Interview: Greg Worthington-Eyre, CEO, Trukai Industries
How would you assess the government’s attempts to improve food self-sufficiency?
GREG WORTHINGTON-EYRE: Developing the agriculture sector and becoming more self-sufficient in food production makes sense. When you look at Papua New Guinea’s economy there are two key driving forces. First, there are the extractive industries, such as mining and energy. Mining employs a number of people for the construction phase, but quickly scales down this number upon going into production. The second driver, agriculture, engages the majority of the population, with about 85% of citizens involved in farming. An industry cannot be built in one day, and close cooperation between the private and public sectors is important.
The new government has started to take major steps towards realising its objectives, a milestone of which was the organisation of the first National Agriculture Summit in 2017. This brought together the private and public sectors, and identified the need to improve the work of the commodity boards and to form an agro-industry council to help raise awareness and develop policies. While public-private interactions have increased, actual regulatory changes take time. Currently, the Agriculture Administration Act and food security policies, which formed part of the previous government’s agenda, are under review.
What aspects of the sector’s local supply chains need to be developed further?
WORTHINGTON-EYRE: At the moment the government and some private companies are looking into the possibility of growing rice in PNG. One of the big issues being raised is that domestically produced rice still costs 30%-40% more than importing it, which is partially due to high local supply chain costs.
There are many different factors driving prices up, including bad connectivity and a lack of cool or cold chain management. Combined, these issues make it difficult to distribute sensitive products, such as dairy, in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, other products that are produced in rural areas, such as rice, can still take five hours or more to reach their destination, whereas in other markets it only takes an hour or less. PNG’s island structure requires a lot of very costly shipping, which often makes it cheaper to import. The cost of power supply, vehicle maintenance, and pesticides, for example, are all carried over to the consumer.
In addition to the cost, it is important to provide quality, as an importer setting up an order expects both. PNG could produce the best tomatoes in the world, but that does not matter if they are already bruised before they reach the market. That is why it is so important to get all these factors right first, before leapfrogging the domestic market and moving to exports.
What crops do you expect to contribute the most to economic growth in the country?
WORTHINGTON-EYRE: There are some very established crops produced in PNG that are doing well on the global market, including coffee, cocoa, palm oil and sweet potato. Some of these crops are better managed than others, but all offer great potential. Furthermore, new crop opportunities, like rice, are also available. One product we are not talking about enough is stockfeed. It takes a lot of time to produce – and some inputs will still need to be imported – but the product currently weighs heavily upon the country’s foreign currency capacities. Therefore, removing the import dependency on this product would not only save foreign currency, but also provide a major boost to industries working with beef, poultry and pork, thereby resulting in more affordable meat for consumers. It is also vital for the state to stay involved in developing specific agricultural products and capabilities. The focus in a country like PNG should be on small-scale farming. If you have 1000 farmers growing cacao, with a trustworthy supply chain and product, quality can be maintained. This creates a trickle-down effect that benefits the whole economy.
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