Caution urged over focus of PNG agriculture summit

10:51 am on 6 November 2017

Papua New Guinea's government has been urged not to use an agricultural summit to promote expansion of industrial agriculture.

Food production in Papua New Guinea

Food production in Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The call from community advocacy group ACT NOW comes as the government prepares to host its first ever National Agriculture Summit this month.

Agriculture minister Benny Allan said the summit was about unlocking the economic potential of the agriculture sector.

ACT NOW's Eddie Tanago said while the idea of a summit was good, the government had done little to provide extension services and transport infrastructure for farmers.

He said small-scale farmers tended to be overlooked by a government obsessed with a foreign-owned export economy.

"Instead of trying to help local farmers, they think the answer is through large-scale, industrial companies that come in to exploit our people's land. The customary land also is taken away. And this is disempowering for the people."

Mr Tanago said they were wary of the Agriculture Summit being used as a vehicle for efforts to grab more land on behalf of foreign companies.

The NGO said ti was of great concern to see the agriculture sector being managed by Mr Allan, the former Lands Minister who oversaw 5 years of government inaction on the illegal Special Agriculture Business Lease system.

This system, found by a commission of inquiry to be a state-sponsored land grab, was associated with illegal logging and the unlawful encroachment of oil palm onto customary land.

"The impending climate crisis, our population explosion and lifestyle disease epidemic that is causing so much suffering can all be mitigated if the government supports rural farmers to stay in control of customary land", says Mr Tanago.

"If the government wants to unlock the power of agriculture to grow the economy it must do so by supporting rural farmers and ensuring they are not displaced from their land by outsiders."

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