People were gardening in Papua New Guinea when most of the rest of the world were living in caves. One more amazing fact about this country.
When it comes to gardening, forget the image of stone age man. It was women who did the gardening, they were the cultivators, the subsistence agriculturists responsible for producing food and cash crop surpluses. They still are.
Papua New Guinea is an agrarian society. 80% of the people grow the food they eat. Lowland agriculture is mostly shifting cultivation and bush fallow. In the Highlands, where farming is much more intensive, the planting is done on mounds and every usable area of land is cultivated. Village root crops are highly efficient in terms of time taken to produce.
There is variety. A village in the Eastern Highlands has 87 different food crops under cultivation. Within the last twenty years maize, cassava, pumpkin and ‘English’ potato have been added to the staple crops of yam, taro and sweet potato. Papua New Guineans are assiduous traders in plants, constantly seeking to improve cultivars. And they also trade. Highlanders trade vegetables for betel nut with the coastal people. Every town has a market. Every roadside has a few stalls with tempting fruit and vegetables.
Almost every subsistence farmer also grows cash crops. One of the big successes of the last twenty years has been small-holder coffee growing. About 40% of all rural households grow coffee. But they also grow cocoa, coconut, banana and spices. Some crops like palm oil are grown by small-holders as well as on big plantations. There are more than 900 plantations in PNG producing tea, rubber, copra, coffee, cocoa, sugar and palm oil. Ownership of plantations has gradually been transferred to villagers and developments such as processing factories have been encouraged.
No ceremony, no feast is complete in PNG without the slaughter of many pigs. Pigs live under the houses with the dogs and chickens. They are a sign of wealth. Other livestock includes goats, cattle and sheep, cassowary, wallaby and deer, though their numbers are comparatively low. Factory methods are now used in poultry and egg production. In the last few years crocodiles have been added to the farmers products. They just lie around in ponds until large enough to be turned into crocodile-cash.