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Country profile - Papua New Guinea

papua new guinea

Situated just south of the equator, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the largest nations in the Pacific, consisting of a mainland (85 per cent of the land mass) and 600 smaller islands. The country has great geographical diversity and is rich in natural resources: habitats range from tropical heaths and grasslands, to cloud forests, savannas, mangroves and swamp forest. Despite strong growth in the country's mining and oil sector, with PNG being the eighth fastest-growing economy in 2012, about one third of the population lives on less than US$1.25 per day.


More than 80 per cent of the island's population live in rural areas and practise subsistence agriculture. As a result, the majority of people are highly dependent on the country's forests and rivers for their food security and to meet basic needs. The country is dominated by a central spine of mountains. With many peaks over 4,000 metres, consequently only some 25 per cent of the landmass is suitable for agriculture. Yam, taro, banana and sweet potato are the main staple crops grown. Garden farms also produce a diversity of other crops including spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, broad beans, cucumbers, and sugar cane.

Agricultural products make up 18% of the country's exports (© Paul Jones/ACIAR)
Agricultural products make up 18% of the country's exports
© Paul Jones/ACIAR

Most commercial crops are exported, although the domestic vegetable market is growing rapidly. Agricultural products make up 18 per cent of the country's exports. The main export crops grown by smallholders are cocoa, oil palm, Robusta and Arabica coffee, tea and copra. Around 80 per cent of coffee production is carried out by smallscale farmers. The World Bank has estimated that yields are 30-50 per cent lower than their potential because of a lack of support services and efficient farming techniques Production of cocoa, also primarily by smallholders, has been hit by the cocoa pod borer. Spices, including vanilla, cardamom and ginger, are also grown on a small scale and around 8,000 households are also involved in growing rubber trees.

PNG retains the largest tract of primary tropical forest remaining in the Asia-Pacific but exploitation by logging companies and subsistence farmers has been extensive. The Government estimates that between 1977 and 2002, 15 per cent of PNG's natural rainforest was cleared with eight per cent degraded to secondary forest. The country is now the second largest exporter of tropical hardwoods in the world and the world's ninth largest greenhouse gas emitter with respect to deforestation. But PNG's Forest Authority is attempting to implement more rigorous sustainability standards in an effort to gain access to Western markets where uncertified forest products are prohibited. As a first step, logging operators are charged a levy, which is used for reforestation efforts.

Between 1977 and 2002, 15% of PNG's natural rainforest was cleared (© Paul Jones/ACIAR)
Between 1977 and 2002, 15% of PNG's natural rainforest was cleared
© Paul Jones/ACIAR

With the largest fisheries zone in the Pacific (2.4 million square km), PNG has extensive and valuable fisheries resources, ranging from inland river fisheries, aquaculture and reef fisheries to large-scale deepwater tuna fisheries: more than 10,000 species of fish, molluscs and crustaceans live in PNG's waters. Smallscale artisanal fishers tend to catch finfish, prawns, barramundi, lobsters and sea cucumbers, which can fetch up to US£140 per kg. As a result of overfishing, sea cucumber fishing was banned in 2010 until at least 2013 to allow stocks to replenish. Partly motivated by the collapse of sea cucumber fishing, the production of commercially useful marine species, mariculture, has recently been introduced in the Kavieng region. Aquaculture is a fledgling industry, focusing on raising tilapia, trout and carp. Small and medium enterprises primarily fish for prawn and with long-line vessels for tuna.

Large scale fishing operations are dominated by international tuna fleets operating within PNG's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In 2010, the country landed 750,000 tonnes of tuna - 17 per cent of the world's catch - making it the third largest tuna industry in Asia. Increasing production has been assisted by a 2009 deal with the EU, granting PNG's canned tuna permission to enter the EU duty free. PNG has also been permitted to export fish to the EU from outside its territorial waters, allowing investors to source fish elsewhere and process it in PNG. The Pacific Tuna Forum estimates that the value of the annual tuna catch in PNG is about US$1.3 billion, which could double to US$2.7 billion if the industry explored more value-added activities. However, the large ocean territory does make it difficult to prevent unlicensed fishing boats encroaching on PNG's EEZ.

On the front line

PNG has the largest fisheries zone in the Pacific (© Des Paroz)
PNG has the largest fisheries zone in the Pacific
© Des Paroz

The effects of climate change can already be seen in PNG: rising sea levels, coastal flooding and the increasing frequency of tropical cyclones affect thousands of people every year. Rising ocean temperatures are damaging coral reefs: in addition to coral bleaching, coral is under threat from ocean acidification and drowning, due to rising ocean levels reducing the amount of light reaching the corals. Malaria is also becoming more prevalent. Historically, malaria was limited to coastal regions, but a warming climate is enabling mosquitoes to survive in the highlands, endangering the lives of 2 million people who were previously not as risk.

As impacts from climate change take effect, the Government's Office of Climate Change and Development (OCCD) has warned that populations will move to areas less affected or where alternative livelihoods are available. The damage to water resources from a projected two to four degree Celsius rise in temperature has been estimated will cause economic losses of US$1 billion per year. In addition to trying to better understand how and where climate change will impact the country, the OCCD is also working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Office has also claimed that by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation through sustainable forest management and carbon stock enhancement, as well as increasing the area of forest under conservation, that PNG has the potential to reduce emissions by 60 to 80 per cent by 2030.

Unlocking agriculture's potential

To improve revenue from agricultural products and generate environmental benefits, certification of sustainable agriculture has been increasing. In 2012, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO) - an international association working to implement global standards for sustainable palm oil production - certified two facilities in the country. PNG's palm oil industry has publicly committed to not planting palm oil on peat land because RPSO accreditation will give PNG access to lucrative markets in the EU and North America. Due to the widespread use of traditional, smallscale farming practices, organic and sustainable certification of other agricultural products could also boost revenues through access to high-value markets.

The Government estimates that 30% of PNG's land has moderate to very high agricultural potential (© Paul Jones/ACIAR)
The Government estimates that 30% of PNG's land has moderate to very high agricultural potential
© Paul Jones/ACIAR

The Government estimates that 30 per cent of PNG's land has moderate to very high agricultural potential, but less than four per cent is used for commercial agricultural production. Through the Papua New Guinea Development Strategic Plan, 2010-2030, the Government has committed itself to developing road networks to link rural areas to trade hubs, improving extension services, assisting farmers to replant high yielding varieties of coffee, cocoa and coconut, and implementing food safety standards to boost PNG's exports.

Developing PNG's fisheries sector is also a priority. The Strategic Plan has highlighted the need to strengthen maritime surveillance capacity, to reduce the loss of revenue from illegal fishing activities. To assist local artisanal fishers, there are plans to set up cooperatives, provide cold storage and processing facilities and organise credit. The Government has also outlined policies - including the promotion of sustainable forest management through reforestation - in an attempt to achieve a forestry sector that is both sustainable and profitable.

Statistical information
  • Country: Papua New Guinea
  • Capital: Port Moresby
  • Area: 462,840 sq km
  • Population: 6,310, 129 (July 2012 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 2% (2012 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 66 (2011 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Melanesian, Papuan, Negrito, Micronesian, Polynesian
  • Languages: Tok Pisin (official), English (official), Hiri Motu (official), some 860 indigenous languages spoken
  • Inflation: 6.2% (2012 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$18.45 billion (2012 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$2,700 (2012 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 27.9%; industry: 38.5%; services: 33.6% (2012 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 0.49%; permanent crops: 1.4%; other: 98.11% (2005)
  • Major industries: copra crushing, palm oil processing, plywood production, wood chip production, mining of gold, silver, and copper, crude oil production, petroleum refining, construction, tourism
  • Agricultural products: coffee, cocoa, copra, palm kernels, tea, sugar, rubber, sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables, vanilla, poultry, pork, shellfish
  • Natural resources: gold, copper, silver, natural gas, timber, oil, fisheries
  • Export commodities: oil, gold, copper ore, logs, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, crayfish, prawns
  • Export partners: Australia 31.5%, Japan 7%, China 6.2% (2011)

Date published: March 2013


Have your say

hi, this is an interesting article, would you please verify ... (posted by: vie)

thankyou very for working hard to improve agriculture in png... (posted by: shyster livix)


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