by Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby
The economy of Papua New Guinea is said to be driven by the extractive industry and export of raw materials.
A recently released book titled, ‘Land and Livelihood’, supports a smaller and simpler way of looking at economics in the country.
Written by political economist, Dr Tim Anderson, from the University of Sydney, it tackles issues of the productive value of customary land, in the hands of customary landowners.
The book is based on surveys that Anderson carried out in four selected centres around the country. He looked at roadside sellers and the amount of money they earn.
He then compared their yearly income to those who are formally employed and those who are involved in support activities for large scale productions such as oil palm.
What he found was that those who made more money were involved in what he termed as “hybrid livelihoods”.
Anderson essentially throws out the idea that the only option available to customary landowners is to register their land in order to engage meaningfully in the cash economy.
His survey found that families are already engaged meaningfully while still maintaining control over their customary land. These hybrid livelihoods describe how families are using farm management techniques to manage what, and how much, is grown on their land and for what purpose.
According to Anderson, the most effective hybrids are where the land is managed to grow food for the family’s consumption and to grow food specifically to sell at the market.
This is done while the family is also taking care of traditional cash crops such as coffee or cocoa, or are involved in small business.
Between 2005 and 2011, Anderson’s survey shows that for one hectare of land, a family engaged in a high local market income, have earned as much as K25,000 per year.
Anderson presented these findings to tertiary institutions and recently to a small group of interested people in a gathering hosted by the Institute of National Affairs.
Former Acting Deputy Secretary for Provincial National News and Technical Services, Potaisa Hombunaka, says the downward trend in coffee production shows that agriculture development should be based on the peoples interest, about what they see gives them the best return for their labour.
“We should make them (people in the rural areas) the central focus of development, not somebody elses interest,” he said, while making the point that after all, “they have the land and the labour”.
Paul Barker, from the Institute of National Affairs, says this perspective of economics that Dr Anderson presents, supports what he has been saying for years.
Papua New Guinea needs to develop a diversified economy and should not be heavily dependent on only a few things.
He said the book is “timely” as we need to “refocus on ordinary households and find out what their needs are, because the fact is when they manage their micro economies better they are able to do quite well and achieve a better livelihood rather than sell their land.”
Another participant Josephine Laka, who has researched the livelihoods based around rubber production in the Western province, says “hybrid livelihoods” is “the way forward for people both in the rural and urban areas”.