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PNG needs a vibrant village based farm economy


I BELIEVE THAT PETER O’NEILL’s vision of future Papua New Guinean megacities sharing three million immigrants from rural areas is an accurate view of what may lie ahead of tis nation.

The occupants of these places will have a miserable life. The megacities will have little industry and will gain their increase in population for the wrong reasons.

I believe that farming communities throughout PNG are not developing as they must.  Our rural communities should offer an attractive lifestyle for most of our youth. The way to do this is to raise the level of their economic and social activities; but this will take massive improvement in infrastructure.

I admit there are occasional news articles about farmers which are written in positive terms. However, in general, farming communities (villages) are hardly seen to vibrate with an interest in new farming techniques.

Children and young people will play games with or without sport being promoted. Sports organisations have quite a lot of natural enthusiasm to build upon.

The same cannot be said about agriculture. Informed discussion relating to farming may take place when there are external inputs; otherwise villagers do their own thing as learnt at their father’s and grandfather’s knee.

Villagers will slide back into traditional ways without ongoing consistent extension work. There is little agricultural extension work done in the hinterland of Wau; information from other parts of PNG indicates a stop start nature to extension work.

An example is the Trobriands where the yam culture was very important. The people believed it was not improved agricultural practices that made the yams succeed but the excellent way the garden magic was performed.

In the sixties I was fixing alternators in the Trobriands and roamed around the gardens near Kaibola between boat and plane arrivals.

The ground was bare apart from the food crops, the old gardens were scrubby and there was no effort to grow improved green manures.

Toilet facilities near the village were cleaned up by the pigs, the result was luxuriant plant growth showing fertility gathered from the surrounding gardens. I imagine it is still the same.

The change has probably been that the young men cannot grow yams as well as their old people; they spent too much time at school learning about subjects of very limited use to an agrarian lifestyle.

The people used to get quite thin waiting for the yam harvest and the whys and wherefores of yam cultivation were of great interest where it had such a great impact and the yam harvest was a time of great celebration; a celebration from the heart and spirit and not for the tourist dollar.

Fifty years ago little kids would demand, not ask, for PK chewing gum. I saw male tourists throw shillings over the heads of girls so that they would turn and bend over to give a show.

The girls were modest and picked up the shillings as they always picked up articles from the ground; no show! I saw women tourists drop money into hands because they did not want to touch.

Any society that relies on tourism as a major income provider is a failed one and its core values will be undermined. The PNG government has effectively thrown it to the dogs.

Get agriculture on its feet and let tourism take its proper place as a minor part of life for the community at large.

I decided to be a small hobby general farmer as opposed to being a sweet potato grower. I went to Lae to obtain seeds as one would go to a seed and produce merchant in Australia or other country. I wanted commercial quantities of soy beans, green beans, corn and the like.

There were no seeds available in the kind of quantities that would be normally used by a small crop farmer in Africa or Asia. I got small packets of corn, soy bean and mung beans from the National Agricultural Research Institute and multiplied them. I obtained 25 white velvet bean (macuna) from Echo.org in America and multiplied them. I now have plenty of seeds.

There is still no availability of seed for any other farmer interested in farming rotations with green manure. I farmed the velvet seed production out to the small local farmers and have about 200 kg for sale to other farmers interested in planting a green manure.

I believe that if PNG had viable, vibrant (there is a popular word) village based agricultural economy we would see small manufactories as in Africa.

I would like to thresh my beans and winnow the seeds produced. There is no home grown workshop manufacturing small machinery. I believe that a two wheel hand cart with motorbike wheels would be very useful around my farm.

I would like a two wheeled chassis with various bodies that clip on; for sand and concrete, for bags of produce, for the transport of nursery boxes and with high sides for grass and light material.

There was a foundry in Lae that was allowed to collapse. Therefore we cannot manufacture items such as the cast cylinders for foot pumps for irrigation, the pump bodies for well pumps or other items such as corn shellers and other sundry small items.

So many people are engaged in subsistence farming in the rural communities that small improvements in agricultural techniques throughout

PNG will have large effects on the economy. The possibilities for advancement are measured by the size of technology gap between knowledge used and knowledge available.


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Tony Flynn

Barbara, we may know what we want; the devil is in the detail.

Mrs Barbara Short

Keep pushing, Gabriel. I can see the PNG Village Based Agriculture farms of the future, with pig projects, chicken projects, cattle pastures, cash crops of vegetables, root crops, corn, green crops of various kinds, legumes, rice, pineapples, pawpaws, bananas, guavas, etc.

There will be green manure crops and other ways of fertilizing the crops using various types of waste from the village and there will be irrigation schemes to cover the dry periods and marketing schemes for selling the produce.

The school leavers will be welcomed back in the village and given roles to play in the schemes that develop and they will feel happy to make their livihood in the village. They will not feel they have to wander off to the cities to try their luck.

Let us hope Hon Tommy Tomskol is up to it. I'm sure the guys at NARI are ready, willing and able to help.

Gabriel Ramoi

The foundry mentioned in this piece was a gift from the German people and was the initiative of the then Morobe Premier the late Utula Samana and his then Provincial Secretary, that great German-Australian kiap, Goetz (Gus}Von Schweinfurth, and was part of a revolutionary approach to introduce agriculture in Morobe to support what Samana termed the scissors theory of growth.

The basic premise of this theory is to get village agriculture to a level where it can not only feed our mega cities of the future but to also contribute to the export dollar and at the same time to get our cities to produce machine tools to assist reduce manual labour in our village based agriculture setting.

Excited by what Samana was attempting in Morobe, I toured there in 1984 and saw the field work carried out by Comrade Funke Samana in their attempt to get the humble Morobe taro to the export market.

I also witnessed the spectacular collapse of the taro export project and the subsequent failure of governments since then to find a proper place for village based agriculture in the socio-economic landscape of PNG.

There are over 10,000 villages in PNG that have since time immemorial supported and fed our population.

The challenge is to modernize our villages and to make them a better place to live and to find and introduce new niche export crops that can bring the revenue stream that can make village farming worthwhile.

This style of agriculture has been attained in Japan by Japanese farmers in modern village setting and there is no reason why we cannot achieve the same in PNG.

The challenge is on the Minister for Agriculture the Hon Tommy Tomskol MP to work closely with NARI in carrying out a dialogue with the nation in writing up an agriculture roll out program for all our districts in the country including the NCD to address the role of Village Based Agriculture within the frame work of a modern nation state.

Robin Lillicrapp

Here's a link to the various models of equipment to treat water.

From large scale volumes down to hand held watering can, seems like all bases are covered.


Look out Peter Kranz, Simbu Rose will want one of each!

Robin Lillicrapp

Phil Fitzpatrick’s Irish cousins have done it again. Read the following to gain inspiration for the future of PNG farming.

Tony, you probably need to import one of those Irish inventions to deal with that poor soil.

If all is as optimistic as explained, there is great incentive for PNG’s leaders to be stirred into action.

Think of the shiploads of activated water that could be exported to arid regions.

Aha! Such inspiration for the hopes of the hungry... but like all innovations excellent, how best to utilise to national , regional, village advantage.

“A GROUNDBREAKING new Irish technology which could be the greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough is set to change the face of modern farming forever.

The technology – radio wave energised water – massively increases the output of vegetables and fruits by up to 30 per cent.

Not only are the plants much bigger but they are largely disease-resistant, meaning huge savings in expensive fertilisers and harmful pesticides.

Extensively tested in Ireland and several other countries, the inexpensive water treatment technology is now being rolled out across the world.

The technology makes GM obsolete and also addresses the whole global warming fear that there is too much carbon dioxide in the air, by simply converting excess CO2 into edible plant mass.”

Tony Flynn

I do agree that we could learn a lot from Indonesian farmers, Barbara.

However (there is always a but, however, or some other qualifier), as a teacher yourself you can understand that it calls for a very special person to relate to students without having had some formal training.

I should think that the would-be instructor from Indonesia, Philippines, or wherever will not come from the paddy fields.

He or she would have an adequate command of English, some Agricultural qualification and a background of hands-on agriculture. They should be processed though a type of E-course during which they would be assessed for suitability as to which area was suited to their strengths.

I honestly believe that fact finding trips are junkets, are rewards for performing in line with the management’s objectives and are a tool of management.

We are intending to alter cultural norms and this cannot be done on a junket; only by long application of nose to the grindstone.

Steve W Labuan

I am not Tony Flynn, but I definitely agree. That's the kind of vision that the government and bureaucracy are killing for the future.

Mrs Barbara Short

The latest news from Keravat NHS is -

Teachers in Kerevat National High School in East New Britain are preparing to visit Indonesia for a week as part of their staff inservice training in line with the school of excellence programme.

School principal Ray Rieme Alo said yesterday from Lae that 23 teachers from Kerevat and two officers from the Education Department would be leaving the country on Sept 16.

He said this was part of their preparations to upgrade Kerevat National High School to a school of excellence.

Last year, the teachers went on a similar trip to Australia to visit schools and learnt requirements of meeting international education standards.

He said the trip to Indonesia, particularly to Bali and Jakarta, would cost at least K120,000.

Alo said Kerevat aimed at achieving its school of excellence status and was working hard on ensuring that teachers knew how to upgrade standards by efficiently implementing programmes.

The school raised funds towards their trip through three fundraisers; a corporate dinner, a social dance and bring-and-buy activities at the school.

The Education Department supported the school with K60,000 this year to assist it in its preparations in upgrading the school standards.

It was understood that there are plans for one more trip.“In order for standards to be raised, we need to train our teachers and that is why we have these inservice trainings abroad,” said Alo.

He said the teachers would visit less than 10 schools in Indonesia before returning.
Alo said they would compare Indonesia’s education curriculum with PNG’s.

“Curriculum compatibility is a main concern. Our Curriculum is low. We need to compare to see if we can improve ours alongside theirs to meet international standards,” Alo said.


One of my old Keravat students writes -
It would have been better if the students were sent instead. Students need to learn and sending them would make a lot of difference because they will have learnt something to take back home when they can not continue to Universities and other higher institutions.

It is not just what they will be taught in class but also the life style and living standards of people there can put in new respect in their mindset. This will enable them to judge on their own aspirations and how they can make changes in their lives.

Teachers will be teaching only what was planned for the lesson to be taught and achieve the anticipated objective.

If we want to best educate the students let us start with them. We have a mountain of experience and a good conduct of knowledge gained and ready for delivery. The students will only learn what was taught and nothing more.

In future it would be nice to arrange for an exchange visit programme. While they are there they could make arrangements so in future the students are send to study for a month or two and return like in 1979 when students from Australia came to Keravat in exchange for a month. This will be a great achievement for them and Keravet National High School, Province and the Country.


I'm thinking that PNG students could learn a lot about small farming from the Indonesian farmers who are probably have a lot of ideas to offer to young PNG students.

I think Tony Flynn would agree.

Steve W Labuan

Robin, your comments leave me wondering about the progress of Tony's PK-ing on the article.

Agriculture, and for that matter health, urban planning, employment,and wot not as Barbra would have said it, I think are all based on the ways people are thinking and behaving, and Tony did progress from agriculture to education: I think education is a key issue for agricultural advancement too, definitely for the future.

Now having said something sensible already above,let me just fume away.

The education system we have in PNG is a failed one since independence because it was left to produce out of control irrelevant outputs that are uncorrelated to the means of whatever that's available, like someone else had said in the comments.

Until now it is still conducive to unemployment creation and rural-urban migration and increasing law & order problems, all these under our very noses, and theirs too and yet our leaders themselves, acting as if they are the only experts, only let things be.

Well, most of them were products of the education system anyway, and they were trained to do the things we are complaining about here anyway. The education system has trained people to ignore other people's screams, unless if there is something for the taking.

If education is the founding factory for happy living, then it is not controlled well enough to exactly allow for the majority of its students to be self-employed, self-rewarding and so on, and as expected with a stronger roots in agriculture, the land, and the rural development.

I have a vision that can change this which the present multilingual education system can assist create. But now the government is reverting to an English-only system out of guess work that this would improve the situation.

I wish it luck, together with all its puppet supporters: they might as well start investing highly into e-security (bio-data, e-I.D etc) to effectively suppress the disaster that is coming. God help the crooks to be less I.T educated too.

What is my solution? I'd rather best do my own thing and be free as this blog represents, well not excessively free at least as to be non-sensible.

Robin Lillicrapp

Well said, Tony.

It is important to hear you talk up the viability of such schemes as the readership is entitled to be well informed.

Your age in consideration means more hearing what you say than what you can do.

If there is to be a take up of the challenges, it is proper and more likely to be from PNGean thinkers and activists.

One would hope that progressives like Gary Juffa and or P. Oneil: even the ubiquitous B. Namah might exercise influence to call for more on this subject and organise a few kina to progress the fruition of such an undertaking.

Are you listening, Sonia?

What an inspiring legacy for the nations well being might be woven in to a statesman's bio, eh?

Tony Flynn

There is the sticker. We have no real farmers even by the standards of the Middle Ages; thus we have no farmers sons accustomed to handling labor with authority and who understand the principles of farming. Plus PNGians do not respect their own leaders in these situations.

Initially the backbone of such a program would have to be made up of expatriates. All schools with adequate access to land could probably be able to cover this expense by savings made in food purchases and by having the expert paid as a volunteer teacher.

It would be very radical and today there would be worse reactions than I experienced at Asaroka 40yrs ago; “calabus”, Mipela ino calabus” etc. This by a vocal minority of senior students who, however, soon settled down when they saw that their work resulted in better food and a chance to show off the garden produce at the term mumus.

There was such an organisation in Australia many years ago that took British alleged orphans from various backgrounds aged from about 6 years old. Girls and boys were put in a farm school where they would perform farm work as well as getting a normal schooling.

The graduates were in keen demand by the farmers in the district. Many became businessmen and farmers in their own right.

In PNG such a policy should have a method whereby students with an aptitude for the land would be identified, encouraged and used to staff more school farms and follow agricultural pursuits. Ultimately the program would become self-sustaining and many students would be taking home improved farming practices.

I am soon to be 76 and have my hands full with developing a mixed farm on bad soil. Starting an integrated piggery with fish ponds, trying to burn clay bricks and running a general store takes all my energy.

Robin Lillicrapp

Points taken, Tony, re the idyllic notion of siting Ag-Ed centres at schools of excellence.

There, I assume, you will get a pollination of interested future farmers from diverse regions surrounding those schools.

Based on your observations over the years in PNG, are you able to simply flesh out a basic model of operation that fits the needs of supplying a community with food, and creating a surplus to market beyond local borders?

What would the cost be of establishing that model?

How soon, if funded, could it be implemented?

What location strikes you as being a likely proactive initiator of such a scheme?

Are there any motivated overseers in view for supervising such an undertaking-per each site as they roll out?

Tony Flynn

What I know, Barbara, is that schools and high schools should be centres of excellence in whatever the main income generator happens to be; also they should be initiators in what has been assessed as a necessary step in the evolution of the peoples progress.

This could be a calculated step in the dark. For example, at Amenab, I found out that this was an area with gold mining potential and little else. The local Vocational School had no instruction to the students in how to build a simple wooden gold box.

Tatana and other coastal villages are suffering from tidal erosion because they have cut mangroves for firewood, building etc.

Why can we still see practically useless bare hills when they could be coppiced with leguminous fire resistant trees to take the pressure off the mangroves?

Programs could be initiated by the local schools with support from aid providers.

A major problem throughout PNG is that people do not want to initiate anything that may give benefit to a third party.

At Asaroka High the senior students dug a small contour ditch to take the permanent excess water from the school tanks to the local village.

The students were quite excited and believed that the villagers would pitch in to help; it was a good thing that they were not holding their collective breath. The villagers made use of the water without giving the slightest assistance.

I advised the students, as Jim Leahy advised me, do it from the goodness of your heart; that’s your reward. Do it for thanks and you will be disappointed.

Obz Tauna

Industrialize our rural areas and let our rural dwellers keep themselves in the villages. This rural-urban drift is killing the safety of the working class people

Mrs Barbara Short

Tony, what about asking AusAID or some other NGO, e.g. World Vision, to come in and do something in the way of agricultural projects in interested villages? If it worked it might have a multiplier effect.

Sadly there is evidently a problem in Australia today when it comes to training in Agriculture. Things aint wot they used to be!

Michael Dom

Thank you, Tony for this excellent article advocating against increasing ‘the darkness of neon lights’ and for rural/agricultural development. I agree with your thinking.

While it may be true that urban centres will continue to play an important role in our national development, no matter how many millions of people migrate into the cities there will always be millions more who cannot or do not do so, and those who do may end up leading lives which are little improved and even below what they experienced before migrating.

Also, it is doubtful if migration into towns is anywhere near the natural birth rates, i.e. city people are increasing their own populations, so it’s not all rural folk who are increasing the numbers.

In our cities there is neither little opportunity for employment nor proper housing options for those who are employed.

In the villages people own their land, build their own homes, are less dependent on cash incomes for survival and have natural resources for water and sanitation that don’t require them to pay council taxes. A better option is to build on these strengths, not simply planning for people to migrate.

Despite Vision 2050's promise to increase funding to agriculture research and development this has not happened yet and it seems unlikely to happen in the near future, if the current plans of the PM are any indication. Calls for increased agricultural funding often fall on deaf ears or the interests are side tracked by some creative accounting into more ‘lucrative’ projects.

The boy who grew up on kaukau in the village does not seem to understand that not everyone is provided with the advantages to make it into the city and become a bigman.

Moreover, in PNG there is a Black Hole where extension used to be and into this vacuum millions of kina worth of project funds have been tossed. These three elements for improving agricultural production need focussed attention from government. But there are other elements such as market development, supply chains and the overarching policy that supports and guides this progress.

Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen are important for the domestic consumer markets they may offer to our rural farmers who are mostly smallholder farming households.

The new road networks are a major step forward which potentially provides improved accessibility for goods and services to flow to and from rural areas to urban centres.

But access to market is not just a physical requirement - the market must have a demand base and meet the price of the production.

On the other hand the producers must offer a product that the market demands. Domestic production for local consumption seems to me a more viable option – this will create jobs, save on export spending and further encourage service industries that provide for a wealthier local population.

To make the urban centres become the market economy generators that they can be, the rural areas must be supported to offer the food, fabrics & materials, energy, recreational, holiday, tourism and cultural settings that people in the city require.

It is a mistake to think only of the one-way migration into towns and cities without considering what can be done about increased employment opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurial growth from rural communities providing goods and services to urban centres.

Tony Flynn

Barbara, I was recruited by Len Tscharke to run the Asaroka High School gardens; I was paid in produce and lived in a thatched house in the gardens. I supplied a Canter truck and Massey Ferguson with Rotary Hoe. A later headmaster Erhardt Pinno went to a headmasters meeting where he was asked if I had some brothers. Your experience with Andrew Magarey was not the norm, even well before Independence. PNG has suffered from lack of hands-on farming experience for students ever since. What does this say for the rulers of a country with 90% of its people relying on agriculture.. Ag classes are lip-service without a serious hands-on component.
Tony Flynn

David Kitchnoge

I feel beaten.

Tony Flynn

Robin, they will do what the mining students do, they all aspire to join a large company.

I asked Graeme Hancock at Unitech if any of his students had plans to be an independent miner; all intended to work for the boss.

Apparently only doctors, lawyers, accountants and valuers aspire to self-employment.

Does anyone know of an Ag graduate with his own successful farm? Please let me know maybe we can find his motivation.

Mrs Barbara Short

When I was running Manggai High School 1982-83 we had an excellent agriculture teacher, Andrew Magarey, a fruit farmer from the Adelaide Hills, who had lots of good farming ideas which we put into practice at Manggai. I'm sure he would still have lots of good ideas for small farms in PNG.

Manggai was following the old SSCEP syllabus which I still think should be looked at again by the Education Department.

These PNG megacities give me the horrors. I think well run small farms, with appropriate technology, are a better way to a brighter future.

Suggest PNG take a look at the Indian farmers of Fiji. When I visited them a few years back, with Andrew Magarey, they were well run and had small scale appropriate tehnology.

Robin Lillicrapp

So what, I wonder, are the PNGeans involved in Ag studies presently aspiring to do?

Michael Dom

Tony - I've only read the title and the first line of your story, so far, and I agree with you entirely. Now I'll read the rest.

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