Earning a Living in PNG: From Subsistence to a Cash Economy

Part of the Schooling for Sustainable Development book series (SSDE, volume 3)


This chapter addresses the question of how individuals and families in rural PNG respond to major livelihood threats as they make the transition from a subsistence mode of life to become increasingly integrated into the global economy through export cash cropping. Two case studies are presented: cocoa farmers on the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province (ENB) and oil palm migrant farmers residing on the Hoskins Land Settlement Scheme in West New Britain Province (WNB). The cocoa farming community of Gazelle Peninsula began growing cocoa on their customary land in the 1950s with encouragement by the Australian administration. Since 2006 they have been confronted with an introduced cocoa pest, Cocoa Pod Borer (CPB), which is devastating their cocoa crop and livelihoods. The migrant oil palm farmers voluntarily took up State agricultural leases of 6 ha blocks in the late 1960s and early 1970s and are now experiencing population and resource pressures as their children marry and begin raising their own families on their parents’ blocks. By examining the pressures emerging among farming households as they make the transition to a market economy, the chapter highlights some of the key challenges and pressures of contemporary rural life for people in the Global South such as declining access to land, increased dependence on cash, fluctuating cash crop prices and changing lifestyle values.


Cocoa Production Cocoa Farmer Customary Land Local Marketing Food Gardening 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Numerous people assisted with fieldwork. In cocoa, research assistance was provided by Nick Mangu and Julai Walaun (both from NGIP-Agmark), Esley Peters, John Thomas, Jack Pundu, Andrew Roboam, Sharon Roberts and Simon Mele (all from CCIL), Joel Mormor and Kapinus Tande (both are cocoa farmers), Scott Kimpton (Curtin University), Mary Bongare and Joeashton Dauwa (both students from Vudal University).

In oil palm, research assistance was provided by Merolyn Koia and Pauline Hoare (both from PNGOPRA) and extension officers from the Oil Palm Extension Corporation.

The research would not have been possible without the many cocoa and oil palm growers and their families who gave their time to be interviewed.

Fieldwork was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.


  1. Allen, B., Bourke, R. M., & Hanson, L. (2001). Dimensions of PNG village agriculture. In R. Bourke, M. Allen, & J. Salisbury (Eds.), Food security for Papua New Guinea, proceedings of the Papua New Guinea food and nutrition 2000 conference ACIAR proceedings No. 99 (pp. 529–553). Canberra: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, B., Bourke, R. M., & Gibson, J. (2005). Poor rural places in Papua New Guinea. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 46(2), 201–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beevor, P. S., Mumford, J. D., Shah, S., Day, R. K., & Hall, D. R. (1993). Observations on pheromone-baited mass trapping for control of cocoa pod borer, Conopomorpha cramerella, in Sabah, East Malaysia. Crop Protection, 12, 134–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benjamin, C. (1977). A survey of food gardens in the Hoskins oil palm scheme. Papua New Guinea Agricultural Journal, 28(2–4), 57–71.Google Scholar
  5. Bourke, R. M., Gibson, J., Quartermain, A., Barclay, K., Allen, B., & Kennedy, J. (2009). Food production, consumption and imports. In R. M. Bourke & T. Harwood (Eds.), Food and agriculture in Papua New Guinea (pp. 129–192). Canberra: ANU E Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brison, K. (1999). Money and the morality of exchange among the Kwanga, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea. In D. Akin & J. Robbins (Eds.), Money and modernity. State and local currencies in Melanesia (pp. 151–163). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  7. Carrier, J. G., & Carrier, A. H. (1989). Wage, trade and exchange in Melanesia. A Manus society in the modern state. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Collett, G. (2009). Coffee sub-sector (Working Paper No. 3). [Prepared for the PNG Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Port Moresby]. Melbourne: URS Australia Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  9. Connell, J. (2003). Regulation of space in the contemporary postcolonial Pacific city: Port Moresby and Suva. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 44(3), 243–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Curry, G. N. (1992). Kin and Kina: A study of emerging inequalities in a rural lowland society in Papua New Guinea. PhD thesis, University of England, Armidale.Google Scholar
  11. Curry, G. N. (2003). Moving beyond postdevelopment: Facilitating indigenous alternatives for “development”. Economic Geography, 79(4), 405–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Curry, G. N., & Koczberski, G. (1998). Migration and circulation as a way of life for the Wosera Abelam of Papua New Guinea. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 39(1), 29–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Curry, G. N., & Koczberski, G. (1999). The risks and uncertainties of migration: An exploration of recent trends amongst the Wosera Abelam of Papua New Guinea. Oceania, 70(2), 130–145.Google Scholar
  14. Curry, G. N., & Koczberski, G. (2007). Seeds of discontent: Oil palm and the changing production strategies among smallholders in Papua New Guinea. In J. Connell & E. Waddell (Eds.), Environment, development and change in rural Asia-Pacific: Between local and global (pp. 108–126). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Curry, G. N., Koczberski, G., Omuru, E., & Nailina, R. S. (2007a). Farming or foraging? Household labour and livelihood strategies amongst smallholder cocoa growers in Papua New Guinea. Perth: Black Swan Press.Google Scholar
  16. Curry, G. N., Koczberski, G., Omuru, E., Duigu, J., Yala, C., & Imbun, B. (2007b). Social assessment of the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project. [Report prepared for World Bank]. Perth, Western Australia: Curtin University of Technology.Google Scholar
  17. Curry, G. N., Lummani, J., & Omuru, E. (2009). Social and economic impacts of cocoa pod borer in East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea. Strategies for restoring livelihoods. Perth, Western Australia: Curtin University of Technology, Research Unit for the Study of Societies in Change.Google Scholar
  18. Dewhurst, R. (2007). Where’s the balance? Oil palm, subsistence production and gender relations in smallholder households of Papua New Guinea. Honours dissertation, University of Nottingham.Google Scholar
  19. Donaldson, M., & Good, K. (1988). Articulated agricultural development: Traditional and capitalist agricultures in Papua New Guinea. Aldershot: Avebury.Google Scholar
  20. Epstein, T. S. (1968). Capitalism, primitive and modern: Some aspects of Tolai economic growth. Canberra: Australian National University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Finney, B. R. (1973). Big men and business: Entrepreneurialship and economic growth in the New Guinea Highlands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  22. Fold, N. (2000). Oiling the palms: Restructuring of settlement schemes in Malaysia and the new international trade regulations. World Development, 28(3), 473–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Francis, E. (2002). Rural livelihoods, institutions and vulnerability in North West Province, South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 28(3), 531–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ghodake, R. D., Cook, K. E., Kurika, L., Ling, G., Moxon, J. E., & Nevenino, T. (1995). A rapid rural appraisal of the cocoa and coconut farming systems in the northeast lowlands of the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province (Technical Report No. 95/1). Konedobu: Department of Agriculture & Livestock.Google Scholar
  25. Gregory, C. A. (1982). Gifts and commodities. New York/London: Academic.Google Scholar
  26. Grossman, L. (1984). Peasants, subsistence ecology, and development in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hooper, A., & Ward, R. G. (1995). Beyond the breathing space. In R. G. Ward & E. Kingdon (Eds.), Land, custom and practice in the South Pacific (pp. 250–264). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hulme, D. (1984). Land settlement schemes and rural development in Papua New Guinea. Unpublished PhD thesis, James Cook University, Queensland.Google Scholar
  29. Johnson, P. L. (1988). Women and development: A highland New Guinea example. Human Ecology, 16(2), 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kelly, P. K. (2000). Landscapes of globalisation: Human geographies of economic change in the Philippines. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Koczberski, G. (2002). Pots, plates and tinpis: New income flows and the strengthening of women’s gendered identities in Papua New Guinea. Development, 45(1), 88–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Koczberski, G. (2007). Loose fruit mamas: Creating incentives for smallholder women in oil palm production in Papua New Guinea. World Development, 35(7), 1172–1185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Koczberski, G., & Curry, G. (2005). Making a living: Land pressures and changing livelihood strategies among oil palm settlers in Papua New Guinea. Agricultural Systems, 85, 325–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Koczberski, G., Curry, G. N., & Connell, J. (2001a). Full circle or spiralling out of control? State violence and the control of urbanisation in Papua New Guinea. Urban Studies, 38(11), 2017–2036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Koczberski, G., Curry, G. N., & Gibson, K. (2001b). Improving productivity of the smallholder oil palm sector in Papua New Guinea: A socio-economic study of the Hoskins and Popondetta Schemes. Canberra: Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Department of Human Geography.Google Scholar
  36. Koczberski, G., Curry, G. N., & Imbun, B. (2009). Property rights for social inclusion: Migrant strategies for securing land and livelihoods in Papua New Guinea. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 50(1), 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McMurray, C. (2002, February–March). Employment opportunities for PNG Youth. Report prepared for the International Labor Organisation/Japan Tripartite Meeting on Youth Employment in Asia Pacific, Bangkok.Google Scholar
  38. Nicholls, D. (1989). Case studies of cocoa growers in East New Britain. Designing monitoring systems for smallholder agriculture in Papua New Guinea (Working Paper No. 11). Canberra: Australian National University, Department of Human Geography.Google Scholar
  39. Nihill, M. (1989). The new pearlshell: Aspects of money and meaning in Anganen exchange [Special Issue: Culture and Development in Papua New Guinea]. Canberra Anthropology, 12(1 & 2), 144–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. O’Hanlon, M. (1993). Paradise. Portraying the New Guinea Highlands. Bathurst: Crawford House Press.Google Scholar
  41. Omuru, E., Nailina, R., & Fleming, E. (2001). A socio-economic baseline survey of cocoa and copra smallholders in East New Britain (Occasional Paper No. 1). Keravat: PNG Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute, & Armidale, University of New England.Google Scholar
  42. Orrell, I. (2009). PNGOPRA Research Workshop Introduction. Seminar presented at the Scientific Advisory Committee Research Workshop, Mosa, West New Britain.Google Scholar
  43. Overfield, D. (1998). An investigation of the household economy: Coffee production and gender relation in Papua New Guinea. Journal of Development Studies, 34(5), 52–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ploeg, A. (1972). Sociological aspects of Kapore settlement. In J. P. Longayroux, T. Fleming, A. Ploeg, R. T. Shand, W. F. Straatmans, & W. Jonas (Eds.), Hoskins development: The role of oil palm and timber (New Guinea Research Bulletin No. 49) (pp. 21–118). Canberra: Australian National University.Google Scholar
  45. Rigg, J. (2005). Poverty and livelihoods after full-time farming: A South-East Asian view. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 46(2), 173–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ryan, S. (2009). Maximising income: Livelihood change and risk management for oil palm settlers in Papua New Guinea. Honours Dissertation, Curtin University.Google Scholar
  47. Salisbury, R. F. (1964). Changes in land use and tenure among the Siane of the New Guinea Highlands 1952–61. Pacific Viewpoint, 5, 1–11.Google Scholar
  48. Salisbury, R. F. (1970). Vunamami: Economic transformation in a traditional society. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  49. Scoones, I. (2009). Livelihoods perspectives and rural development. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 36(1), 171–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sexton, L. (1986). Mothers of money, daughters of coffee: The wok meri movement. Michigan: UMI Research Press.Google Scholar
  51. Storey, D. (2010). Urban poverty in Papua New Guinea (Discussion Paper No. 109). Boroko: The National Research Institute of Papua New Guinea.Google Scholar
  52. Strathern, A. (1979). Gender, ideology and money in Mount Hagan. Man, 14, 530–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Strathern, A. (1982). The division of labour and processes of social change in Mount Hagen. American Ethnologist, 9(2), 307–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Warner, B., & Omuru, E. (2008). PNG commodity prices – An opportunity not to be missed. Pacific Economic Bulletin, 23(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  55. Whitehead, A. (2002). Tracking livelihood change: Theoretical, methodological and empirical perspectives from North-East Ghana. Journal of Southern African Studies, 28(3), 575–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Yarbro, S., & Noble, S. (1989). Smallholder production, processing and marketing of cocoa and copra in Papua New Guinea (Working Paper No. 10, Project 8734). Canberra: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Sciences and Asian LanguagesCurtin UniversityBentleyAustralia
  2. 2.Socio-economic Research UnitPapua New Guinea Cocoa and Coconut Institute LimitedEast New Britain ProvincePapua New Guinea
  3. 3.Department of AgriculturePNG University of TechnologyLaePapua New Guinea

Personalised recommendations