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A PNG green revolution is just wishful thinking

By Brian Gomez - posted Thursday, 27 January 2005

Sometimes it pays to call a spade a spade, as the saying goes. Unless we are aware of the nature of a problem, the solution may be difficult to find. It is one of the reasons this present PNG government has managed to get to grips with economic problems and make important adjustments that bode well for the future.

It was clear about some of the things that had gone wrong under the previous regime, particularly the unwieldy budget, too much borrowing and a lack of ongoing investment. It is also one of the reasons why there will be no resolution to the high crime rate - few people are willing to acknowledge how bad it is, much less get to grip on its causes. Because of that, action to combat the problem will not match the need.

But I make these references to initiate discussion on a vastly different issue that has been bandied around for the last couple of years - the green revolution.


In fact nothing the government has said or done is really about a green revolution and we could probably demonstrate that, at the moment, we are mainly indulging in wishful thinking and rhetoric.

The “green revolution” idea came up in the 2004 budget after the positive response to tax reforms and incentives in the previous budget for the mining and petroleum sectors, currently the two most vibrant sectors of the economy. As envisaged by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, Papua New Guinea’s version of a green revolution was meant to occur through provision of tax incentives for new investors. However, these were severely watered down in the actual budget and, in the process no big increase in agricultural investment is anticipated in the short to medium term especially in view of a generally high-cost operating environment and difficulty in accessing agrarian land.

But even from an investment perspective the green revolution term was a misnomer. The concept of a green revolution has been around for a long time and in fact the idea bore fruit back in the mid-1960s when famines were still prevalent in countries like India, China and even Indonesia.

It was at the famous Club of Rome meeting in 1970 that top world scientists decreed that population was going to overshoot the ability of mankind to feed itself because there wouldn’t be enough farming land for the purpose. There were great minds involved in those deliberations but, as recent history has shown, they were totally wrong.

The world population has continued to grow rapidly, but most countries have tapped into the green revolution, a scientific and technologically-based way of using high yielding varieties of various staples, especially rice and wheat. As far as rice goes, the most famous centre for such work is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos in the Philippines.

One often cited case is the Punjab region of India, where the total area planted with wheat and rice grew from 38 per cent to 59 per cent of total farming land. However, wheat yields rose by 120 per cent and rice yields by 179 per cent in the 15 years to 1981 with output of grain growing twice as fast as the population.


According to experts from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the green revolution has probably had “the most dramatic effect on poverty in the developing world of any technologies developed in the past half century”.

They said a dramatic reduction in malnutrition has occurred in much of Asia and Latin America as well as in parts of Africa even though population has risen three-fold. Some studies covering many countries over a 25-year period from 1967 have shown that overall productivity in agriculture has greatly exceeded growth in manufacturing, being double the latter in the case of low income and middle income developing countries.

The new technologies have even enabled China, India and Indonesia to move to near self-sufficiency in food production. China today is the most advanced Asian user of genetically modified crops with more than half a million hectares of such crops grown commercially.

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First published in The National on January 20, 2005.

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About the Author

Brian Gomez is based in Sydney and is Asia-Pacific editor for The National , a daily newspaper in Papua New Guinea. He also contributes a regular column to, a Perth-based website. Brian has worked as a journalist in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Malaysia and has a special interest in development issues.

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