Neglect agriculture, head for self-destruction: Tomscoll

Papua New Guinea is heading down the path to self-destruction if it continues to neglect agriculture, warns Agriculture and Livestock Minister, Tommy Assik Tomscoll.

Any Government today and in future must invest between K1.5 billion and K2 billion, or 10 percent of the national budget every year, to grow the agriculture sector. This is if PNG wants to survive as a strong and healthy economy, he says.

Minister Tomscoll was speaking during the commissioning of the new rice milling machine in Angoram, East Sepik Province, last Wednesday (Nov 23).

“Food is the number one business in the world. Food alone is the biggest tradeable commodity in the world today.

“From Independence our economy was driven by agriculture, not gold, not copper…there was no oil, no gas. Life was better, standard of life was better.

“Agriculture was the sector that has proven that you don’t have to go to a university to become rice farmer. You don’t need to go to a college to become a cocoa farmer. You are gifted even before you are born to be a farmer.

“Farming is our inheritance. Our land is our strength. Our land is our identity. It has given us a better life.”

The Minister said the first millionaires of PNG were not university graduates.

“Coffee farmers in Goroka were millionaires. These were the 1960’s stories. First copra farmer was a Bougainvillean,” Tomscoll said.

“But today in the middle of 1980’s, we think that oil will bring change to the country. We think we will be like the Arabs that gas will change this country. But it will never change this country.

“Oil, gas and mining put together have given us less jobs than agriculture does. Eighty-five (85) percent of our population live in rural villages and that’s where the job market is.”

“Today, we have more poor families than we have in 1975. Of the total 8 million people in PNG, three million live in extreme poverty.

“So what do we do, as a Government? We must bring them out of poverty. That is the responsibility of every government. We cannot carry on like this.

“We talk agriculture in the last three (3) years but we spent money outside agriculture. This must stop. We must talk agriculture and put the money down and walk the talk. That’s what the country wants.

“Government must put down K1.5 to K2 billion in agriculture to grow the sector. We have come a long way and also the hard way. We need to take stock, we need to go back. We need to make sure that the government that runs this country sits on agriculture.”

Tomscoll was accompanied by Angoram MP, Salio Waipo, and Agriculture and Livestock deputy secretary technical services, Stephen Mombi.

He flew on a chartered helicopter from Wewak to the new oil palm site at Mundomundo, where he addressed the people from the Kanda villages. He later visited Angoram, where he cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of the new ‘Sepik Organic Rice’ milling plant there, headed by ‘champion’ model farmer, Kristofer Wesley Piso.

Picture: DAL Minister, Tommy Tomscoll, being presented with gifts, including a 20kg bale of Sepik Organic Rice locally grown, milled and packeted in Angoram for and by Angoram farmers.

Cyril Gare