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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 11, 2000 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Agricultural productivity is under threat from a population that is growing at a rate of 2.3 per cent every year.

This is the scenario that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture Mao Zeming posed to senior bureaucrats, heads of agricultural-based corporations and business executives when he spoke at the 17th National Agriculture Council conference in Lae.

Mr. Zeming challenged the experts at the conference to help the government change the trend before more people fall into poverty.

"The country's population is estimated to reach five million by the end of this year. On the other side of the scale, food production is only increasing slowly at 1 percent per year, which is 1.3 percent slower than the rate of population increase," Mr. Zemming said.

He said the common trend seen in many developing countries was beginning to show here, and it was likely that PNG would face a problem with food supply in the "not too distant'' future.

"In addition, there are already problems of land shortage in some parts of the country, as well as evidences of soil infertility.

Other trends include:

* Food habits changing from roots and tubers in favor of rice and other imported cereals;

* Wide disparity in income distribution, leading to household food problems; and

* Declining trade balance and growing grain imports, which may lead to national food security problems.

"Progress in achieving food security depends on the effective participation of people in decisions and actions that affect their lives,'' he said.

The Government will not decide on recommendations by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) consultants until all issues have been debated and studied, says Mr. Zeming.

He was assuring coffee growers who were upset about FAO's recommendations, particularly the suggestion that all industry corporations and commodity boards come under the control of the government, under the umbrella of the National Agriculture Council.

Morobe coffee growers early this week presented a petition to Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta demanding that the coffee industry be left alone.

FAO said the move would save costs as well as make the industry's operations effective. It also recommended that the NAC have the final say in appointment of board members.

Coffee growers in the Highlands and Morobe opposed the proposal, claiming it would only "politicize" and destroy the industry.

Mr. Zeming said major constraints had been identified which needed solving.

These included the lack of proper and stable funding for agriculture; weaknesses in research and extension services; lack of road infrastructure; and lack of agriculture information systems. Downstream processing also needed urgent attention.

Mr. Zeming said the government would look into these areas immediately.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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