January 16th, 2017.
Papua New Guinea’s booming population, which is largely rural and has more than doubled in the past thirty years, is forcing farmers to resort to unsustainable land use practices to feed its ever-increasing human numbers.
Last month, a geographer who has studied food production in the same village for the past 45 years warned that continued population growth could eventually spell the end of subsistence farming, as farmers are forced to use more limited arable land and to farm it ever more intensively to meet increasing food demand.
Traditional land allocation systems—where land is passed from fathers to sons and where each family has access to a limited part of the forest—is also likely to fall by the wayside.
With parts of PNG in severe drought in 2016, associated food shortages have also led to mounting relationship pressures, the less-discussed consequences of which are an increase in cases of family violence and child abandonment, as noted by church officials and aid organizations.
Such developments bode ill for PNG’s future, given that 5 million of PNG’s approximately 7.86 million inhabitants rely solely on agriculture for their food and income.
Three years ago, Australian demographer Ron May, an expert on Melanesia, warned that PNG’s rate of growth (then 3.1 percent) was so extremely high that it would put extraordinary pressures on education, health, urban housing and other vital systems and infrastructure.
In the face of continued population growth, drought and instability, PNG’s food shortage and the repercussions it creates are almost certain to continue—and yet the doubling of the country’s population in the past 30 years has scarcely been mentioned by media as a cause.
Recognizing family planning as essential to sustaining their way of life, some villagers have already called on the government to provide more education and family planning services to help stem high birth rates and their associated food shortages. The question is: Will 2017 be the year government listens and makes family planning universally available, and at an affordable price?
The future development and well-being of Papua New Guinea and its people depends largely on the answer.
Contact: Madeline Weld, PhD.
President, Population Institute Canada