Dean Forbes

Market Participation by Subsistence-Based Cultivators

The Koiari of Central Papua

Dean Forbes

Thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Geography

of the University of Papua New Guinea, December 1974


As Papua New Guinea breaks its formal ties with Australia it is an appropriate time to renew interests in indigenous responses to economic situations. Within the urban economy the marketing of fruit and vegetables is one such area of interest. The past pattern whereby imported fruit and vegetables were distributed through large foreign-owned stores is being increasingly supplemented by villagers and others who sell locally grown produce through markets and other outlets. However, there have been few studies of marketing in Melanesia, and little attempt to evaluate its contribution to the urban and hinterland economy, and almost no attempt to identify points in the marketing process at which assistance can be given to the village market gardener.

The supply of fruit and vegetables from Port Moresby’s hinterland has always caused concern. By comparison with the other supply areas to Koki Market, the main retail market-place in Port Moresby, the Koiari of the Sogeri Valley provide very little market produce per capìta and per unit of land. This is despite the Sogeri Valley’s obvious potential for traditional food crops.

Marketing patterns are examined in four groups. Vegetable trade between the inland and, the Motu/Koíta on the coast occurred prior to contact, but with the establishment of a European town the demand changed to one for European fruit and vegetables. Gradually the villagers in the hínterland responded, but as the city grew rapidly after the war, village agriculture was clearly unable to cope, even though demand was once more largely for traditional crops. The Koiari often sold vegetables to Port Moresby in the first half of this century, but the development of a significant trade only occurred after World War II.  On several occasions the Koiari planted communal market gardens and formed cooperatives for the sale of vegetables.  Apparent success followed with Koiari selling vegetables in bulk and through markets in Port Moresby but by comparison with other supply areas, the supply from Sogeri was very small.

Secondly, the present pattern of Koiari marketing was examined. The Koiari use a number of single linkage marketing connections. Though the retail markets at Kokí, Gordons and in Sogeri are the most important outlets for their produce, informal trading in Hanuabada village and Taurama Barracks and bulk trading with the Government Market are important supplementary outlets. Most Koiari households had members who sold vegetables through the retail markets. They attend the cíty markets fortnightly and Sogeri market weekly, and earn between 4.00 dollars and 5.9O dollars at each trip to market.  They mainly sell sweet potato, cucumber, banana, cassava, cabbage, taro and yam. Half the sellers sold vegetables at places other than retail markets, inluding Hanuabada Village, Taurama Army Barracks and Sogeri and Iarowari High schools.

An explanation of the patterns was sought by lookìng at the Sogeri Valley. The opportunities afforded by the possibility of wage employment in Port Moresby have depleted the labour resources of the area. Most villages are small, with a high absentee rate, and several people also have full-time wage employment. The favourable environment has meant much land has been alienated to plantations, thereby restricting the amount available to gardening. Though one benefit of close ties with the city has been good roads, the cost of transport compared to market income ís extremely high.  A way of reducing transport costs is through bulk selling but as yet most Koiari have shown little enthusiasm for this.  Conditions at Koki Market both encourage and discourage marketing. The social networks which operate there make marketing a desirable activity, yet the poor conditions in the market discourage this. There is no relationship between prices in the market and the number of sellers who attend the market.

Fourthly an explanation was sought for the variation in market participation between households.  Market participation was measured by calculating income earned from marketing per week.  Transport costs were not directly associated with market participation, nor was any measure related to the location of the village. Past experiences of farmers who grew cash crops or who now keep cattle was not associated with marketing.  Heads of household in full time wage employment were more often poor participators in the market, and those heads who belong to clans with little land were similarly poor participants.  Education was the most important attribute in entrepreneurial activities.

Vegetable marketing by the Koiari people is restrained by forces from many directions. By providing assistance to help solve land problems, up-grade main roads and encouraging people to attend school, it is possible to encourage villagers to grow a larger surplus and to market

it more cheaply. This would assist the Koiari to increase their incomes and hopefully improve their lives.  However, it would not solve the problem of increasing vegetable supplies to the city.

Many villagers are involved in marketing, it provides a small but regular income, and the way of life it incorporates is a pleasant blend of village and urban life. For these reasons the market-place will continue as an important, and popular place in the city. However, the early success of the Government Fresh Food Market suggests that it is thís sort of organisation which will become the focus of fruit and vegetable marketing in the city. The non-village component of the supplies to the Government Market is at present more important than village supplies and this trend will probably continue.