By SURYA NATH of NARI
Agriculture is an energy conversion system in which food, fibre, biomass for fuel and processing by-products are produced for consumption and use by human society.
A sufficient supply level of consumable products is necessary for the desired development and it can be achieved through enough supply of energy input and skilled man-power.
The agriculture sector which is the most important sector in Papua New Guinea has neither enough skilled man power nor energy input to realise the full potential of land and labour. Traditional method of farming using hand tools like bush knives, digging stick, axe and spade are common amongst rural population engaged in subsistence farming.
This practice has not been able to supply sufficient food in order to meet the growing food demand by an increasing population.
The energy input through tractor and other motorised source is unlikely to meet the demand in the near future because such machines are out of reach of subsistence farmers.
The utilisation of human energy in farming with improved appropriate technologies can provide partial solution; however, it is becoming clear that the rural population have given up toiling their land because of lack of support from the government.
This in turn has caused migration of rural people to urban centres and projects sites with the hope getting paid employment.
The energy input is estimated to be only 0.1hp/ha/yr (horse power per hectare per year) in the South Pacific including PNG.
The energy input in agriculture in other developing countries like India and China is 0.7hp/ha/yr which clearly demonstrates that agriculture sector in PNG is not getting its due attention.
There are some major constraints to effective mechanisation at subsistence level in PNG agriculture including: lack of credit, proper extension and appropriate technologies; lack of knowledge and skills in use, repair and maintenance of machines; lack of research and development on farm-mechanisation suitable for subsistence farmers; land being hilly and sloppy; and poor quality of imported machines.
It will be wise to tackle some of the constraints in order to realise meaningful mechanisation. Focus should be on the development of appropriate technologies which could make multiple cropping feasible, generate interest for labourers in producing, harvesting, processing, storing, transporting, and marketing.
The total area cultivated in PNG stands at 11.7858 million hectares accounting for cash crops (cocoa, coconut, oil palm, coffee, sugarcane) and food crops.
Banana, taro, sweet potato, yam and cassava are the major staple crops.
Production of rice is also picking up in many parts of the country.
Farm machineries available in the country are imported.
Tractors, soil preparation equipment, and harvesting and threshing equipment are reported to be the major equipments imported. Most of these machineries are destined to plantations and commercial farmers.
Subsistence farmers are completely left out from the use of machines.
This situation is largely due to lack of mechanisation policy on the part of the government.
It is recorded that about 5,000 tractors, 7,600 soil preparation equipments, and 6,000 harvesting and threshing equipments have been imported during 1996 – 2002.
This clearly indicates that machinery input is very low for crop production in PNG.
On the assumption that 4,000 tractors are working at any given time, the total power available will be only 240,000 kilowatt (Kw), given each tractor is of 60 Kw.
If 20 % of the land is to be made optimally productive, it comes to about 2.6 million ha.
A human being is rated at about 0.1 horse power (hp) and the minimum power requirement for an effective agriculture has to be 0.5hp per hectare per year.
Thus the required energy is about 1.3 million hp, which is equal to 1 million Kw.
Assuming that two million people are always busy in farming, the energy input from manual labor will be equal to 0.2 million hp which is equal to 0.154 million Kw.
The combined energy available from the tractors and human power is only 0.394 million Kw leaving a deficit of 0.706 million Kw.
The remedy of energy deficit of such magnitude is very difficult and it should be of concern to planners and implementers.
It is advisable that animal traction and two wheel tractors are in corporated in agriculture production system with appropriate technologies in order to boost the production to feed the increasing population.
The following are some of the areas that could be considered to improve farm mechanisation in the country: establishment of animal traction centre, establishment of agro-service centers throughout the country, establishment of curriculum in agricultural engineering and technology at tertiary level, establishment of division of agricultural mechanisation at national level, inclusion of agricultural machines related information in agricultural extension programmes, and exemption of tax on imported agriculture machines for subsistence farmers.
The above suggestions necessary to ensure agriculture production is maximised, and realise the agriculture potential that we have.
Improved farm mechanisation can result into:
• Increased productivity of land and labor
• Increased income to farmers
• Reduction in post –harvest losses
• Reduction in drudgery and back-breaking farm work
• Timeliness in field preparation and subsequent operations
• Precision in agricultural operation
• Improvement of safety of farm workers
• Improvement in working environment
• Respect to human dignity
• Increase in agricultural labor efficiency
• Intensive farming for all the cultivable land
• Creation of rural employment, and
• Availability of improved housing and sanitation
It can be concluded that farm mechanisation in PNG must be introduced at a pace that the farmers can use appropriate technology and simultaneously training and education is also pursued.
This way not only the productivity of land and labor will increase but will also provide employment in rural areas.