Overview Objectives

Since World War II, emphasis in PNG agriculture has moved towards production of cash crops for export, which in 1984 accounted for 45% of the country’s total export income and 75% of non-mining exports. However, lack of firm data has led to considerable debate concerning food security and the nutritional implications of this trend to cash cropping. Food imports typically absorb 60-75% of the value of earnings from tree-crop exports. Moreover, ever-cheaper imported rice and other cereals have effectively reduced the growth in demand for domestic staples (such as sweet potato, taro and bananas), and now provide about 25% of the average Papua New Guineans’ minimum daily energy requirements. Thus, the increased participation of smallholders in the cash economy has not only meant food dependency but possibly affected nutrition. Effects vary considerably between regions. For example, people in the highlands, where coffee is the main crop, seem to have benefited, but elsewhere the result is more equivocal.

This project will address both the import dependency and nutrition issues, generating village-level data relating trends in agriculture and consumption of imported foods using the framework common to the International Food Policy Research Institute initiated network of nutrition case-studies. It will examine shifts from subsistence food-crop to cash-crop production, and assess their effects on household real incomes, family food consumption, expenditures for non-food goods and services and the nutritional status of preschool children in various settings. It will also analyse the process by which such shifts exert their effects. Primary responsibility for the nutrition aspects of the project will reside with Dr Heywood, Deputy Director, Institute for Medical Research, Madang, PNG, and on the economics side with Associate Professor J. Brian Hardaker of the University of New England, Armidale.

Research will concentrate on three sites, chosen to represent various ways in which rural people participate in the cash economy. Selection will depend on: highland vs lowland location; whether smallholder, nucleus estate or settlement scheme; and type of cash crop grown. Sites should also meet the following criteria:

. Some structural change relevant to cash income of the rural population has occurred in the area;
. Information is available from previous anthropological, economic, health and nutritional studies, preferably including data on nutritional status of young children;
. Current studies of relevance are being carried out in the area; and
. Reliable information is available on population structure and the ages of children.

At one site, an intensive study will sample 65 households over a 16-month period, with continuous assessment of household income plus four measurements of expenditure and three of food intakes. Studies at the other two sites - each on 25 households for 8 months - will measure income, expenditure, and food intakes twice.

Selection of households for each sample will depend on an initial detailed population census to determine household size, age and sex structure (of population and of households) and degree of participation in the cash economy. The nutritional status of all preschool children will be assessed cross-sectionally, based on height, weight, age and sex relative to altitude-specific averages. Measurements will involve at least 200 preschool children at each site (600 in all), and comparisons with the results of previous surveys will show whether significant changes in their growth have occurred. To control for possible genetic differences within and between areas, the team will measure mid-parental height for incorporation into the analysis. For a general assessment of beliefs and knowledge about nutrition and child care and of attitudes to cash cropping, the team will use a combination of ethnographic and survey methods - developed for use in Papua New Guinea by the Institute of Medical Research - paying specific attention to beliefs, knowledge and behaviour concerning purchased foods. More detailed assessments, in the samnple households, will take account of the total garden areas devoted to food-growing and to cash crops and of the number and age of crop trees, where relevant.

On the important issue of food dependency, data from this project will allow estimates of the demand for imported food with changes in income. On the nutritional effects of cash cropping, a finding of neutral or positive effects will remove uncertainty in policy development; a negative finding will necessitate active exploration of ways to neutralise the effect. Participation in the international network of studies being co-ordinated by IFPRI will contribute to a broader international understanding of the effects of the shift from subsistence to cash cropping.

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Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
University of New England, Australia
Project Leader
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ACIAR Research Program Manager
Dr Ken Menz