|Food and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 15, Number 3, 1993/1994 (UNU Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 1993/1994, 90 pages)|
|Nutritional effects of export-crop production in Papua New Guinea: A review of the evidence|
Food dependency end food security
Participation in the cash economy through the production of cash crops has led, at the household level, to increasing consumption of imported foods. By 1978 it was estimated at the national level that 23% of all food consumed was imported . The single most important import is rice, whose contribution to food energy rose from 5% in 1963-1964 to 16% in 1984-1985. Household dependence on rice is much greater in the urban market, which accounts for approximately 30% of total consumption, where the contribution of rice to dietary energy in 1963-1964 was 15% and in 1984-1985 was 39% . The contribution of rice to dietary energy in rural households rose on average from 4% to 13% over the same period. Consequently, from 1975-1976 to 1982-1983, food imports as a percentage of total export revenues rose from 16% to 20% and as a percentage of agricultural exports from 50% to 69% . These trends were reinforced by the hard-currency strategy of successive post-independence governments, a fall in the real price of imported rice, and increases in the cost of locally produced alternative staples .
The rise in prices of domestically produced staples between 1971 and 1980, together with increased food imports, was interpreted as indicating a fall in local food production [127, 129] and perhaps a decline in subsistence skills, though a counter-argument has been proposed . These trends have led to some concern that the increasing extent to which Papua New Guinea is dependent on imported foods consumes foreign exchange that could be better used for other development priorities. Moreover, increased production and marketing of domestically produced food, particularly by small-holders, means that the income and employment effects of urban food consumption are spread among the rural population and not exported .
There is also concern that increasing food dependency may compromise food security. In urban areas and in rural areas where cash incomes are high, the extent of dependence on imported foods and the short-term in-elasticity of supply of domestically produced foodstuffs mean that any disruption to food supplies would cause great hardship immediately. Large upward movements in the price of imported foods would cause considerable hardship in urban areas, while a fall in export commodity prices would hit hardest in rural areas.
At the same time it is clear that monetization resulting from participation in the cash economy (even in such a peripheral role as a primary producer of a tropical crop) can result in improved food security for those who have cash. The availability of cash may provide a new buffer against sporadic shortages in food supply resulting from drought, frost, and other natural disasters. Recent analysis of rural data collected in the 1982-1983 national nutrition survey shows significant associations between the linear growth of children and a number of indexes reflecting community consumption levels of purchased high-protein foods .
There is no easy answer to the question of food imports [23, 133]. Involvement in the world economy necessarily implies some dependency. The answer requires determining the level of food imports consistent with the maintenance of food security and promotion of rural income and employment opportunities [134, 135].
Degenerative diseases of adults
Obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and hypertension were rare in traditional Papua New Guinea society [56, 136, 137]. The colonial era and associated participation in the cash economy led to marked changes in lifestyle, including urbanization, adoption of Western food habits, and changes in activity patterns. Among those with the longest exposure to these changes, such as the Tolai of the Gazelle Peninsula in East New Britain, villagers living in more urbanized settings were heavier and had greater skinfold thickness and higher serum cholesterol levels than those living in more traditional villages by the mid-1960s . Later studies showed a high frequency of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus among the Tolai , and the prevalence of glucose intolerance was greater in urbanized than in rural villages. Similar anthropometric changes were observed in North Solomons, and, although no data are available on glucose tolerance, comparisons between more and less acculturated communities show higher serum chloresterol levels in the former [139, 140].
In the highlands, where involvement in the cash economy has been shorter, although no diabetes was found in a survey of two villages, the mean blood glucose was higher in the village with greater involvement in coffee production . Although a later highland survey of a more periurban community near Goroka confirmed the absence of diabetes and reported similar glucose levels, it also found substantially higher values for two-hour plasma insulin concentrations . The authors suggested that this might be the first indication of a latent tendency to glucose intolerance and thus a precursor of diabetes.