By Catherine Wilson
Although Papua New Guinea is known as a resource-rich country, 85 per cent of the population depends on the informal economy for a living.
Photo: Women at Gordons market (Catherine Wilson/IPS)
The need for a grassroots-led economic enterprise to create equitable and sustainable development is nationally recognised, but awaits better governance, infrastructure and facilities.
Meanwhile, the majority of PNG’s population of 7 million people practice subsistence agriculture in rural communities, many in locations remote from road and transport networks and public service delivery.
More than half of all income sources, including fresh food production, are part of the ‘informal’ economy. It is therefore the People’s Economy – OUR economy.
Agriculture-based entrepreneurship is not confined to the rural provinces. In the capital, Port Moresby, fresh produce markets are growing, supplied by an expanding network of small farms and food gardens in the city’s outer suburbs and villages within commuting distance.
Bire Nikil moved to Port Moresby from Chimbu Province in the highlands to start a food garden several years ago. At Gordons Market, he is surrounded by five of his relatives who assist him with growing and selling kaukau (sweet potato), bananas, aibika (Pacific cabbage), pineapples, peanuts, watermelon, mangoes and coconuts, all transported in by public minibus.
Nikil’s weekly income of K300 supports 20-25 people, including relatives in Chimbu province.
For many market vendors, who are also growers, this is their only source of income and open markets their main outlets.
Ruth Williepore supports herself and her four-month-old daughter by selling freshly grown food at the market every day. She lives on the city’s northern outskirts, where cultivation of fresh produce is collectively organised with families given specific crops to grow and produce taken to market by public transport.
“If we sell 100 bags (of food) per day,” Williepore said, “we earn K2000-3000 which pays for food, water, household items, school fees, clothes and power bills.”
“More people are buying and more people are selling,” Williepore added, surrounded by several hundred fellow traders and an abundance of fruit and vegetables piled on wooden benches, in plastic tubs and on every spare bit of ground.
The ‘2008 Feeding Port Moresby’ study, by PNG’s Fresh Produce Development Agency, revealed that the total supply of fresh food to the city each year is around 57,780 tonnes, with an overwhelming 50,350 tonnes sourced from local urban production and 7,430 tonnes from other provinces and international imports.
Agriculture accounts for 32.2% of PNG’s gross domestic product (GDP), while industry contributes 35.7%. But revenue from the minerals and resources industry, which has contributed to rising national growth over the last half decade, has failed to generate economic benefits or public services for most people.
Nalau Bingeding, Research Fellow at the National Research Institute, claims that the biggest obstacles to the resource boom transforming the pace of development are “corruption in politics and the public service, and a weak public service mechanism”. While their economy is crippled by corruption, our economy has expanded.
Globally, the ‘people’s economy’ accounts for 60% of employment in so-called developing countries. These self-employed traders possess business acumen, creativity and innovation that can be further tapped for further economic growth if conditions of vulnerability and marginalisation are removed.
*Part Two to follow on Monday, July 2.