Policy complexity sometimes masks consistent and enduring concerns. What really are the key developmental priorities for a country with tremendous wealth in natural resources, yet a substantial history of resource mismanagement? Similarly, while any country’s greatest resource is its people, in PNG there have been failures to invest in human development. We know that some countries with few resources (e.g. Japan, Singapore and Cuba) have successfully upgraded their productive capacities, by investing heavily in their people. What does the fact that PNG has fared relatively poorly in human development terms, despite record levels of exports and economic growth, tell us about necessary priorities? The country’s commitment to human development, sustainable resource management and basic livelihoods deserves careful attention.
This paper surveys PNG’s major challenges in human development, since independence, and contrasts the ‘extractivist’ focus with recent evidence on productive rural ‘hybrid livelihoods’. Economic returns for those families who intelligently combine informal markets, garden production, small business and flexible export crops, far outstrip most of the formal sector options. Successful hybrid livelihoods based on family land are almost unique to PNG, due to its egalitarian kinship and land traditions. Building on such livelihoods, with their basis in the resilience of customary tenure and law, while using revenue from mineral wealth to extend public health and education, would represent a unique ‘Papua New Guinean Way’ in development. Such a prosperous, sustainable and participatory path, is precisely what was suggested by the Constitution’s National Goals and Directive Principles.
Blog entry for Act Now PNG, 2015