Friday, 26 February 2016

The drought in PNG: impacts on food production and research opportunities

Dr Mike Bourke from the ANU, College of Asia and the Pacific, visited ACIAR today. 
He delivered an insightful and sobering presentation focusing on the ongoing drought and frost events impacting Papua New Guinea (PNG). Dr Bourke’s extensive personal knowledge of PNG and his stories about the plight of local villagers made his presentation all the more moving. It painted a picture of a situation in PNG that is every bit as bad as the devastating drought of 1997. 

In particular, Dr Bourke stressed the seriousness of issues facing farmers who did not have access to a diversity of crops. These farmers faced widespread crop failure, food shortages and malnutrition as a result of the relentless drought and frost events. This, coupled with the lack of effective infrastructure, trapped villages in areas with little to no food. The prevailing El Nino weather pattern in PNG is causing extreme dry in much of the country and is estimated to be putting around 2 million people at risk of famine and disease.

Dr Bourke told the story of villagers who walked three days to the local market to purchase much needed food only to be rewarded with an empty market place. For their effort they were able to retrieve just a couple of bananas. 

What was patently clear from this presentation was that the food security for these people and many like them is extremely poor and additional work needs to be done to enhance immediate and direct aid in the short term. In the medium to longer term it is also vital that assistance is made available to develop more robust and diverse food systems. 

Photo: Frosts have destroyed vital crops in Papua New Guinea's highlands.
(CARE International: Jay Lomu)

PNG is one of Australia’s most important development partners and ACIAR’s investment in PNG reflects this. ACIAR’s PNG program recognises the many challenges to agricultural development in the country. These include the impact of the current drought as well as poorly developed infrastructure, weak market signals and services, new pest and disease threats, poor product quality, and pressure on land and renewable resources as a result of population increases and mining development. Future effects of HIV/AIDS and other human diseases on the agriculture sector, including on labour availability, health and productivity, are taken into account. Gender issues are integrated into all programs.

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