Agriculture Development in Papua New Guinea

September 26, 2014

Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Group Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific The Solomon Star, September 25, 2014

Last week, I visited the Kuk Early Agriculture Site in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I was impressed to learn that thousands of years ago farmers developed advanced plant cultivation and irrigation technologies at 1,500 meters above sea level.

While visiting a nearby agriculture project I had the opportunity to see that this ancient ingenuity is alive and well. Working with coffee and cocoa, farmers’ ability to adapt to local weather conditions and adopt new technologies is providing new opportunities for PNG.

Papua New Guinea is known for producing some of the world’s best coffee. With a strong demand from world markets, expanding coffee production – which currently only accounts for 3 percent of the global market – can greatly improve farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. This is especially true since more than 85 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas. To seize this opportunity, farmers still need to overcome challenges, such as limited market access and low productivity.

The Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project is lending a helping hand by addressing those challenges. With support from the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the European Union, the project aims to help farmers double exports, especially to the higher value segments of the market.

Over the next 5 years, the project will have helped 60,000 coffee and cocoa farmers, 40 percent of them women. We aim to double coffee and cocoa yields and increase farmers’ incomes by 50 percent. More than 20,000 smallholder farmers already have benefitted through the 21 active partnerships, which are expected to be long-term arrangements to efficiently produce, process and market coffee and cocoa in PNG.

The project is part of a broader partnership of the World Bank Group and the Government of PNG to improve the lives of all people, not just farmers. The Government of PNG has worked toward this end by increasing spending in areas such as health, education, infrastructure, law and order and rural development.  PNG has a unique opportunity to ensure investments in these areas will lay the foundation for growth in the non-oil and non-mining economy as it manages revenues from liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports which are starting on a large scale this year.

As countries all over the world have discovered, however, with new opportunities come new challenges. Investing better is as important as investing more. Projects and programs must be well designed and offer high social and economic returns. This takes time and solid technical work.

It is also important to ensure accountability and transparency in the use of resources. While there are many ways to achieve this, one strongly supported by the World Bank Group is the formation of a sovereign wealth fund.  Therefore, I am very pleased that the government is committed to creating a sovereign wealth fund which meets international best practice.

The World Bank Group is a long-term partner of Papua New Guinea, and we are committed to continuing to support efforts to reduce hardship and ensure shared prosperity. As my visit here comes to an end, I am optimistic for the future and look forward to following the progress of the government and working with them to achieve their development goals. The early farmers in Kuk were onto something big, seizing opportunities to advance through innovation. The same is true of PNG today.