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A case study of the process of agriculture change of the Beli people of Rangwe
The population in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been growing at an average rate of 2.5% per annum. Rural people in PNG grow 85% of the food that they consume, on their own land, using their own labour. Thirty five percent (35%) of rural people in PNG eat sago as their most important food, their staple. The focus of this research project is to study the impact of population growth on upland sago production in hilly country north of the Sepik valley and to ask the questions: can upland sago production be increased? If sago production cannot be increased, what will be the alternative foods? Will the decline in available sago force people to change to a root crop staple?
This study argues that sago production cannot be increased in upland areas due to environmental limitations, specifically limited wetlands suitable for sago production. There is also empirical evidence to show that sago farmers have increased the area under cultivation for the production of root crops and bananas over a ten year period, indicating a response to population growth and subsequent need to produce alternative foods to feed more people.
This study has established that over the next 30 years there will be more people living along the Sepik foothills who will not depend on upland sago to meet their carbohydrate requirements. The long-term implications are that more food will have to be produced from shifting cultivation systems of agriculture, which raises separate concerns about whether the natural resources of this area will be able to sustain the intensification of land use.
John Sowei is a PhD Candidate, School of Natural and Physical Sciences, Discipline of Environmental Science and Geography, University of Papua New Guinea.