60kg banana bunches & farms without boundaries – where else but PNG!
Agriculture in PNG is considered one of the oldest systems in the world (10,000 years). This history of successes of PNG agriculture is due to the careful selection and rejection of crops, and innovative land management practices (such as draining, composting, and fencing). Subsistence farming is crucial to food security in PNG (most importantly the sweet potato), as well as cash crop production (Arabica coffee, cocoa, palm oil, vanilla, rubber and tea). Smallholder farmers produce 96% of total agricultural produce.
The farming system in PNG is unique. There is rarely private land ownership as we know in Australia or many other Western countries. Rather, land is owned by families, tribal groups, or villages, and a farmer is given the right to use the land. The UNFAO states that “a farmer in PNG lives in an agricultural system that is not easily definable”.
Agriculture in PNG is characterised by high crop diversity and density. Each plot is given careful consideration to produce food that is harvested periodically. Leafy vegetables are planted first, followed by root crops, then tree crops (bananas, various fruits, and nuts).
Each region has a dominant food crop for subsistence. In the Highlands, sweet potato is the most common staple crop. Dry coastal zones have a Banana-Yam-Cassava based system (Yams are harvested first, then banana, then cassava). In the lowlands, the predominant crop is taro – that purple root vegetable just becoming popular as a superfood – to which PNG has the world’s largest genetic diversity of taro. Sago dominates low marshland regions.
PNG is widely recognised as a world leader for biodiversity. This is particularly prominent in the humble banana.
There are at least 15 types of banana commonly grown and eaten in PNG, even including bananas which are red or orange. These include the marafri (a short and pale banana that is prevented from being sold in local culture), the jirab (a long red banana). Bananas are both sweet and savoury treats, and are traditionally cooked in clay pots. A traditional dish is gananzub da umatnyari (a fragrant mash of taro and ripe marafri).
PNG even has the world largest banana species – the Musa Ingens – weighing in at an average of 30-60kg per bunch! The tree itself can grow to 25m tall, and 2 meters in diameter, with the leaves reaching around 5 meters in length. This species is rather rare, it only grows at altitudes over 1000m, and takes a long time before it will bear any fruit. The fruit is also full of hard black seeds, so it’s not the nicest thing to be eating!
- PNG has a food deficit – FALSE
A country is considered food deficit by the UNFAO if it imports more grain than it exports. In PNG, an estimated 83% of food energy (and 76% of protein) is produced locally. The countries main exports include palm oil, coffee, cocoa, tea and coffee.
- The main diet in PNG is imported rice – FALSE
Locals eat about 30kg of imported rice per person per year, compared to over 500kg of locally produced root crops (sweet potato), banana and sago.
- PNG has an abundance of fertile agricultural land – FALSE
Three quarters of PNGs land mass is considered unsuitable for agriculture because of steep slopes, high altitudes, or frequent flooding.
- PNG is food secure and free of poverty – FALSE
In rural PNG one million people are considered to be in severe poverty. Whilst carbohydrate intake is generally sufficient, protein deficiency is common.
And to finish off, if you’re interested in butterflies and sustainable farming you should check out this (old) but fantastic video on butterfly farming in the PNG highlands.