Eastern Highlands Sets Sights on Agricultural Self-Sufficiency, Aims to Reduce Import Dependency

In a significant move to bolster its agricultural sector, the Eastern Highlands Provincial Government unveiled its K432 million 2024 budget, emphasising a strategic pivot towards agriculture with the objective of diminishing reliance on imported staples such as rice. This initiative was highlighted during the budget presentation to Prime Minister and Treasurer, Hon. James Marape, on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, by Eastern Highlands Governor, Hon. Simon Sia, alongside Unggai-Bena MP, Hon. Kinoka Feo, Provincial Administrator Allen Los, Deputy Administrator Michael Mogia, and key provincial administration officials.

Prime Minister Marape commended Governor Sia and his team for aligning the provincial budget’s focus with the national government’s agricultural priorities. He underscored agriculture’s pivotal role in achieving food sustainability, curbing capital outflow through importation, and enhancing foreign exchange through local production.

“The food production sector presents the most immediate opportunity for import replacement, particularly given the Eastern Highlands’ traditional agricultural strengths. I commend your leadership for elevating the national focus on economic growth through agriculture,” Prime Minister Marape stated.

The 2024 Eastern Highlands budget totals K432,083,300, with K49,355,400 generated internally. Despite a 10% reduction in the National Government’s contribution, Governor Sia remains optimistic about the province’s self-reliance and its strategy to navigate financial constraints.

Significant allocations within the budget include K160 million and K130.6 million for the establishment and operation of key economic projects such as coffee downstream processing, chicken hatchery and feed mills, along with rice, mushroom, and livestock initiatives. These projects, though costly to initiate, promise substantial returns, with gross income from coffee processing and poultry projects projected to reach K1.4 billion after one year.

The province has already seen success with the introduction of Juncao rice and mushroom projects, facilitated by the Chinese technical agency Juncao. These products are now available locally, with plans underway to expand production through additional land acquisitions.

Governor Sia expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Marape for recognising Eastern Highlands as an agricultural hub by assigning the Agriculture Ministry to Obura-Wonera MP, Hon. John Boito. He emphasised the province’s significant contribution to the country’s coffee exports and its potential for further growth.

Governor Sia also highlighted the Connect PNG programme’s role in improving infrastructure and facilitating agricultural development through the construction of nine coffee roads spanning 850km in the province, underscoring the critical need for accessible transportation for farmers and the efficient movement of produce.

The Eastern Highlands Provincial Government’s 2024 budget marks a strategic shift towards agricultural development, aiming to enhance self-sufficiency, reduce import dependency, and foster economic growth through strategic investments and projects in the sector.