The Irony of Subsistence Affluence vs Malnutrition in PNG


80% of Papua New Guinea lives in rural areas and relies on subsistence farming. The country is also blessed with rich and fertile land, where vegetables, fruits, greens and nuts grow in abundance. Yet, there is another reality that puts these statistics into a new perspective.

42% of our population eats less than the required 2,000 calories per day. More worryingly, 44% of children under 5 years are classified as stunted. A recent survey showed that 32% of PNG went for at least one whole day without eating, with Western Province getting the dubious distinction as “most hungry”.

How does one reconcile these contrasting sets of data? Nutrition-wise, Papua New Guinea seems to be failing – a number of indicators like stunting, wasting, and obesity affecting the health of our people.

In 2016, food security and nutrition found its place in national agenda when a focused Nutrition Policy was launched as a multi-sectoral response. 5 years later, the question to ask is – are we eating better and living healthier lives?

While there are several factors like availability, affordability and access to quality food that are contributing to this significant challenge, many people are just not eating right.

For example, in coastal parts of Central Province, fish and bananas make up the staple diet, without other vitamin-rich vegetables making an appearance on a plate. In contrast, many urban households in Port Moresby prefer tin fish or rice & bully, because of sheer ease of it, the cost factor and unreliable power that doesn’t cater for storage in fridges.

These emerging dietary trends undermine the development of our population. Only the improvement of the nutritional status of all citizens of PNG will enable us to reach our full health, productivity and potential.

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