Settlers developed agriculture very early because of the island’s fertile soils in the highlands, abundant rainfall and the presence of many plant species suitable for cultivation. Some plants grown in New Guinea were much later used in Europe. 5
Agriculture in New Guinea is characterized by mulching (adding organic material on soil and plant roots to protect them from crusting and erosion), crop rotations and tilling, practices which are used on terraces with complex irrigation systems.6
Animal food was hard to find until dogs, introduced by the Austronesians, started being used for hunting. Dogs are believed to be the cause of the extinction of several mammal species in New Guinea.7
Life in New Guinea today
Today, more than 80% of the island's people live outside of towns and follow a largely subsistence lifestyle. Natural resources provide for basic needs that cover food, education, health and other needs.
In PNG, 97% of the country's land is owned and managed under customary tenure and stewardship. Communities have the final say in all resource management decisions, as guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Clans or individuals usually own customary land, which is usually inherited along paternal or maternal lines. 8
In Papua province, on the Indonesian side, community tenure is also increasingly recognized.
In a land of abundance, people struggle to make ends meet
While New Guinea abounds in dense forests, precious minerals, gas and oil, most people do not benefit from these resources. Here like in other places across the world, people living in areas of abundant and precious natural resources frequently live below the poverty line.
The people of New Guinea are no exception to this rule, with poverty in some parts of the island rivalling that of some of the poorest countries in Africa.