovative agronomic practices, new crop varieties, conservation agriculture, and the use of water- and resource-sufficient techniques through systematic approaches on a sustainable basis.

This is true for PNG. The country should improve on agricultural productivity and production, especially in the food and livestock sector to feed its own population. Our current population is estimated to be around 6.7 million- this is based on annual national growth rate of 2.6% using 2000 population census data. This is up from 5.1 million in 2000. At the present rate, PNG’s year 2000 population would double by 2030. Studies also reveal that approximately 105 000 people are added to the population every year. And these people must be fed, housed, educated and provided with access to health care.

Galip nut has huge potential

PNG is endowed with the necessary agro-climatic resources and genetic diversity to produce a variety of food crops and outputs not only for domestic consumption but also for export to needy countries. PNG has the advantage because of its huge resource base and potentials which are yet to be explored. The country has enormous agricultural resources such as vast land mass, fertile soils and favorable climate for various types and kinds of crops. PNG has a rich bio-diversity and a variety of food species, fruits and nuts, and cash crops. Local farmers can grow various crops including cereals and pulses together with range of livestock species. PNG’ has abundant land and bio-mass, creating opportunities for bio-fuels as well.

PNG has made modest advances on the technology front in terms of improved varieties and practices for a range of agricultural commodities and environments. There is huge potential in applying modern bio-technology, processing techniques and value adding, and linking farmers to markets. However, climate change and the anticipated extreme conditions due to changing weather patterns are real issues which must be equally considered.

The challenge is for PNG to balance between the growing population and pressure from resource use with agriculture potential and abundant natural resources available at its disposal. For this to be effective, policy and institutional interventions with effective funding mechanisms are crucial so as to that allow for increased productivity at smallholder and household level.

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