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.

In the 1970s DAL lost responsibility for extension services when they became a provincial function. Export tree crops research was transferred to specialised research institutions in the mid 1980s. During the 1990s, remaining research and quarantine functions held by DAL were moved into separate institutions, and commodity boards and corporations were given greater independence. DAL’s role was narrowed, however, the department struggled to adapt to its new role and wasted resources in trying to regain some of its lost functions. A 2004 review of DAL by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found that DAL was without clear agricultural sector roles and did not have the capacity to plan or develop policy. The review argued that a National Agriculture Development Plan (NADP) ‘owned’ by all the stakeholders, including rural village people, was essential if agriculture was to bring about economic and social change in PNG. But the review stated that DAL was ‘uncoordinated, was unsure of budget allocations and was poorly served by national and provincial financial information systems’, and was unable to develop or implement such a plan. DAL produced an NADP (2002–2012) which was approved in principle by the National Executive Council.

Department of National Planning and Monitoring

The Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM) is responsible for national strategic development policy, development planning and preparation of the development budget, aid coordination, and monitoring and evaluation. DNPM evolved from a pre-Independence National Planning Office (NPO). DNPM was disbanded in 1985 and its tasks split between the Department of the Prime Minister and the Department of
Finance. The central planning and coordination functions and dominance of development activities previously carried out by the NPO disappeared during the next ten years. In 1995 these functions were included in a new DNPM, but the department has been reorganised four times in 10 years, which has created instability and lack of continuity. Part of the reorganisations involved the provincial and district coordination branch moving from DNPM to the Office of Rural Development, which caused the DNPM to lose touch with the provinces and resulted in the poor integration of agricultural policies into national development strategies. The role of DNPM also overlaps with a number of other departments, which causes confusion and inefficiency.

The Office of Rural Development

The Office of Rural Development (ORD) has the role of supporting provinces and districts in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating rural improvement programs. The ORD draws on funds from the Provincial Support Grant, the District Support Grant, the Social and Rural Development Program and the Targeted Community Development Program. ORD’s role includes overseeing the allocation and spending of K1 million of provincial and district support grants per MP per year, K500 000 of which can be spent at the discretion of the MP. Although the ORD is closer to the provinces and districts than the DNPM, it has been criticised for not collaborating sufficiently, or at all, with other government departments, the research organisations, or the universities, in the development of high quality district projects that can be supported by the MP’s grants. The 2004 ADB review argued that ‘projects submitted for funding… are not well designed, due to lack of skills in the provinces to support national members to formulate their projects’.

The funding of the districts (and provinces) is provided for under the Organic Law with decision making determined by the Joint District (and Provincial) Planning and Budgeting Priorities Committees, chaired by the MPs and comprising Local Level Government Area presidents and district managers. Spending is widely considered to be unduly controlled by the MPs. In 2006 a new District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) was set up to complement the establishment of District Treasuries and to improve service delivery at the district level. The DSIP includes funds for ‘agriculture’. However, confusion remains over which level of government is responsible for service provision. In addition, the amount of money provided does not cover the cost of even the most basic service provision (including agricultural extension) in most provinces.

National Agricultural Council

The National Agricultural Council (NAC) was established as a committee of national and provincial agriculture ministers, supported by an advisory council of national and provincial department and division heads. After the 1995 Organic Law reforms, its role changed to one of bringing together the chairs of the provincial agricultural committees (where they exist) and the provincial agricultural advisers and statutory body heads, with the national minister and the national secretary of DAL. The secretariat is provided by DAL. The mandate of the NAC is to review national research, training and skills building in agriculture and to report on this to the secretary of DAL. The full membership is large and unwieldy and lack of funds has meant the NAC rarely meets.

Agriculture Subcommittee of the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council

The Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council (CIMC) was established by the National Executive Council and is chaired by the Minister for Planning and Implementation. The CIMC set up a number of sectoral committees, including the Agriculture Subcommittee, made up of representatives from the private sector commodity producers, civil society (including non-government organisations), DAL, DNPM and sectoral statutory bodies. The subcommittee operates independently of the government, under the direction of the CIMC. Its role is to ensure a dialogue between government, private enterprise and civil society. The subcommittee meets reasonably regularly. The ADB review suggested that, given the dormancy of the National Agricultural Council, the CIMC Agriculture Subcommittee should oversee the National Agriculture Development Plan and the agricultural sector program planning, budgeting and implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, for at present no body takes responsibility.

The Rural Industries Council and the PNG Growers’ Association

The Rural Industries Council (RIC) mainly represents larger organisations and agricultural industry companies, although it is endeavouring to extend its representation more effectively, especially to growers. The chair and deputy chair come from the largest agricultural industry companies in PNG. The RIC has 27 members, including a number of government departments and industry boards. It has an office in Port Moresby in association with the Institute of National Affairs.

A number of growers’ associations exist in PNG, representing villagers (and in some cases largeholders) involved mainly in cash cropping. The Smallholder Coffee Growers’ Association is the largest with around 14 000 members in 14 provinces. It is supported by the Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC) and has four members on CIC’s board. The Palm Oil Producers’ Association (POPA), on the other hand, is an association of large oil palm producers. Oil palm smallholders are represented by the Oil Palm Industry Corporation (OPIC). The PNG Growers’ Association was formed out of the Planters’ Association to bring together cocoa and copra growers. These organisations come together under the Rural Industries Council, which works to raise the profile of agriculture and give a stronger voice for policies to support the sector. Some branches of the growers’ associations conduct field days and training activities.

National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority

The National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA) was created out of DAL in 1997. Its mandate is to protect the animals, plants and fish in PNG from exotic pests, diseases and weeds. It is also responsible for facilitating trade through export and import risk analysis and quality assurance systems. The head office is in Port Moresby and NAQIA operates in 15 seaports, international airports and an international post office. It also maintains two animal and plant health laboratories to provide diagnostic and advisory services. Staff conduct meat inspections at five abattoirs.

The 2004 ADB report criticised NAQIA for charging high and unrealistic fees, overly restrictive rules imposed on the import of cultivars and seeds, and the slow issuing of import permits. However, the high risk that imported pests, diseases and exotic species could create severe economic damage to PNG’s agricultural production means an effective and efficient quarantine service is critical to the future of agriculture in PNG.

Fresh Produce Development Agency

The Fresh Produce Development Agency (FPDA) was established in 1989, with assistance from New Zealand Aid, to develop a competitive and sustainable fruit and vegetable industry. FPDA compiles information on prices and quantities of fruit and vegetables in the main markets, provides extension and training on production, marketing and post-harvest handling, establishes contacts between sellers and buyers, supplies certified seed potato, assists in village commercial food processing initiatives, and assists women to engage in fresh food marketing. FPDA has had an important role in the re-establishment of the potato industry following an outbreak of blight.

The 2004 ADB report suggested that FPDA needs to make greater attempts to sell its services to the industry in order to become independent of government funding. The report also recommended that FPDA make greater efforts to collaborate with the National Agricultural Research Institute and to work more with small and medium producers.

Livestock Development Corporation

The Livestock Development Corporation (LDC) is a self-financing organisation that is responsible for the control of the slaughter and processing of livestock for retail sale, for the encouragement of
the smallholder sector to increase the supply of poultry and breeding-age cattle, and the production of stockfeed. LDC has abattoirs in Central, Morobe and Eastern Highlands provinces. A fruit production project and a cashew nut nucleus estate project, both in Central Province, have been established using revenue from the abattoirs and from aid money.

However, the LDC board has recently been subject to numerous political appointments and its revenue depleted by excessive board and management spending. The Goroka piggery and the cashew nut projects are in financial difficulty and the abattoirs are said to be underfunded, poorly maintained and so far below public hygiene standards that they are in danger of closing. If these facilities close, all animals for slaughter will have to be transported to Ramu Agri-Industries’ modern abattoir at Gusap in the Markham Valley. A chronic shortage of breeding-age poultry, day-old chicks and cattle for commercial smallholders exists in PNG, but LDC has seemingly been unable to respond to this need. The future of the LDC is in doubt.

Spice Industry Board

The Spice Industry Board (SIB) is responsible for regulating and collecting data on spice production and marketing, including vanilla, cardamom, pepper and turmeric. The board maintains a small office within DAL in Port Moresby. It has seven members, six of whom, including the chairman, are appointed by the Minister of DAL. SIB is poorly resourced and staff struggle to maintain basic information about production and trade. Licences to export spices are issued by the board on DAL’s advice. Poor control over quality has recently damaged PNG’s reputation as a vanilla producer.

Rubber Board

A Rubber Board was established in the mid 1950s to regulate the export of rubber from PNG. The board is supposed to oversee inspections and hear appeals. It has five members, all appointed by the Minister of DAL. Considerable state investment has gone into rubber growing since the 1970s, but the schemes have been poorly managed by DAL and the Department of Lands. The privately run Doa Plantations Ltd owned by Galley Reach Holdings and the Fly River Rubber Cooperative in Western Province produce most of PNG’s rubber exports. An attempt to sell the government-owned Cape Rodney rubber factory in Central Province to private interests has been accompanied by alleged financial irregularity and a lack of transparency.

In late 2006, in an attempt to revitalise the rubber sector, an interim rubber board was formed to review the Rubber Act and to guide formation of a PNG Rubber Industry Corporation.

National Fisheries Authority

The National Fisheries Authority (NFA), established in 1998, is a non-commercial statutory authority owned by the government. The role of the NFA is to promote long-term sustainable development of PNG’s marine resources. This includes ensuring that catch levels are such that maximum sustainable yield is achieved. Other roles include protection of entire marine ecosystems, preservation of biodiversity, minimising pollution and supporting village fishers. Major fisheries are managed under a national fisheries plan and local fisheries are also controlled nationally. The NFA trains staff in the National Fisheries College at Kavieng, New Ireland Province. A major review and restructure in 2000 and 2001 created an efficient and effective body, but recent political appointments to the board and management have been quickly followed by allegations of excessive licensing and other forms of malpractice.

PNG Forest Authority

The Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (PNGFA) was formed in 1993 as a statutory corporation to manage the national forest sector. Because forestry has been declared an area of national interest, control over forests has not been decentralised to the provinces under the 1995 Organic Law reforms. PNGFA comprises the National Forestry Board (NFB) and the National Forest Service (NFS). The NFB is made up of representatives of a number of government departments, provincial governments, women, forest owners, the forest industry and NGOs. The NFS works in all provinces.

PNG forestry policies and practices have been the focus of controversy, argument and allegations of corruption for some time. The most important issues are resource acquisition, allocation of licences to logging operators who do not comply with key requirements (like sustainable harvesting), poor monitoring of harvests, exports and enforcement of requirements, and the identification of landowners and lack of concern for their best interests. Aid donors, especially the World Bank, have attempted to place conditions on programs to force the PNG Government to comply with logging laws and control the damage being done to PNG’s forest resources. Uncontrolled logging is leading to losses by forest-owning villagers and the national economy.

Agricultural research organisations and commodity boards

The International Food Policy Research Institute argues that every dollar invested in effective agricultural research results in a $6 increase in agricultural output and a $15 increase in economic growth. Effective agricultural research is vital to improve food security and cash income for rural Papua New Guineans. In the 1990s, the DAL research division was split into separate institutions and the commodity boards given greater powers. Almost all agricultural research in PNG is now conducted by several statutory research organisations. The most important are:

  • National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI)
  • Coffee Industry Corporation (CIC)
  • Cocoa Coconut Institute of Papua New Guinea (CCI)
  • Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association (OPRA)

National Agricultural Research Institute

The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) was formed from the research division of DAL in 1997. It is a publicly funded, statutory research organisation that conducts applied and development-oriented research on food crops, emerging food crops, emerging cash crops, livestock, and resource management issues. The major targets are the smallholder, semi-subsistence, semi-commercial and commercial farmers. NARI manages six research stations: Keravat (East New Britain Province), Bubia and Labu (Morobe Province), Aiyura (Eastern Highlands Province), Laloki (Central Province) and Tambul (Western Highlands Province). Additionally, NARI owns the National Chemistry Laboratory and National Agricultural Insect Collection in Port Moresby, and has an office in Mount Hagen. NARI headquarters is at Bubia near Lae.

NARI has been well managed. It has had difficulty training and retaining high quality staff. Because NARI does not have access to funding from a levy on exports as do the export commodity-based research institutions, funding for capital equipment and maintenance are proportionately less than in other agencies. Aid projects, in particular the Australian Contribution to a National Agricultural Research System, have supported NARI for some years, but long-term sources need to be found to maintain an adequate income.

Coffee Industry Corporation

Before 1991, coffee growing and exporting was governed by the Coffee Industry Board based at Goroka. Research on coffee was conducted by the Coffee Research Institute (set up in 1986) at Aiyura and extension to growers was the responsibility of the Coffee Development Agency. This last body was created after coffee rust appeared in PNG in 1986. In August 1991, the three organisations merged into the largely self-financing Coffee Industry Corporation Ltd (CIC).

The CIC has a broad range of powers, including buying and selling coffee, setting prices, registering and controlling exports, setting quality standards and controlling credit worthiness and capacity of market participants. CIC is unusual in that it is established under the Companies Act, but has been granted specific regulatory functions and powers by parliament. In practice, the CIC only applies its regulatory functions to setting guidelines, implementing firm quality control, and approving export contracts (and contract prices). The marketing of coffee is left in the hands of private companies licensed by the corporation. There is a risk that the board could become involved in the international marketing of coffee, and it has the power to do so, but the only occasion when the former Coffee Industry Board used this power (in the early 1980s), it failed badly. That experience provides a strong deterrent to using the powers again. CIC now has two divisions: the Research & Grower Services Division (made up of the Coffee Research Institute and Extension Services Division) and the Industry Operations Division. The CIC is well resourced (from an 8 toea/kg levy on green coffee beans).

Problems facing the CIC are how to:

  • Improve the quality o f village coffee and increase overall production.
  • Ensure board members are competent, represent industry interests and have a good knowledge of the coffee industry.
  • Handle increasing attempts at political interference in its powers and functions.

Cocoa and coconut institutions

The Cocoa Coconut Institute of Papua New Guinea (CCI) was formed in 2003 from the merger of the PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute and PNG Cocoa and Coconut Extension Agency. CCI is owned jointly by two statutory bodies, the Cocoa Board of Papua New Guinea and Kokonas Indastri Koporesen (KIK), which fund the institute through levies on exports.

The Cocoa Board is responsible for the inspection of all export cocoa. It is funded by a K40/tonne levy on exported cocoa, some of which goes to supporting CCI. The board licenses around 5500 cocoa fermentaries
and 14 cocoa exporters. Price competition at all stages of the marketing chain has kept marketing margins low, to the benefit of growers. However, the board has suffered from ‘irregularities’ in management in recent years.

The CCI is responsible for all cocoa and coconut research, development and extension in PNG. CCI has two active research stations, one at Tavilo in East New Britain Province and the other, the Stewart Research Station, in Madang Province. At a third research station, in Bougainville Province, operations are temporarily suspended. CCI owns 3234 ha of cocoa in eight plantations and two hybrid seed gardens. The plantations and seed gardens generate a significant proportion of CCI income.

The Kokonas Indastri Koporesen, based in Port Moresby, evolved out of the privatisation of the Copra Marketing Board trading functions in 2002. KIK’s role is to contribute to policy and regulate the copra and coconut industry. Marketing is undertaken by the private sector, where an increasing proportion of exports is in the form of coconut oil, particularly from the Toboi mill in Rabaul. KIK provides some financial support for coconut research as well as funds for seed gardens. Growers feel strongly that KIK provides few benefits, while imposing high costs in the form of levies on producers. 17 The 2004 ADB report stated that it is ‘difficult to justify the existence of KIK’ and recommended that it be abolished.

KIK’s former coconut mill in Madang, set up in the 1990s at exorbitant cost and managed by subsidiary company PNG Coconut Commodities (PNGCC), was sold to a New Zealand company exploring biofuels.

Oil palm organisations

The oil palm industry is governed by a number of organisations: the Oil Palm Industry Corporation (OPIC), Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association (OPRA), the Oil Palm Growers’ Association (OPGA), and the Papua New Guinea Palm Oil Producers’ Association (POPA).

OPIC was established in 1992, as part of a reform of the oil palm industry in response to grower frustration over low prices, a then unsatisfactory pricing formula and declining government services. OPIC is funded by a levy on sales of fruit, matched by the oil palm companies. International aid funding has also provided significant financial support to the corporation. Funding is expected to continue under a proposed World Bank smallholder agriculture project. OPIC’s main role is to provide extension services to smallholders in order to increase productivity, promote improved management, and enhance the wellbeing of producers. OPIC also liaises with government, the oil palm companies and other organisations involved in the industry. OPIC has five local planning committees, comprising representatives of smallholders, companies and the government, in five project areas.

OPRA is a non-profit research organisation with its headquarters at Dami Oil Palm Research Station in West New Britain Province, and another facility at Popondetta in Oro Province. OPRA was established by pooling research facilities of three companies 18 to bring together government, plantation companies and smallholders under a single research organisation. OPRA’s main areas of research include agronomy, entomology, smallholder studies, and plant pathology. OPRA is funded by a levy on production (50 toea/tonne of fresh fruit bunch for smallholders and 80 toea/tonne of fresh fruit bunch for plantations), government funding and research grants. OPRA also provides technical support and training to smallholders, extension officers and plantation company officers. OPRA’s research is highly regarded internationally.

POPA represents the joint interests of the milling companies. Each project area also has a growers’ association which represents the interests of smallholders to the companies, OPIC, OPRA, and national and provincial governments. The chair of each oil palm growers’ association sits on the board of OPIC. The extent of smallholder involvement in the associations varies between project areas and over time. At various times the associations have experienced problems with financial mismanagement resulting in members losing confidence in their organisations. For example, in 2000 the Hoskins growers’ association suffered a significant loss of members after the association’s funds were misappropriated. In Popondetta the association membership has been limited because the settlers believe that the organisation is dominated by local landowner interests. The distribution of financial benefits between the milling companies and the smallholders has been significantly adjusted in favour of smallholders in successive reviews in the 1990s and in 2000. However, smallholder advocates argue that the mills (or ‘nucleus estates’) have economic advantages over smallholders and the pricing formula fails to properly value customary land as well as heavily discounting smallholder labour.

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.

The most important spice export crops


Chilli is a type of capsicum used to flavour food in many parts of the world. The most common variety grown in PNG is the particularly pungent ‘birds eye’. It is rarely used in cooking in PNG but is an export cash crop. Birds eye chilli grows between sea level and 1800 m and occasionally as high as 2400 m. Production is non-seasonal. Chilli was introduced in the early colonial period. It was first grown commercially on Aropa Plantation in Bougainville Province around 1955. Village plantings were made in the Dogura area of Milne Bay Province from 1959 and production reached 2 tonnes/year between 1959 and 1964. In the 1960s birds eye chilli was promoted as a cash crop in the Popondetta and Tufi areas of Oro Province and around Erave in Southern Highlands Province.

By the early 1970s the main chilli-producing provinces were Oro, Southern Highlands and Milne Bay. The volume exported increased during the 1970s, peaking in 1978–1981 at 190–265 tonnes/year. Production dropped significantly from 1982. Export prices doubled between 1981 and 1982 and peaked at K6700/tonne in 1986 (equivalent to K29 400/tonne in 2005 buying power), but production fell because of problems with provincial governments’ buying systems. A second factor was the poor quality of the PNG product and consequent loss of reputation of PNG chilli on the world market.

Production continues in a number of lowland and highland provinces, with several companies exporting. Production levels slowly declined from 1990, to less than 10 tonnes/year. Production has increased somewhat in recent years, with purchases from villagers in East New Britain Province of 19 tonnes in 2001 and 15 tonnes in 2002. Most chilli is grown in village plantings.

In the past, chilli has been grown by smallholders, either before export tree crops commenced bearing or in more remote locations where other cash crops cannot be grown or marketed. Smallholders were prepared to grow chilli when the marketing infrastructure was working, but it was never a popular crop. It provides low returns to labour and irritates the skin and eyes when the fruit is harvested and handled. However, demand exists and exporters struggle to meet it. Chilli production is likely to continue at low levels provided that marketing arrangements continue, but it is unlikely that production will return to that experienced in the late 1970s and early 1980s unless prices, and hence returns to labour, increase greatly.


Cardamom is a spice that is a common ingredient in cooking, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East. It is used to flavour tea and coffee in the Middle East and is also used as a medicine. In PNG cardamom grows from sea level to 1900 m but its usual altitude range is 550–1700 m. It was introduced into PNG in the mid 1960s. It is an ideal cash crop for intermediate altitude areas where road access is poor or non-existent, provided that prices are high.

Commercial production commenced in 1973, with early plantings in the Afore area of Oro Province and the Karimui Plateau in Simbu Province. Other plantings were on the Huon Peninsula of Morobe Province, particularly in the Pindiu area; the Baining Mountains and inland Pomio areas in East New Britain; and the inland Wakunai area of Bougainville Province. Plantations were established by international companies near Karimui (300 ha) in the late 1970s and near Bundi in Madang Province (160 ha) in the early 1980s. Exports commenced around 1974 and peaked at 320–390 tonnes/year from 1985 to 1987. The maximum production followed peaks in the world price from 1983 to 1985. Prices dropped in the late 1980s and PNG exports followed the price down. Both plantations ceased operating at about this time and all production since then has come from village plantings.

Renewed interest in cardamom occurred from 1998, with most production coming from the Baining Mountains, and lesser amounts from the Pomio and Wakunai areas, Karimui Plateau, the Huon Peninsula, and Jimi Valley in Western Highlands Province. Between 1998 and 2003, purchases from villagers in East New Britain Province were in the range 32–60 tonnes/year, averaging 48 tonnes/year. But world prices declined steeply in 2003, resulting in low returns to village growers. In 2004 the export price was less than K2/kg, compared with the peak price of more than K10/kg in 1984 (equivalent to K49/kg in 2004 kina value). Total exports were about 30 tonnes in 2003 and 20 tonnes in 2004, with 21 registered exporters.

Pacific Spices, a company based near Rabaul in East New Britain, commenced buying cardamom again in 2006 and has since exported 80 kg of cardamom oil to Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia. A Port Moresby-based company, Paradise Spices, has been buying cardamom from Simbu and Western Highlands provinces. Purchases from village growers in 2006 and 2007 were less than the period 1998–2003, which in turn was much less than in the mid to late 1980s.

Prospects for further expansion or even maintenance of cardamom exports are constrained by two main factors. The first is low world prices, and hence low prices paid to growers and poor returns to their labour. The second is the poor state of roads or lack of roads in the intermediate altitude locations where cardamom grows. It is difficult to see a significant increase in production while prices remain depressed and road access is difficult to most producing areas.

Minor and potential spice export crops

Annatto (bixa)

The red dye annatto is extracted from the pulp surrounding the seeds of bixa and yields a red food colouring and a food flavouring. In PNG bixa usually grows between sea level and 1650 m and occasionally as high as 1900 m. The plant is a native of tropical America and was probably introduced into PNG from Indonesia between 1600 and 1870. A few plants are occasionally grown in lowland and intermediate altitudes and the dye is sometimes used as body paint. Bixa has potential as a cash crop, but has not been grown commercially in PNG.

Black pepper

Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide. It was introduced into PNG by German settlers in the early colonial period. It grows and bears from sea level to about 700 m and occasionally as high as 1100 m. Pepper was grown experimentally at the Lowlands Agricultural Experiment Station (LAES), Keravat, from 1932, but was not promoted as a cash crop on the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province until the early 1970s. It was not widely adopted by villagers because labour requirements are high and returns to labour are very much less than for cocoa, betel nut and fresh food. A significant export market did not develop and exports averaged only 1.2 tonnes of peppercorn per year from 1971 to 1976. A very small amount of pepper has been grown for local sale or export since then; for example, 900 kg was sold by two growers in 1991.

Interest in pepper production has been renewed recently. Paradise Spices in Port Moresby is buying pepper for export from growers on the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province and the Bereina area of Central Province. Pacific Spices has planted about 5 ha and has developed an export market for organically grown pepper. Exports have grown from about one tonne in 2001 to about four tonnes in 2007.


Dried leaves and dried inner bark of cinnamon are used in many parts of the world as a food flavour. Bark from native cinnamon trees is sometimes used in PNG as a food flavouring, a traditional medicine and for ritual purposes. The species that is commonly grown in the tropics (Cinnamomum verum) was introduced to PNG early in the colonial period and has been grown at LAES for many decades. Pacific Spices has purchased several tonnes of bark from the Pomio area, presumably harvested from a native species. About 500 litres of oil were extracted from the bark and exported. Small quantities of dried bark have also been exported. Paradise Spices has purchased cinnamon in Milne Bay Province and exported this as ground cinnamon bark.

Citronella grass

Citronella oil is distilled from citronella grass and is used as an insect repellent, as a perfume in soaps and cosmetics, and as a flavouring. Citronella was introduced to PNG in the late 1960s and some small experimental plots were planted. It is being grown commercially on a small scale on a number of plantations and in village plots on the Gazelle Peninsula. Pacific Spices commenced exporting oil in 2007.


The underground stem (rhizome) of ginger is used as a spice throughout the world. It is also used for medicinal purposes. Ginger is an ancient introduction to PNG and grows between sea level and 1950 m and occasionally as high as 2200 m. It is a widely grown minor garden crop in PNG and used in cooking, as a medicine and in magic. Small quantities are sold in local food markets. Ginger yields well, even under coconut shade. Paradise Spices is buying ginger in a number of lowland and highland provinces and exporting small quantities of ginger root flakes. Pacific Spices is growing ginger on a plantation with a view to extracting the essential oil for export.

Japanese mint

An essential oil is extracted from Japanese mint and used to flavour sweets and beverages, including herbal tea. The mint was introduced from Japan in 1968 when there was interest in establishing an industry in PNG. Agronomic trials were conducted at LAES in the early to mid 1970s. No commercial production has followed the experimental work.

Lemon grass

Lemon grass is grown to produce an essential oil that is used as a perfume. Lemon grass is also widely used in cooking to flavour food and drinks. In PNG lemon grass grows from sea level up to about 2000 m and occasionally up to 2100 m. It is an ancient introduction and is sometimes grown in villages. It is used to make a herbal drink (lemon grass tea) and is said to have medicinal and magical properties. It is grown commercially in a number of plantations and in village plots on a small scale on the Gazelle Peninsula. Pacific Spices has exported small quantities of lemon grass oil.


Two spices are produced from the fruit of nutmeg trees: nutmeg and mace. The former is the tree seed and the latter is the dried reddish seed covering. They are used throughout the world to flavour foods and an essential oil is extracted for the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. Myristica fragrans is native to east Indonesia and is the nutmeg of commerce. It was introduced into PNG in the early colonial period and has been grown experimentally at LAES for many decades. A naturally occurring species of nutmeg in the island of New Guinea, M. argentea, has been exported in the past, at least from west New Guinea; for example, in 1894, 77 tonnes of nutmeg recorded as originating in ‘New Guinea’ was sold in Holland.

In 2007 there was about 15 ha of nutmeg in village plantings and 10 ha on two plantations on the Gazelle Peninsula. Pacific Spices processed and exported 1–2 tonnes of nutmeg per year between 2001 and 2007. The company has also extracted and exported some nutmeg oil. Paradise Spices has purchased some nutmeg in Milne Bay Province and exported this as whole or ground nutmeg seed.


An essential oil is extracted from the dried leaves of patchouli and used in perfumes, incense and as a scent in household products. Patchouli was introduced to PNG for experimental purposes in the late 1960s. It is grown commercially on a small scale on the Gazelle Peninsula and Pacific Spices has exported small quantities of oil.


Turmeric plant

The underground stem (rhizome) of turmeric is boiled, dried and ground into a deep orange-yellow powder. It is commonly used as a spice in curries and other South Asian cooking, to colour food, and as a dye. It is also used in traditional medicine in Asia. Turmeric is an ancient introduction to PNG. It is widely grown up to about 1000 m altitude and is mainly used as a dye rather than as a food flavouring. Turmeric has been grown for export in Madang, East Sepik and East New Britain provinces. Between 2001 and 2007, Pacific Spices purchased and exported about 4 tonnes of turmeric per year. Paradise Spices recently purchased turmeric for export from Central, East New Britain and Milne Bay provinces.

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.


Tobacco grows in most environments in PNG, from sea level to 2400 m. Most of the rural population live in locations where tobacco is commonly grown. A large proportion of the adult male population, fewer women and many adolescent children, smoke tobacco. People use home-grown tobacco, and self-rolled and factory-manufactured cigarettes made from imported tobacco. Consumption of home-grown tobacco is probably much greater than that of manufactured cigarettes, but accurate data are not available. Locally grown tobacco is usually smoked as cigarettes rolled in newspaper, or rolled tobacco leaf. It is sometimes smoked in bamboo or wooden pipes and very occasionally eaten (for ritual purposes). It is uncommon on atolls and is not grown where most of the population are members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Towards the top of its altitudinal range it is often grown under the eaves of houses, presumably to protect plants from the cold.

Distribution of tobacco in Papua New Guinea

Commercial tobacco production has a long and not particularly successful history in PNG. The German-owned Neuguinea Kompagnie grew up to 240 ha of tobacco for export at several sites near modern Madang between 1888 and 1902, but rapid losses of soil fertility and pests and diseases caused the crop to be abandoned. Tobacco was also grown as a minor export crop on a number of plantations in East New Britain and Bougainville in the 1930s; for example, 10 ha of plantation tobacco was grown in the Territory of New Guinea in 1933.

Tobacco was grown by two companies in the Madang and Port Moresby areas from 1958 and in the Goroka area from 1960. In 1977 a total of 90 ha of estate tobacco was grown in the Goroka area, the Markham Valley, and on a small estate in the Saidor area of Madang Province to supply a factory in Goroka manufacturing cigarettes, twist tobacco and coarse-cut tobacco products for the domestic market. Estate production in the Goroka area ceased in the late 1970s, and large-scale commercial tobacco production in the Markham Valley ceased in the 1980s.

Tobacco was promoted as a cash crop for villagers in Eastern Highlands Province between 1970 and about 1978. By 1971 there were about 150 growers in the Bena Bena and Asaro valleys. In 1975 an area of 97 ha was planted to produce flue-cured tobacco (used in cigarette manufacture) by 500 village growers in the Goroka and Asaro areas. Village growers, dissatisfied with prices paid by the buying companies, ceased production for cigarette manufacture in the late 1970s. The proportion of locally grown tobacco used in manufacture was small, even in the mid 1970s. In 1977 only 3% of PNG requirements were grown locally, with the rest imported. Cigarettes for domestic sale are currently manufactured by British American Tobacco (PNG) Limited at a plant in Madang using imported leaf.

Betel nut

Betel nut (Areca catechu) grows in most lowland environments from sea level to 1100 m. It is grown by more than half the rural population. This figure understates the proportion of adults who consume betel nut because significant quantities are traded into the highlands, where it does not grow. Betel nut is usually consumed with the catkins, leaves or stems of the lowland betel pepper plant and less commonly with highland betel pepper, together with slaked lime made from cooked and crushed seashells or coral. People sometimes chew betel nut on its own. It is an everyday substance and is commonly given as a small gift, but is also used in more formal situations, such as ceremonies.

Distribution of betel nut in Papua New Guinea

Betel nut was domesticated in South-East Asia and introduced to PNG some thousands of years ago. Production has increased rapidly in recent decades, partly for local consumption, but especially for sale in urban centres and the highlands.

The supply is continuous throughout the year, but varies seasonally. In general the best supply occurs between April and August and the worst supply between September and December. There are some regional differences and the supply is less seasonal in Madang and more seasonal in Lae. The best supply in the Madang area occurs in January–March and this is the period of poorest supply in the Port Moresby area. A disease of unknown cause is destroying betel nut in the Markham Valley. It started to spread in about 2003 and the supply had almost ceased there by mid 2007.

Betel nut is a major cash crop in many lowland locations and significant quantities are transported to Port Moresby, Lae, other urban centres, mine sites and the highlands. The 1996 Household Survey estimated production at 49 000 tonnes per year and consumption of betel nut, pepper and lime at 11 kg/person/year, with consumption levels similar in both urban and rural locations.

Lowland betel pepper

Lowland betel pepper is grown by more than half the rural population. It is only consumed with betel nut or highland betel nut. The catkin, leaf and vine are used, with the catkin being the part most commonly used in PNG and the leaf and vine only used when the catkin is not available. Lowland betel pepper grows from sea level to 1000 m altitude. Its distribution is very similar to that of betel nut, although it does not grow to the altitude that betel nut does. Catkins sold in Kainantu market, which come from Karkar Island and the Markham Valley, are available throughout the year, but the supply varies seasonally with the best supply in January–March and the poorest in September–October.

Lowland betel pepper was introduced to PNG from South-East Asia thousands of years ago, almost certainly with betel nut. Production has increased in the lowlands in recent decades and in most locations
has probably exceeded population growth as betel nut consumption has increased. In some locations where it has become a significant cash crop there has been a marked increase in production so that catkins can be sold in distant urban or highlands markets.

Highland betel pepper

Highland betel pepper is grown by about a third of the rural population. The leaves, and occasionally the catkins, are consumed with betel nut or highland betel nut. Highland betel pepper is grown in mountainous areas over an altitudinal range of 1150–2300 m. It is widespread in Eastern Highlands, Simbu, and parts of Southern Highlands provinces, and the Menyamya area and Huon Peninsula of Morobe Province. Its distribution is similar to that of highland betel nut and the two items are commonly sold together in highlands betel nut markets. The best supply of highland betel pepper leaves in Kainantu market occurs in September–November. This is the period of poorest supply of lowland betel pepper catkins and it is likely that leaves of the highland species are sold to make up the shortfall of the preferred lowland catkins.

Highland betel nut

Highland betel nut (Areca macrocalyx) is used in a similar way to betel nut, but is considered inferior as the fruit is smaller. About a sixth of the rural population live in locations where it is planted and consumed, two-thirds of whom live in Eastern Highlands and Morobe provinces. It is most commonly planted in Eastern Highlands Province, particularly in the Kainantu area, and in mountainous parts of Morobe Province in the Menyamya area and the Huon Peninsula. It grows over an altitudinal range of 1100–1950 m. In the Kainantu area nuts are available throughout the year, with the best supply in October–December. This pattern complements that for betel nut. It is likely that more highland betel nut is sold in highlands markets when betel nut from the lowlands is in short supply.

Distribution of highland betel nut in Papua New Guinea

Highland betel nut is an indigenous species and was probably domesticated in New Guinea after the introduction of betel nut from South-East Asia. Consumption of highland betel nut may have declined over the past 20 years as the supply of betel nut from the lowlands has improved. Highland betel nut is commonly sold in Kainantu market and sometimes in other highlands markets. It is occasionally transported to lowlands markets, particularly Lae, when betel nut is scarce.


Marijuana is usually smoked as a cigarette. Both the flowering bud and leaves are used, with the former containing a higher concentration of the active ingredient (THC). Information on production and consumption is limited as production and sale of marijuana is illegal in PNG. Nevertheless, it is likely that a high proportion of young men in the main producing locations grow or consume the plant. Marijuana grows from sea level to about 2600 m in PNG, but is rarely grown in the lowlands. Most production occurs in the highlands from about 1400 m to 2200 m altitude in locations where rainfall varies seasonally. These are parts of Eastern Highlands, Simbu, Western Highlands and Central provinces. Marijuana is particularly common in the driest part of the highlands. Plants grown in seasonally dry highland locations are said to have a higher concentration of the active ingredient than those grown in coastal areas.

Marijuana was probably introduced into PNG in the mid to late 1960s by young expatriates. By the late 1970s it was being used by highlanders. Production and consumption has expanded since then. By the early 1980s it was readily available in Port Moresby and other lowland centres. By the early 1990s expatriate field workers in Eastern Highlands and Simbu provinces were regularly offered marijuana in rural areas; reports of sightings in village plantings became more common; social workers in the highlands commented on the negative impact of heavy use on young men in some highland locations; and some young highland village men spoke openly of how much they used. By 2007, marijuana cigarettes were being offered for sale openly or barely concealed in Goroka, Kundiawa and Mount Hagen markets.

It seems that significant quantities of marijuana are grown in at least four provinces; that many young men use it and some use large enough quantities to have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing; and that it is readily available in urban centres. As a result, marijuana is an important cash crop for some villagers. It is unlikely that marijuana is imported into PNG but it is probable that some is exported from PNG to Australia where it is known as ‘New Guinea Gold’ among some users. Marijuana is implicated in reports of weapons trading from Australia to PNG across Torres Strait.

Coffee, tea and soft drinks

Coffee, tea and many aerated soft drinks contain caffeine, which is a psychoactive substance, although they are so common in most societies worldwide that they are not considered as drugs. Although coffee and tea are produced in PNG for the export market, consumption levels are low. The 1996 PNG Household Survey recorded combined consumption of tea, coffee and Milo (a manufactured chocolate drink) of only 1 kg/person/year in urban areas and a few hundred grams per person per year in rural areas. People consume more soft drink, particularly in urban areas, where consumption in 1996 was 12 kg/person/year and 3 kg/person/year in rural areas. Most coffee consumed is imported ‘instant’ powder. A very small quantity of locally roasted Arabica coffee is consumed, particularly by expatriates and in up-market restaurants. Some locally produced tea is sold on the domestic market and very small quantities are imported. Aerated soft drinks are manufactured in PNG from locally grown sugar and imported flavours.

Locally brewed alcohol

With the exception of coconut ‘toddy’ on some atolls, alcohol was unknown in PNG until introduced by Europeans in the late nineteenth century. Consumption by Papua New Guineans was prohibited until the early 1960s. Alcohol is now legally able to be consumed in PNG, with beer being the most common alcoholic drink. Consumption levels are low by global standards, with beer consumption recorded as 4 kg/person/year in
1996, and use higher in urban than in rural locations. Beer is brewed in Lae and Port Moresby from imported ingredients. Some spirit drinks are made and sold in PNG, based on ethanol (alcohol) manufactured at Ramu Agri-Industries Ltd and imported flavours. Other alcoholic beverages, including wine and spirits, are imported in small quantities.

An alcoholic drink (toddy) is made from the sap collected from the fruit stalk of coconut palms on Mortlock, Tasman and Nuguria islands in Bougainville Province. This appears to be a pre-European custom. The fermented sap produces a refreshing drink with a low alcohol content of about 2–3%. There are reports that coconut toddy was made in the lower Fly River area of Western Province, where it is possible the technique was introduced by Polynesian missionaries in the 1890s.

In a number of locations young men make an alcoholic drink known as ‘jungle juice’, ‘JJ’ or ‘Yawa’, by fermenting fruit, such as banana or pineapple, with yeast and sugar. This custom was possibly first introduced to the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province by Japanese troops during the 1940s. The Yawa banana variety is commonly used for this purpose because of its high sugar content. Increasingly, the fermented drink is distilled to produce a potent spirit known as hom bru. During the civil war on Bougainville in the 1990s the practice was widespread and distilled spirit is now sold at roadside stalls there. It is also sold in some (and perhaps many) betel nut markets in the highlands. If not done correctly the distillation process can result in toxic products and reports of blindness and death among hom bru users occur from time to time. The spirit has a high alcohol content and consumption is associated with irrational and sometimes violent behaviour.


Kava is consumed as a beverage made from the chewed, pounded or grated root of a shrub that is related to betel pepper and black pepper. Chewing is the most common method of preparation. Once the kava root has been chewed and mixed with water, it is strained into a bowl or coconut cups and drunk. It is used in a very limited number of locations in PNG and by less than 1% of the rural population.

Kava was domesticated in Vanuatu and introduced from there to some locations in PNG. It was a pre-European crop in the Madang area and possibly in Manus Province. The area of greatest kava consumption
in PNG was Manus Province, in particular Lou, Baluan, Pam, Rambutyo and the Fedarb islands. By the 1990s it was used only on Baluan. It was reportedly used in coastal areas north of Madang, the Rai Coast, some inland areas near the Ramu River and on Karkar and Bagabag islands. It is now used only in a limited number of villages in Madang Province. Kava was also consumed in parts of Western Province on the Great Papuan Plateau near Nomad, near Balimo and in the region from Daru to the Papua (west New Guinea) border.

Consumption has declined in recent decades. Some research has been conducted on kava by NARI scientists interested in developing the crop for the export market, but there is no commercial production. An export market for kava developed in the Pacific in the late 1990s, with demand in Europe and the United States, but kava was exported from PNG only on a very small scale. The PNG Spice Industry Board reported in 2001 that small quantities were grown and processed in several locations in Madang and East Sepik provinces. The dried kava was exported to Japan and Australia. Reports of liver damage from overconsumption of dried kava have caused European and American markets to be restricted.

Other psychoactive plants

There are numerous reports of the use of other plants, mushrooms and fungi for their psychoactive effect. Most are indigenous to PNG but some are more recent introductions. They are used during various rituals and to induce visions or dreams. Some have been documented as having hallucinogenic properties. More than 60 species are reported to be used including mushrooms, fungi, and the fruit, leaves, sap, rhizomes, roots, bark and nuts of various plants. Some plants that have edible parts, including ginger, pandanus nut and castanopsis nut, are also reported to be used as psychoactive substances. A Datura species that has been used for this purpose has resulted in unintentional poisoning on a number of occasions. There is no reliable information on current usage of other psychoactive plants in PNG. However, it is likely that these plants were used in limited amounts in the past, certainly much less commonly than betel nut and tobacco are now used. It is also likely that their use has declined in recent decades in more accessible parts of PNG.

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.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

Breadfruit has a number of economic products, with the flesh of the fruit and the nuts eaten. Other uses include medicine, timber, fuelwood, canoe construction, clothing, rope, wrapping and adhesive. Both the flesh and nuts are eaten on the smaller islands off the north coast of New Guinea, on the Admiralty Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon chain, and throughout Milne Bay Province. In contrast, only the nuts are eaten on the mainland of New Guinea, with some exceptions, such as the mainland of Milne Bay Province and some coastal locations on the south of Central Province. As well, types of breadfruit with few or no seeds have been introduced into PNG from Polynesia over the past century, but these types remain uncommon. The fruit is cooked, commonly in a stone oven, but there are numerous ways of cooking and preparing breadfruit. On Nissan Island, villagers preserve the flesh by roasting it to form a biscuit and this is said to remain unspoilt for several years.

Breadfruit was domesticated by people in New Guinea, probably thousands of years ago. From New Guinea, people spread the species in pre-European times throughout the Pacific islands, as far east as the Society Islands, north to the Marianas and north-east to Hawaii. It was introduced into the Philippines in ancient times from Guam. Breadfruit has been introduced throughout the tropical world in recent centuries.

In PNG, breadfruit grows from sea level up to a mean of 1250 m, occasionally as high as 1450 m, and is widespread throughout the Momase, Islands and Southern regions. It is also grown at lower altitudes in the highland provinces, up to about 1200 m. On the islands of New Britain, it was ranked by villagers as their most important fruit and nut bearing tree.

Breadfruit does not produce fruit in a regular manner in most of PNG and the production period varies from year to year, despite many statements about its ‘seasonality’. The exception is in Milne Bay Province at 8–11° south where villagers give the producing period as commencing in October or November. Production is likely to be seasonal at locations south of about 8° latitude, but is irregular at most locations in PNG, which are nearer the equator. Such a pattern would arise from the changes in day length during the year with increasing distance from the equator.

An estimated 2.4 million rural people grow breadfruit, which represents 57% of the rural population. Breadfruit nuts are widely eaten throughout the lowlands, especially in Momase Region. The flesh is eaten on most islands in PNG and in a limited number of locations on the New Guinea mainland. Nuts are commonly sold in markets in Momase Region. It is possibly now a less important food item than before the widespread adoption of sweet potato, cassava and Xanthosoma taro in the lowlands. It is not clear whether there is potential for further commercial sale of fruit and nuts within PNG. Fresh breadfruit is exported from Fiji to New Zealand and volumes grew rapidly over the period 2001–2005. There is little prospect of exporting breadfruit from PNG because of fruit fly infestation, but there may be a market for some fresh fruit in Port Moresby at least.

Planted karuka

Planted karuka (Pandanus julianettii), and a wild species (P. brosimos), are the most important of a number of pandanus species that produce edible nuts in PNG, all of which grow above 1000 m. Planted karuka is grown by almost half the rural population. It grows in an altitudinal range of 1800–2600 m, confined mainly to a band in the central and fringe highlands and the Huon Peninsula.

Distribution of planted karuka in Papua New Guinea

Kernels (nuts) of karuka pandanus are an important seasonal dietary item for those living at high altitudes in the New Guinea highlands. The kernel is eaten raw or cooked by roasting it in an open fire, baking in hot ashes or steaming in a stone oven. The nuts can be preserved by drying and smoking above a house fire. For longer storage, the kernels are extracted and stored in baskets hung in house rafters. Smoke from the house fires imparts a characteristic flavour to the nuts. When the nuts are in season, entire households and their domestic pigs migrate from villages to high-altitude bush camps for weeks to harvest and eat the nuts. When sweet potato is scarce because of frost damage or other causes, villagers depend upon karuka if it is in season. The nuts are highly nutritious and provide both protein and oil, the two components that tend to be deficient in highlanders’ diets.

Production is irregular in the western part of the highlands, where rainfall seasonality is slight or absent. In the eastern part of the highlands, where rainfall is seasonally distributed, production is more seasonal, but there is still large year-to-year variation in the harvest size. In any year the producing period also varies between locations. The nuts are most likely to mature during January–March, but nuts may mature during any month of the year. After periods of soil moisture stress or drought, the producing periods coincide at most locations. The biggest harvests tend to follow major droughts.

Planted karuka is endemic to New Guinea and was domesticated there, probably from the wild species (P. brosimos). Surveys indicate that a significant proportion of village trees are immature, which suggests that people are making new plantings. Karuka nuts are commonly sold in highland markets, either cooked or uncooked.

Wild karuka

Wild karuka (Pandanus brosimos) is eaten by about a third of the rural population. The kernel (nut) of wild karuka is an important food for villagers living at high altitudes in New Guinea, although it is not as important as planted karuka. Kernels are eaten both cooked and raw. This species is widespread in highaltitude locations (2400–3100 m) in the central and fringe highlands and the Huon Peninsula. Although its range overlaps with planted karuka, wild karuka grows above 2800 m, the altitudinal limit of settlement and food gardens. When fruit matures, villagers migrate to high altitudes to harvest the fruit and extract the nuts.

Nuts are produced in an unpredictable manner. They are most likely to mature in January–February, but may mature in any month. The producing period may coincide with that of planted karuka in nearby locations at lower altitudes, but not always. Wild karuka is endemic to New Guinea and is not found elsewhere. Nuts have not been recorded in the main highland markets, but it is possible that they are sold in some high-altitude locations.


Galip (Canarium spp.) is grown by almost a third of the rural population. A number of species bear edible nuts in PNG, with Canarium indicum being the most important. The kernel of galip is generally eaten raw, and occasionally roasted. Trees are grown from protected self-sown seedlings or planted seedlings. It is estimated that there are one million edible Canarium trees in PNG, with kernel production of tonnes per year. Galip grows from sea level to 700 m altitude and is widely grown in forested locations below 500 m altitude along the north coast and inland areas of the New Guinea mainland and in the Islands Region.

Distribution of galip in Papua New Guinea

Nuts are produced seasonally with the producing period typically about three months long. Latitude has a strong influence on the start of the harvesting season. Nuts usually mature from April–June onwards at 4–6° south, with the harvest commencing progressively later at locations further from the equator.

Canarium indicum is the oldest domesticated nut species in PNG. It has been identified in the archaeological record as early as 14 000 years ago, several thousand years before the start of arable agriculture in New Guinea. The distribution of this species in the archaeological record suggests that domesticated varieties were being moved between islands thousands of years ago. It is a direct link to an earlier era of hunting and gathering in New Guinea’s past.

There are indications that consumption is declining. For example, puddings made from galip and taro in some locations such as Bougainville Province were once common but are rarely seen now. Nuts are traded in some locations, for example, from Boisa Island to villages near the mouth of the Ramu River in Madang Province (in exchange for sago); on Vokeo Island north-east of Wewak, East Sepik Province; and Siassi Islands in Morobe Province. Again, there are indications that this trade has diminished in recent decades.

Potential for commercialisation of galip nut is considerable and the potential international market for galip nut is large. One unsuccessful attempt to commercialise galip was made in the Kandrian area of West New Britain Province. This was done as part of the AusAID-funded Kandrian Gloucester Integrated Development Project in the 1990s and the operation failed as soon as donor support ceased.

Polynesian chestnut (aila) (Inocarpus

The seed of Polynesian chestnut is cooked prior to consumption. It is cooked by baking the entire fruit or boiling or roasting the nut. Polynesian chestnut is found near villages, rivers and in or near food gardens at low altitudes. It is distributed from Java and Borneo in the west through New Guinea and the island chains as far south as New Caledonia and as far east as east Polynesia. Within PNG, it is grown in the lowlands of the mainland and island provinces. It is not common on the New Guinea mainland, except in Milne Bay Province, where it is important on both the mainland and on all larger islands. Polynesian chestnut is also commonly grown on New Britain and New Ireland. Polynesian chestnut grows from sea level up to a mean of 400 m, and occasionally as high as 870 m in PNG.

Production in PNG is discontinuous and non-seasonal at locations closer to the equator. In Milne Bay Province (8–12° south), fruit ripens seasonally over a two to three month period, especially in November–February.

The MASP database indicates that 637,000 people live in locations where the crop is commonly eaten (15% of the rural population). Most (83%) of those people live in Milne Bay, East New Britain, West New Britain and New Ireland provinces, with the rest in the other lowland provinces. In most locations, Polynesian chestnut is only a moderately important food. It is most important in Milne Bay Province, where it is available on a predictable seasonable basis during the period when garden food is scarce. However, since the widespread adoption of sweet potato and cassava, it seems to have become a less important food there, as the tuber vegetables are available throughout the year. The decline in the importance of the nut as a food is a Pacific-wide phenomenon. Cooked nuts are sold occasionally in markets in the islands in PNG.

Polynesian chestnut is not a popular food with those who did not grow up eating it. For that reason, it is unlikely to have great potential for commercial production within PNG or overseas. Evans (1996b:72) notes that standard techniques for the removal of the toxins need to be developed for commercial production.

Sea almond (talis)

Sea almond (talis) is grown by 13% of the rural population, but this figure overestimates its importance as it is a very minor food in most locations where it grows. The small kernel is eaten raw or roasted, mostly by people who live near the seashore, particularly children. Sea almond is widely distributed along the coast of all lowland provinces up to 300 m altitude and is most common in Milne Bay Province and the Islands Region. It is sometimes planted in coastal and inland villages and has also been planted as a street tree in a number of PNG towns.

Sea almond fruits sporadically throughout the year near the equator but is seasonal at locations further from the equator, where fruit ripens sometime between November and May. In Milne Bay Province the producing period is reported by villagers as 2–3 months long, with fruiting most commonly around December–February.

Sea almond has a widespread natural distribution in near-coastal areas of the Indian Ocean, throughout coastal tropical Asia and the Pacific Ocean. It has been eaten in PNG for a long time. The fact that superior types exist, including soft-shelled types on Iwa Island in Milne Bay Province and on Mussau Island north of New Ireland, indicate that people have selected superior varieties over a long period. Nuts are not sold in PNG markets. The species has potential for commercialisation for sale within PNG and overseas. It is processed for sale in Vanuatu.


Pao (Barringtonia procera) is grown by 13% of the rural population. The kernel is eaten either raw or roasted. Pao is planted in coastal and inland locations up to an altitude of 500 m. It has a limited distribution within PNG, being confined mainly to the Islands Region. Pao was probably introduced to PNG from Solomon Islands. It is increasing in importance and since about 1960 has been planted at other locations on New Britain and the New Guinea mainland, including coastal and island locations in Morobe, Madang, East Sepik, Sandaun and Milne Bay provinces.

Distribution of pao in Papua New Guinea

Pao fruits intermittently in a non-seasonal manner. It is an important edible nut in the Islands Region and is sold in markets there. Edible Barringtonia species have been commercialised in Vanuatu, where there is high demand for the nuts. Barringtonia procera in particular has considerable potential as a cash crop for both the domestic and export markets, given the small area required per tree, a relatively short time to maturity and the possibility of growing it as a horticultural crop rather than relying on naturally occurring forest trees. Two related species, B. novaehiberniae and B. edulis, bear edible nuts in PNG, but they are very minor foods.


Okari (Terminalia kaernbachii) is grown by about 12% of the rural population. The name okari is used in Motu (and now English) in the Southern Region for T. kaernbachii, but it has been adopted in Tok Pisin as the name for the related T. impediens. The former is a more important food and has significant commercial potential, whereas the latter is a minor food with limited commercial potential.

Okari (T. kaernbachii) nuts are eaten raw. Trees are preserved in garden land or planted. Villagers either harvest nuts from trees or, more commonly, collect the fallen fruit. Okari is mainly distributed in the Southern Region but also occurs in adjacent locations in Southern Highlands, Simbu and Morobe provinces; in Manus Province; and in West New Britain from the Aria River west to Cape Gloucester.

Distribution of okari in Papua New Guinea

Okari was domesticated in New Guinea. Over the past 50 years the tree has been introduced to other locations in PNG, including East New Britain and New Ireland. It grows from sea level to 1100 m altitude. The species is uncommon near the ocean in its natural range in southern New Guinea, although it does bear near the ocean at, for example, Keravat on New Britain and Kavieng on New Ireland. It may be that the best production occurs where the diurnal temperature range (the difference in temperature between day and night) is greater.

The producing period is fairly constant from year to year and lasts for 2–4 months, although the size of the annual harvest is variable. There is a clear relationship between latitude and the start of the harvesting period, with the producing period commencing later at locations further south from the equator. This is presumably caused by differences in daylength, although it could also be related to seasonal temperature changes. Nuts mature from about March at 4° south and later at locations further south.

Okari nuts are eaten in the producing region and some are sold in local and regional markets, including in Port Moresby. Okari nut has considerable potential for sales within PNG and overseas. A local non-government organisation, Okari Ecoenterprises, attempted to commercialise okari nut on the Managalas Plateau in Oro Province in the early to mid 1990s. Nuts were collected from planted and self-sown trees and transported to Port Moresby where they were sold through Associated Distributors. The operation failed after a few years because of an irregular supply of nuts.

Okari (Terminalia impediens) is grown by about 8% of rural villagers, but this figure overemphasises its importance as it is a minor food where it is grown. The kernel is eaten raw. Trees are not planted, but are preserved when land is cleared for gardening. This species grows up to 1000 m altitude and is common in East Sepik, Sandaun and Madang provinces. Terminalia impediens was domesticated in New Guinea. Production is not expanding. The species is not sold in fresh food markets and probably has less commercial potential than the closely related T. kaernbachii because the nuts are smaller.

Sis (solomon)

Sis (solomon) (Pangium edule) is grown by 8% of the rural population and is widely eaten in PNG, despite requiring extensive processing to remove a poison. The seed is eaten only after being washed in water, then roasted and fermented. Pangium edule is known by the common name sis in some locations in Momase Region and solomon in parts of New Britain. It is grown in most provinces, being most commonly eaten in Milne Bay. Sis grows from sea level to 1050 m altitude in both coastal and inland lowland locations. Production is seasonal, commonly starting around May or June and lasting 2–4 months. Sis is an ancient crop in PNG. It was probably a more important food before the widespread adoption of introduced foods including sweet potato, cassava and Chinese taro. It is occasionally sold in fresh food markets. Because of the extensive processing required to make the nut safe for human consumption, it is unlikely that this species has any commercial potential.

Candle nut (Aleurites moluccana)

This species has been described as ‘… one of the great domesticated multipurpose trees of the worlds’. The seed can be eaten after being roasted. Consumption of raw seeds results in nausea and vomiting. Candle nut is native to the Indo-Malaysia region and was introduced in ancient times throughout the Pacific islands. Its pre-European distribution was from India in the west to the Marquesas Islands in the east; and from Australia in the south to Guam and China in the north, including New Guinea and associated islands. It has now been introduced to much of the tropical world.

It is widely distributed throughout PNG, where it grows from sea level up to a mean of 1800 m and occasionally as high as 2160 m. The limited information on the production pattern from Simbu Province, the Goroka area, New Ireland and New Britain indicate that fruit ripens seasonally between August and December.

While the tree is widespread in PNG, the nuts are rarely eaten. It is most commonly used as a food in Simbu Province, where it is a very minor food item. It is occasionally eaten elsewhere, for example, in the Goroka
area of Eastern Highlands Province and in the Morehead area of Western Province. The MASP database indicates that it is eaten by only about 8000 people. Nuts are occasionally sold in food markets in Simbu Province and in Goroka market.

Candle nut provides many economic products, including oil. This has a number of uses including for the cosmetics industry where it is used in products to sooth skin maladies. It is also used as folk medicine, for animal
fodder and as a dye. It is unlikely to be adopted as a food in PNG, but candle nut oil may have commercial potential for export.

Castanopsis (Castanopsis acuminatissima)

Castanopsis kernels are eaten either raw or cooked and are gathered from self-sown or planted trees. Henty (1982:80) reports that, in the Pomio area of inland New Britain, seeds were commonly eaten after boiling and that some children, against the advice of their elders, persistently ate raw kernels. Millar and Dodd (1982:201) compare the flavour to a walnut. The global distribution includes parts of India, China, Burma, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and New Guinea. Within PNG, the species is widespread on the New Guinea mainland, especially in the highlands and nearby locations, including in the Wau area of Morobe Province. It grows in the interior of New Britain and on some of the islands of Milne Bay Province. Castanopsis grows from a mean of 700–2350 m, and occasionally over the range 570–2440 m.

The nuts are available seasonally, with a producing period of about two months that commences at some time between July and December. The limited available data suggest that the producing season commences earlier (July–September) at lower altitudes (800–1200 m) than at higher altitudes (1600–2000 m), where it commences in November–December.

Castanopsis is eaten in parts of the highlands, the highland fringe and in the interior of New Britain. The MASP database indicates that about 293,000 people live in locations where the crop is commonly eaten (7% of the rural population). Most of those people (75%) live in Southern Highlands Province. Generally it is a minor food in PNG and is not seen as having much commercial potential.

Dausia (Terminalia megalocarpa)

Dausia is a minor species where the nut is eaten only after elaborate processing, which usually involves the fruit being soaked in water for some days. French (1986:172) reports that the outer flesh of the fruit is eaten and that a selected yellow-fleshed form is eaten in the Solomon Islands. The species is moderately common in the islands of Milne Bay, including Misima, Rossel, Sudest, Engineer Group, Calvados Islands, Trobriand Group, Iwa and other nearby islands. Dausia is a lowland species, and its upper altitudinal limit is not known. Nuts are available seasonally in the period December to February. The MASP database indicates that 88,000 people live in locations where the species is commonly eaten. This is 2% of the rural population and all are located in Milne Bay Province. As far as I know, it is not sold in food markets.

Finschia (Finschia chloroxantha)

Finschia is a minor species. Nuts are gathered from self-sown trees and eaten raw. Henty (1982:81) notes that trees are sometimes planted near villages. The species is related to macadamia. Finschia is distributed through New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Aru Islands, Vanuatu and Palau Island (Micronesia). Within PNG, it has been recorded in Morobe, Eastern Highlands, Southern Highlands, Western, Gulf and Milne Bay provinces. It no doubt occurs elsewhere in PNG. Finschia grows from sea level up to a mean of 1850 m, and occasionally as high as 2000m in PNG. Production is reported to be seasonal, but there is insufficient data to generalise about the pattern. While the species is widely distributed in PNG, it is a very minor food, the nuts of which are eaten by some people occasionally. I have never seen nuts sold in food markets. It is not clear whether this species has any potential for further domestication or commercialisation.

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.

Distribution of pumpkin in Papua New Guinea



Aibika is grown by more than 60% of the rural population. The leaves and stems are eaten cooked. Aibika grows from sea level to 1900 m, although it is more common in the lowlands and intermediate altitude classes than in the highlands. Production is mildly seasonal in the highlands and lowlands, with the best supply between January and March. Aibika was probably introduced to PNG thousands of years ago, but may have been domesticated in the New Guinea area. Consumption was estimated as 40 000 tonnes per year in the 1996 PNG Household Survey. No data are available on production trends, but it is likely that production has not expanded as rapidly as population growth has over the past 50 years.


Amaranthus is grown by 60% of the rural population. The leaves are eaten cooked. Three species, all of South-East Asian origin, are common in the lowlands through to the highlands: Amaranthus tricolor (0–1950 m), A. dubius (0–1800 m) and A. blitum (0–2050 m). Two other species, both of which were domesticated in Central or South America, are grown at high altitudes: A. cruentus (1350–2300 m) and A. caudatus (1600–2400 m). Amaranthus tricolor and A. cruentus are probably the two most widely grown species in PNG. All species grow best where soil fertility is high and are tolerant of a wide range in rainfall. Production is markedly seasonal in the highlands. Amaranthus tricolor was probably introduced to PNG thousands of years ago. Amaranthus blitum, A. caudatus and A. cruentus are post-1870 introductions. The antiquity of A. dubius is not known, but it is probably also a post-1870 introduction. Production of A. cruentus has increased rapidly from a small base over the past 60 years, while that of A. tricolor has probably not increased as rapidly as population growth.

Highland pitpit

Highland pitpit is grown by over half the rural population. The stem is consumed after cooking. It is important in the highlands, but is also commonly grown in the Momase and Southern regions. Despite its English common name, highland pitpit grows from sea level to 2700 m, although it is more prevalent above 500 m. It can be grown in a wide range of environments, including in low fertility soils. Production is usually non-seasonal, but it is somewhat seasonal in some highland locations. Highland pitpit was domesticated in the New Guinea area a long time ago.

Lowland pitpit

Lowland pitpit is grown by over half the rural population. The edible portion of lowland pitpit is the inflorescence (flower), which is eaten cooked. Lowland pitpit is widely grown in most environments in lowland and intermediate altitude locations. It is occasionally grown in highland valleys up to 1800 m. Production tends to be seasonal, with crops maturing sometime between November and May, particularly in January to March. It was domesticated in the New Guinea area a long time ago.

Common bean

Common bean is grown by almost half the rural population, mostly in the highlands. The edible part is the bean, which is commonly harvested and cooked when reasonably mature. It grows from sea level to 2350 m, but it is rarely grown below 400 m altitude and is less common between 400 m and 1200 m. Beans are available throughout the year in most highlands locations, but production is seasonal with the best supply between September and April. Common bean was first introduced into PNG in the 1800s, with the first recorded introduction in 1847. Production has increased in the highlands over the past 50 years.


Cucumber is grown by more than 40% of the rural population in all environments up to 1950 m altitude. The edible portion is the fruit, which is eaten uncooked, often as a snack food. Cucumber is a seasonal crop. Seasonality of production is greater in the highlands than in the lowlands. It is typically planted during the drier months in May–July in the highlands, presumably to avoid fungal damage in the wetter part of the year. The period of best supply varies between locations, but is generally between November and March. Cucumber is a pre-European crop, but because new types have been introduced since 1870 it is sometimes assumed to be a post-European introduction. It was probably introduced from South-East Asia thousands of years ago.


Rungia is grown by more than 40% of the rural population, mainly in the highlands. The young leaves are edible and are usually cooked, but can be eaten raw. Rungia grows in all highland environments over an altitudinal range of 950–2700 m, although it is more common between about 1400 m and 2300 m. Production is nonseasonal. Rungia is an ancient crop in PNG and was probably domesticated in New Guinea.

Distribution of rungia in Papua New Guinea

Winged bean

Winged bean is grown by 40% of the rural population. The green bean is eaten in the lowlands and the green bean, young leaves and tubers are eaten in the highlands. All edible parts of the plant are eaten cooked. The crop grows from sea level to 1900 m, with tuber production over the range 1200–1900 m. It is most common in locations that have a seasonally drier climate in Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands, East Sepik and Simbu provinces. Production of tubers, green beans and leaves is seasonal in all environments. In parts of the highlands, tubers are produced from plantings made in the drier months of the year on welldrained sites. The seasonal pattern varies between locations. In the Kainantu area of Eastern Highlands Province, gardens intended to produce tubers are planted in May–August and tubers are harvested in January–March. Plantings intended for bean production (in mixed vegetable gardens) are made in September–December, with young leaves available in January–March and green beans in March–April. Winged bean was introduced from South-East Asia some hundreds to thousands of years ago. Plantings for tuber production in the highlands appear not to be expanding with population growth and production may have decreased in recent decades.


Tulip is a significant vegetable for more than a third of the rural population. The young leaves of this tree are an important vegetable, particularly in sago-growing locations where only limited areas of food gardens are planted. The leaves are eaten cooked; young flowers (cooked) and fruit (raw or cooked) are also eaten. Tulip is widely grown in the lowlands. It bears leaves, flowers and fruit from sea level to 1100 m altitude. The best supply of young leaves occurs about November–December and the best supply of fruit in December–February. Tulip was probably introduced from South-East Asia a long time ago.

Distribution of tulip in Papua New Guinea

Snake bean

Snake bean (via: Brad’s PNG Blog)

Snake bean is grown by more than a third of the rural population in a wide range of lowland environments. It is most common in New Ireland, Oro, East New Britain, Milne Bay, Central and East Sepik provinces. It bears from sea level to 1600 m, but is uncommon above about 1000 m. The semi-mature or immature bean is cooked and eaten. The production pattern is not known, but seems to be non-seasonal. Snake bean was introduced to PNG after 1870.

Kumu musong leaves

Kumu musong (means ‘hairy vegetable’ in Tok Pisin, named because of raised bristles on the leaves and stems.) leaves are grown by about a third of the rural population. Young leaves (cooked) and raw fruit of a number of fig-bearing trees are eaten, with kumu musong being the most commonly eaten. The cooked leaves are eaten more often than the fruit. The species grows from sea level to 2200 m, but it is less common above about 1200 m altitude. It is found in secondary forest in lowland locations and self-sows in newly cleared gardens, where it is protected from burning. It is most common in Bougainville, West New Britain, East New Britain, Manus, Sandaun, Milne Bay and Oro provinces. In the highlands the young leaves are most abundant in September–November. In Milne Bay Province, leaves are most abundant in January–March and fruit in January–February. This species was probably taken into cultivation in the New Guinea area, although it could have been introduced from Indonesia a long time ago. Consumption of both leaves and fruit has probably declined with the availability of various introduced vegetables and fruit.


Peanut is grown by about a third of the rural population. The edible part is the kernel (nut), which is eaten raw or roasted. Peanut is grown in both the lowlands and highlands, up to the crop’s altitudinal limit of 1850 m. The greatest volume is grown in the Markham and Ramu valleys of Morobe and Madang provinces. Production there is partly mechanised, with tractors used to till large plots. A significant proportion of the crop is sold in local markets. The Markham and Ramu valleys crop is mainly sold to middlemen who retail peanut throughout the highlands. Peanut has replaced winged bean in sweet potato–legume rotations in parts of the highlands where sweet potato is grown for long periods on the same land.

Distribution of peanut in Papua New Guinea

The environments where peanut is most common have a seasonally dry climate; mean annual rainfall in the range 1500–2500 mm; flat or gently sloping land; and reasonably fertile and friable soil. Production is mildly seasonal in most lowland locations, with the best supply typically in January–February, but the pattern varies between locations and between years. Production is more seasonal in Eastern Highlands Province, with the best supply in January–March. Peanut was introduced into PNG after 1870. It was grown as an export cash crop in the Markham Valley in the 1950s and 1960s and on a smaller scale in the Goroka area in the 1960s and early 1970s. It was promoted for village production in the Markham Valley as raw material for a peanut butter factory from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. Peanut was heavily promoted in the highlands in the 1960s to improve the protein intake of villagers. Production was estimated as 21 000 tonnes per year in the 1996 PNG Household Survey. The quantity grown has increased over the past 30 years, particularly in the Markham Valley.


Oenanthe is grown by about a third of the rural population, mainly in the highlands and highlands fringe. The leaves are generally eaten cooked, but occasionally people eat them raw as a snack. It is grown in a wide range of environments, but grows best in moist sites. It was grown over an altitudinal range of 1050–2700 m until about 40 years ago, but highland migrants now grow it in coastal locations. Production is non-seasonal. Oenanthe is an ancient crop that was probably domesticated in New Guinea. There are no data on production trends, but it is likely that production has declined or not kept up with population growth as other vegetables have been adopted in the highlands.


Cabbage is grown by a quarter of the rural population, with most production in the highlands provinces and in the mountains of Morobe Province. The head (leaves) is the edible part and is generally eaten cooked. In the highlands, cabbage grows over a wide environmental range. It is grown between 700 m and 2700 m altitude, although it is more common above 1700 m. Crops are planted in some lowland locations and sold at nearby urban food markets. These plantings use modern varieties and are grown from seed, in contrast to the highlands where propagation is by the stems of old plants. Production seems to be weakly seasonal in parts of the highlands. For example, in the Kainantu area cabbage is more abundant in September–December. Cabbage was introduced into PNG after 1870. It was promoted as a cash crop for local markets in the highlands from the 1950s onwards. Production has increased rapidly over the past 50 years, particularly at high-altitude locations.

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.

Sweet Potatoes (Lae Main Market)

Sweet potato was introduced and adopted in the PNG highlands around 1700 AD. It displaced taro as the most important food in the highlands so that, by the early colonial period (1880–1940), it provided an estimated 40% of food energy from locally grown staple foods. This proportion grew to 66% by 2000 as production expanded.


Sago (Metroxylon sagu Rottb.) is a large palm that grows in swamps and wetland areas. In PNG, sago is produced from planted and wild palms growing in large areas of continuous swamp (swamp sago), and from numerous scattered small areas of palms planted in upland environments (upland sago). Starch is extracted from the palms by a number of techniques, all of which involve cutting the palm down, splitting open the trunk or stripping the outer bark from it, chopping the pith to pulverise it, and leaching the starch from the pith. The starch can be cooked and eaten immediately, or it can be stored for relatively long periods by drying it to a flour or by using anaerobic storage. Sago starch contains 83% carbohydrate. To avoid malnutrition, it is critical that people who have sago as a staple eat additional, nutrient-rich food.

The Mapping Agriculture Systems in PNG (MASP) project, using 2000 National Census figures, found approximately 1.4 million people in PNG — just over one-third of the total rural population — use sago as a food. Twelve per cent of the rural population or 460,000 people eat sago as their most important food, either as a single staple or as a co-staple with bananas or a root crop. Of those who use sago as a staple food, about 184,000 (40%) produce swamp sago and 276,000 (60%) produce upland sago. Thus, upland sago is the most important source of food for 7% of the total PNG rural population. More than half (55%) of these people are located in the foothills of East and West Sepik provinces.

See also: Addressing Food Insecurity in Papua New Guinea Through Food Safety and Sago Cropping


Banana is grown by most rural people (96%), except by those living at very high altitudes. It is the most important food crop for 9% of the rural population. A further 32% of rural people grow it as an important food. It is eaten cooked and as uncooked fruit, depending on the variety and maturity when harvested. More fruit is eaten cooked than uncooked. Banana is grown from sea level to an altitude of 2150 m. There is a large variation in rainfall between locations where it is the most important food. It is an important food in locations with a marked dry season each year and relatively low annual rainfall, such as in coastal Central Province and the Markham and Ramu valleys in Morobe and Madang provinces. It is also an important food in locations with no rainfall seasonality and very high annual rainfall, such as some places in inland Gulf and Western provinces. Banana is also an important food where the rainfall is neither particularly high nor low but is moderately seasonal, such as on the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain Province. The relative importance of banana has declined over time as has that of the other Pacific staple food crops (taro, sago and yam) because of the adoption of a number of crops from the Americas, particularly sweet potato, cassava, Chinese taro and corn.


Yam species are grown by 60% of the rural population. Greater yam (Dioscorea alata) is more widely grown than lesser yam (D. esculenta), but greater yam is not the most important food anywhere and is an important food for only 4% of the rural population. Lesser yam is the most important food or an important food for 13% of rural villagers. It is the sole most important food in inland East Sepik Province and the southern part of Western Province. Greater yam is grown up to 1900 m above sea level and lesser yam up to 1550 m, but most production for both species occurs in the lowlands. Yam is usually more important in seasonally dry climates, such as inland East Sepik, but it is sometimes an important crop in locations where rainfall is well distributed throughout the year, such as the northern islands of Milne Bay Province. Total production seems to have increased between 1960 and 2000, but yam’s contribution as a proportion of total staple food energy has declined over this period.

Colocasia taro

Colocasia taro is grown by most rural villagers (95%) in PNG, but it is now the most important food for only 6% of the rural population, with a further 25% growing it as an important food crop. Despite being grown by many people in most parts of PNG, by 2000 taro was the sole most important food in only a few locations, including the inland Kandrian area of West New Britain Province and most of the Telefomin area of Sandaun Province. Taro is widely grown from sea level to an altitude of 2400 m, although monocultures of taro are not grown above 2200 m. There is a wide range in annual rainfall at these locations (1500 mm to over 7000 mm). In the past, taro was the sole staple food in wetter and less seasonal environments, and where rainfall seasonality was greater it was grown with other staples. Prior to the introduction of sweet potato, Colocasia taro provided an estimated half of food energy from the staple foods. Production has declined since 1940, so that by 2000 it provided only 4% of food energy from locally grown staple foods. The use of taro as a food has been affected by taro blight (Phytophthora colocasiae), which caused a sudden and severe loss of production in some lowland areas after 1940. Production has also been affected by declining soil fertility associated with more intensive land use, virus infection and taro beetle damage.

Chinese taro

Chinese taro is grown by more than half the rural population and is the most important food or an important food for 22% of the rural population. It is the most important food on its own or with one other crop in parts of the Baining Mountains of East New Britain Province, on the north and south of the Huon Peninsula in Morobe Province and in the Adelbert Range and Gogol Valley in Madang Province. Chinese taro grows from sea level to 2000 m altitude. It is a more important crop at intermediate altitudes and lower highland locations (500–1500 m altitude) and in places where rainfall is higher and not seasonal. Chinese taro was introduced into PNG in the late nineteenth century. It increased in importance from 1940 until the 1980s and then declined somewhat as production was affected by a root disease, possibly caused by a fungus (Pythium sp.).


Cassava is grown by more than half the rural population, but is the most important food for only 1% of rural people. It is the most important food on its own or with one other crop in some places in West New Britain Province, including the Cape Hoskins and Talasea areas, and in a number of locations in Milne Bay, including the Cape Vogel area and parts of Goodenough Island. In Milne Bay Province, more cassava is produced than any other staple food. Cassava grows from sea level up to 1800 m, but is only an important food in the lowlands. It is an important food in locations with a wide range of rainfall, including weakly seasonal and high annual rainfall, and markedly seasonal and relatively low annual rainfall. Cassava was introduced into PNG in the nineteenth century, but only started to become widely grown after 1950. Production is expanding rapidly, with a threefold increase in its relative importance as a food between 1960 and 2000.

Sugar Cane

Sugar cane is one of the most widely grown food crops in PNG, with 99% of the rural population growing it. People suck the juice from the chewed cane. Production estimates are not available that are comparable with estimates for the other staple foods. The 1996 Household Survey estimated production as 190 000 tonnes of cane per year or 35 kg/person/year. Sugar cane is grown almost everywhere in PNG up to its altitudinal limit at 2600 m. There are no reliable data indicating trends in production over time, but this is likely to have increased with population growth.

More about Sugar Cane in Papua New Guinea


Coconut is an important food for 36% of the rural population. It is widely grown on islands, coastal locations and some inland locations on the New Guinea mainland up to 950 m above sea level. No reliable data are available for changes over time. However, it is likely that more coconut became available for consumption following widespread planting of palms for copra production from the late 1800s.

Irish potato

Irish potato is grown by 16% of the rural population. It produces tubers between 700 m and 2750 m altitude in PNG. It is most commonly grown for subsistence purposes above 2000 m but is also grown for sale in parts of the highlands. Irish potato was introduced into the highlands in the 1930s. Production increased for both subsistence and sale after about 1970, but declined following an outbreak of potato late blight (a fungal disease) in early 2003.


Corn (maize) is not an important food compared with the main root crops, banana and sago. Nevertheless, it is grown by 94% of the rural population. It grows from sea level up to 2450 m. It is often more significant in seasonally dry locations, such as the Henganofi area in Eastern Highlands Province, where it produces food about three months after planting, before other crops mature. Production in the highlands is markedly seasonal. Corn was introduced into PNG in the nineteenth century. It has increased in importance since then, particularly since the introduction of superior varieties after 1970.

Minor root crops

A number of minor root crops are eaten, including Queensland arrowroot and three species each of yam and taro. The quantities grown and the number of people growing these crops are generally small. Swamp taro
is the only minor root crop that is a most important food or an important food crop. It is the most important food on three atoll groups in Bougainville Province and important on a few small islands, such
as those west of Manus Island.

Other grain crops

Rice is grown by villagers in a number of locations. It has been and continues to be promoted widely, but only a very limited quantity is grown. Experimental plantings of a number of other grain crops including wheat, oats and buckwheat have been made, but these crops have not been adopted by villagers.

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.

Annual cocoa earnings for the country averaged around K60 million up to 1984 when it declined more than 49% to around K33 million in 1993. A steady increase in cocoa earnings for the country was realised after 1994 thereon from K39 million to K85 million in 1998 as a result of improved prices and the evaluation and the subsequent flotation of the local currency, the Kina.

Cocoa’s contribution to agriculture exports accounted for an average of 18% between 1984 and 1991 reaching a peak of 21% in 1987. Since 1992 cocoa production has been on a decline coupled with relative prices, which are the major causes of decline in cocoa’s contribution to the total agriculture exports earnings, which dropped by 15% in 1994 to 8 percent. Thereafter in 1995 it has increased modestly by 10% to it’s current 18 percent.

Gross Domestic product of cocoa continued to decline from 2.9 percent in 1984 to 0.5 percent in 1993 and slight increase of 0.8 percent in 1994. This declining trend is attributed to an increase in the proportion of the mining and petroleum sector’s increased share of the GDP.

The cocoa industry in PNG is fully liberalised from growing through to pricing and exporting. The private exporters solely conduct marketing of cocoa. The cocoa Board’s roles and responsibilities under the Cocoa Act is limited to regulate, monitor, and promote the growing, processing, and marketing of cocoa, and to provide market intelligence for the benefit of those involved in the industry.

By 1999 there are about fifteen licensed cocoa exporters in the country who either sell their own cocoa or buy cocoa from smallholders as well as from the plantations for exports.

Until recently cocoa production in most provinces and been on a decline due to various reasons apart from the unrest on Bougainville and the natural disasters. The chief constraints faced by the cocoa farmers and the industry in general are considered to be as follows; poor infrastructure in road and marketing outlets, low world prices, lack of transport accessibility, lack of finance and no better options or alternatives from enterprises.

The sustainability and the future of the cocoa industry in PNG depend on three most important factor’s .These are (1) rehabilitation on Bougainville and other potential areas of the country, (2) various assistances by the Government and the industry, and (3) farmers response to international price movements.

The two main factors, expansion and rehabilitation and the forms of assistances provided by the Government if are accomplished, production is expected to increase by as much as 20-30 percent in the next five years. Rehabilitation programme presently undertaken on Bougainville may result in production increase by 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes by the turn of the century. It is anticipated that the impact of all forms of assistance provide under various schemes may result in total production increase to over 40,000tonnes in 1999 – 2000 cocoa years.

In lines with the Government policy to go into downstream processing of all its agriculture exports. the cocoa Board considering to go downstream, producing cocoa liquor and cocoa butter depending on the outcome of a feasibility study.

The Board expects that increase in production resulting from all the new initiatives undertaken so far will be used in the local plant, while at the same time sustaining and increasing the volume of bean exports.


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.

The Institute’s purpose (strategic objective) is to accomplish enhanced productivity, efficiency, stability and sustainability of the smallholder agriculture sector in the country so as to contribute to the improved welfare of rural families and communities who depend wholly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods. This is intended to be accomplished through NARI’s mission of promoting innovative agricultural development in PNG through scientific research, knowledge creation and information exchange.

Following its establishment in 1996 and launch in 1997, the Institute was under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock but was brought under the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology in 2002.

In a short span of over a decade, NARI has emerged as a vibrant, dynamic and robust institution of high relevance to development in PNG and in the Pacific. In any one single year, NARI undertakes over 50 research and development projects; most of which are immediate and high impact projects for various areas and targets. These initiatives are undertaken in partnership with stakeholders including the farming community.

NARI has released 28 technologies to the agriculture stakeholders of PNG. Among them are improved crop varieties, information packages, pest and disease control strategies, improved methods of food crop farming, resource management initiatives, livestock development practices, and alternative crops. With the headquarters in Lae, Morobe province, NARI has five regional centres which are strategically located throughout PNG, according to the ecological zones.

The Momase Regional Centre is in Bubia; the Islands Regional Centre is located at Keravat, East New Britain Province; the Southern Regional Centre is at Laloki, Central Province; and the Highlands Regional Centres are at Aiyura, Eastern Highlands, and Tambul in the Western Highlands Province (with a sub-station in Kandep, Enga Province).

NARI has four main programmes, viz:

  • Agricultural Systems
  • Enabling Environment
  • Information and Knowledge
  • Institutional Management and Development

In order to achieve its institutional objective of creating positive development impacts, especially in the context of smallholder farming and rural communities in Papua New Guinea, NARI has adopted the ‘Agricultural Research For Development’ paradigm, or AR4D, an emerging global concept of linking research with development for impacts at farmer level.

Core of this new concept is the notion of “farmer first’ or being responsive to the real and perceived needs of the various farming communities in their biophysical and socio-economic and cultural environments.

NARI has thus recognised that it will require collective action at different levels within and outside of the sector to achieve rural development. NARI has long-term development priorities which are given in the Strategy and Results Framework and the immediate programme priorities in the Strategic Programme Implementation Plan. These plans form an integral part of the government’s Vision 2050, Medium Term Development Strategy and the National Agriculture Development Plan at national level, and will also be consistent with long term strategic plans designed by the national government. They are implemented through annual plans.

Contact Information:

NARI Headquarter, Sir Alkan Tololo Research Centre, PO Box 1445, Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.

Phone: (675) 478 4000/1445/1446

Fax: (675) 475 1450

Email: [email protected] or [email protected]


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.

Recently the industry has made a slow recovery. Prices have improved and the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government has supported honey producers with training. Most honey production is concentrated in EHP, with about 370 producers who typically have 5–10 hives each. The New Guinea Fruit Company is the principal buyer, processor and marketer of honey in EHP. There are a limited number of hives in the other four highlands provinces; near Oksapmin in Sandaun Province; and in Bougainville Province. The number of producers is expanding slowly and interest is increasing from potential producers elsewhere in the highlands.

Honey is sold on the domestic market, with about half through informal arrangements and the remainder through New Guinea Fruit Company. Production in 2007 of about 40 tonnes was worth an estimated K500 000 to growers. Domestic consumption is about 200 tonnes/year, so about 160 tonnes of honey is imported each year.

Both the domestic and export market offer potential for expanded production. Eastern Highlands Province has capacity for an estimated 20 000 colonies (from about 3000 currently). There is demand for 500–600 tonnes/year of PNG organically certified honey from a number of overseas buyers. PNG honey is able to be marketed as ‘organic’ because antibiotics, miticides, pesticides or fumigants are not used. A fledgling industry in the Oksapmin area was destroyed by the varroa mite in the 1980s. Fortunately this serious pest has not reached the Highlands Region, but it remains a potential threat to honey production there.