A GROUP of young leaders from Papua New Guinea and Australia have focused on food security, social enterprise and access to services in a dialogue organised by Australian think-tank the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue, which was held in Sydney in December 2014, was attended by 20 people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss issues relating to sustainability, entrepreneurship and international engagement.

Among the recommendations was that any Australian assistance in the PNG agriculture sector should aim to attract investment in initiatives relating to smallholder agriculture.

In particular, attendees were concerned about the increasing popularity of imported, processed foods – rather than traditional, locally grown foods which were suffering in public perception.

The ability of PNG farmers to feed a growing population was also of concern.

“The agriculture sector struggles to attract young talent and government attention in both Australia and PNG,” an outcomes report from the event stated.

“This has flow-on effects for national food security and health in PNG and limits diversity and innovation in Australia.”

Some additional investment in diversified farming and in downstream processing of agricultural goods, such as coffee beans, may help increase the value and appeal of the industry, the group found.

The sharing of knowledge about setting up businesses was also high on the agenda, with the establishment of as a private-sector backed business incubation initiative, as well as professional exchange programs between Australia and Papua New Guinea high on the group’s agenda.

Exchange programs, such as those currently operated by multinationals such as banks and resource companies, could boost the business acumen of individuals and deepen professional and people-to-people links, the group said.

“Expansion to other sectors including agriculture, tourism, higher education, journalism and state-owned enterprises would need some government backing to encourage commitment from the private sector and enable appropriate visa arrangements,” the group said.

“This initiative would be consistent with the rationale behind the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan and the Australia Awards scheme.”

The committee also noted that Australian experience in town planning could benefit PNG’s rapidly growing urban areas, suggesting sister-city relationships could help in this regard.

Bolstering the nations’ cultural links through educational packages about Papua New Guinean independence and greater connections between PNG and Australian groups hiking the Kokoda Track were also suggested.