Insect Farming in Papua New Guinea

An international market exists for dried insect specimens. ‘Farming’ insects provides income to small numbers of people in PNG. Butterflies are the main insect exported, with lesser numbers of beetles, stick insects and other insects. Specimens must be undamaged, so they are produced by ‘farming’ rather than collecting adults from the wild. ‘Butterfly farming’ involves the farmer planting foods that butterflies eat. Butterflies lay eggs on the food plants, which support caterpillars until they form pupae. The farmer collects the pupae and either sells it to traders or hatches the pupae, kills the newly hatched butterfly and sells the butterfly.

Interest in buying PNG butterflies began in the early 1970s, with trading dominated by a few foreigners. In 1974 the Australian Administration started an Insect Farming and Conservation Project, which became the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) in 1978, based in Bulolo. It is currently part of the University of Technology’s commercial arm, University Development Consultancy.

Three other organisations are involved in marketing insects from PNG, but the two organisations that dominate this market (IFTA and Wau Ecology Institute) are both based in Morobe Province. A study over an eight-year period (1995–2002) found that insects were farmed in all provinces except Enga in 1995 but, by 2002, farming was reduced to eight provinces. The number of insect farmers was stable at 120–130, but there was a greater concentration in the Wau and Bulolo areas of Morobe Province. The total amount earned per year from insect farming and collecting was in the range K60 000–K120 000 for the period 1995–2002. Average income per farmer or collector over this period was K350/year. However, income has declined over the period 2002–2008 because of shrinking international demand, reduced profitability for traders and problems with obtaining PNG export permits.

Agricultural Organizations in Papua New Guinea

National-level agencies

Numerous national-level government agencies have roles in agricultural and rural industries. Key factors in determining their effectiveness is whether they have the resources and institutional linkages with other agencies and all levels of government to perform their specified functions and whether they have competent directors, managers and staff. This section examines the most important organisations related to agriculture.

Department of Agriculture and Livestock

The functions of the national Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) include providing policy advice and sector coordination relating to agriculture and livestock (including advice on the application of agricultural legislation, administered by statutory bodies); promoting agricultural development; assisting provincial governments with the provision of extension; and preparing and implementing appropriate investment programs for major commodities and livestock.

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Spices and Flavourings in Papua New Guinea

A number of crops that yield spices or flavourings are grown in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and have potential as export cash crops. Vanilla has been the most significant in recent years. Chilli and cardamom were reasonably significant export crops in the 1970s and 1980s, but production of both has declined to low levels. Minor or potential export spice crops include annatto (bixa), black pepper, cinnamon, citronella grass, ginger, Japanese mint, lemon grass, nutmeg, patchouli and turmeric. The export of organically certified essential oils from cardamom, cinnamon, citronella grass, lemon grass, nutmeg and patchouli began in East New Britain Province in 2006.

The value to the national economy of these spices and flavourings is small. However, they provide useful income to villagers, particularly in more remote locations where production and marketing of coffee, cocoa, oil palm or fresh food is difficult. The potential for expansion, or even a return to past production levels, is limited, mainly by poor world prices and consequent low returns to labour inputs. Other factors that limit potential include lack of technical information for growers, poor marketing and inadequate transport.

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Common Stimulants in Papua New Guinea

The term ‘stimulant’ here means a group of substances that people use to alter their perception, mood, consciousness or behaviour. The substances covered (tobacco, betel nut, marijuana, coffee, tea, locally brewed alcohol, kava and other psychoactive plants) are not all stimulants in a medical sense, but this name is less emotive than terms such as ‘narcotic’ or ‘drug’. The more precise term is ‘psychoactive drug’. These include drugs used as anaesthetics, painkillers, psychiatric medication and for recreation. Globally, the most common recreational psychoactive drugs are alcohol (in the form of beer, wine or spirits), nicotine (tobacco), caffeine (coffee, tea and many aerated soft drinks), betel nut and marijuana.

Six plant species are grown in sufficient quantity in PNG to be classified as ‘important’ stimulants. Tobacco and betel nut are the most widely consumed. Because it is illegal to produce or sell marijuana, it was not possible to collect reliable data on its distribution. It is also illegal to sell locally produced alcohol without a licence, but consumption of tobacco, betel nut and kava is not illegal. There is negligible or no use of other recreational drugs such as amphetamines (speed), heroin, cocaine, ecstasy or LSD by Papua New Guineans in PNG.

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Common Nuts in Papua New Guinea

More than 40 plant species that have an edible nut are grown in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Many nuts are grown in small quantities in a limited number of locations. Thirteen species are grown in sufficient quantity to be classified as ‘important’, all of which are indigenous. Ten of these ‘important’ species, which are grown by more than 8% of the rural population, are described below. A number of nut crops have been introduced since 1870 and three of these – macadamia, cashew and pecan – are grown, but all are very minor foods.

Five of the species discussed here are considered as having significant potential for commercial development for both the domestic and export market. These are galip, planted karuka, okari, pao and sea almond. Three of these are sold as processed nuts in modern packaging in Vanuatu. In the medium to long term, the indigenous edible nuts could be worth many hundreds of millions of kina to the PNG economy.

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Common Vegetables in Papua New Guinea

About 150 plant species are grown in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that have an edible part which can be classed as a vegetable. These include leafy greens, plants with other edible parts such as beans, stems or flowers, spices and flavourings. Leafy green vegetables are eaten with most main meals in both urban and rural areas. Green vegetables were recorded as being eaten in 75% of households in the PNG Household Survey in 1996.


Pumpkin is grown very widely. More than 70% of the population in the highlands and lowlands eat the cooked tips of the youngest leaves and vines. Pumpkin fruit is grown by 17% of the rural population and is an important food in some highlands locations, for example on the Nembi Plateau in Southern Highlands Province. Pumpkin grows in a wide range of environments and is tolerant of reduced soil fertility. The most commonly grown species (Cucurbita moschata) bears both leaves and fruit from sea level to 2350 m, although other minor species bear higher. Production of tips is non-seasonal. Fruit production in the intermediate and highlands altitudes is seasonal, with the best supply between September and April. Pumpkin was first introduced in 1847 to Woodlark Island in Milne Bay Province and again in 1871 on the Rai Coast of Madang Province (see History of Agriculture in Papua New Guinea). It was subsequently introduced to other locations and widely adopted.

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Common Staple Food Crops in Papua New Guinea

Sweet potato, sago, banana, yam, taro, Chinese taro, cassava, sugar cane, coconut, Irish potato and corn are the main staple foods eaten by rural villagers in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Distribution of the most important staple food crops in Papua New Guinea

Sweet potato

Sweet potato is grown by almost all rural villagers in PNG (99%), the exceptions being people living in a limited number of locations in East Sepik and Western provinces where land is subject to regular flooding. Sweet potato is the most important food for 66% of the rural population and an important food for a further 15% of the rural population. Thus it is the most important food or an important food for more than 80% of the rural population. Sweet potato is especially important for food production at locations above 1500 m altitude. It is also important on Bougainville, New Ireland, New Britain and on coastal and inland areas in Madang, Morobe, Oro, Milne Bay and Central provinces. Sweet potato is grown in a wide range of environments in PNG: from sea level to 2700 m altitude; in locations where the mean annual rainfall ranges from 1000 mm to 6500 mm per year; and on most landforms and soils.

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Cocoa Board of Papua New Guinea

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Cocoa Board was established by an act of Parliament to be responsible for the regulation and development of the cocoa industry in PNG. The PNG Cocoa Board also provides budgetary support to it’s two subsidiary institutes, the CCRI and CCEA to conduct research, and extension services required for the improvement and development of the industry.

Cocoa is the next most important crop with 22% of the value of major agricultural exports. About 16% (93,000) of all rural households produce 65% of the crop and the balance comes from plantations annually. It has an area of 116,000 hectares with 49,000 ha under estates and 66,000 ha under smallholder. Private exporting companies market all cocoa beans to overseas destinations. The Cocoa Industry board performs a regulatory function in terms of quality control, export licensing and fermentaries registration.

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National Agricultural Research Institute

The letters in NARI are the initials of the National Agricultural Research Institute. The PEOPLE symbolise those included in the mandate of NARI such as farmers, researchers, extension agents, partners, NGOs etc, backed with BLUE to encompass the sky and the macro environment. The LEAF symbolises crops, backed with GREEN to depict the crop environment. The PIG and CHICKEN heads symbolise livestock. The RED background portrays the toil and sweat of the people.

National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) was established by an Act of National Parliament of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in July 1996 as a public funded, statutory research organization, to conduct and foster applied and adaptive research into:

  • any branch of biological, physical and natural sciences related to agriculture;
  • cultural and socioeconomic aspects of the agricultural sector, especially of the smallholder agriculture;
  • matters relating to rural development and of relevance to PNG.

Besides, NARI is responsible for providing technical, analytical, diagnostic and advisory services and up-to-date information to the agriculture sector in PNG.

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Honey in Papua New Guinea

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) was first introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from Australia in the late 1930s by expatriates, for their own use. Swarms from existing hives and further introductions in the 1960s and 1970s has led to this species becoming widespread in PNG. These bees are most productive at 1500–2000 m altitude in PNG and a small honey industry was established in Eastern Highlands Province (EHP) and other highlands provinces in the early 1970s. Honey production in 1975 was about 25 tonnes. Growth continued until 1986 when the number of hives peaked at about 4000, with 500 producers harvesting 120 tonnes of honey in that year. The honey was processed and packed at a plant near Goroka by the Highlands Honey Producers Company. Some was sold on the domestic market and some was exported to Europe where it was marketed as ‘organic’, but exports ceased in the early 1990s. Production per colony declined from 30 kg to 20 kg in the 1990s due to poor management, low prices, the closure of the honey producers cooperative, competition from the invading Asian bee (A. cerana) and changes in nectar sources following the 1997 drought.

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