The Ramu Valley in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is not the kind of place where you would expect to find fields of hybrid rice. The people there, much like the rest of PNG, have no tradition of growing or eating rice. But last year some local communities in Ramu, as well as Usino/Bundi and parts of the Raicoast areas of Madang Province, started planting hybrid rice seeds imported from China. The reason? A Chinese-owned mining company, Ramu Nico Management Limited, which is in charge of the massive Ramu Nickel Project, introduced the hybrid rice cultivation to villagers in the mining impact areas to supply its Chinese work force. By way of Ramu Nico's assistance, villagers of the Kurumbukari special mining lease are currently into large-scale rice farming using hybrid rice. Ramu Nico has reportedly assisted a total of 33 farmers in the Kurumbukari area with bags of hybrid rice seeds. The company is also reportedly going to build a rice mill for the farmers. Since the Nickel Project started operation, Ramu Nico has built a road and helped landowners to cultivate rice in large quantities to supply the mine."I know Chinese eat a lot of rice. That is why I want to plant more rice and sell to them," says Tuma Rugei, a farmer from Danagari village.Danagari and Miavi are two of the relocation centres where families displaced from the mine are encouraged to grow hybrid rice to sell directly to the miners. Hao Zhaochun, assistant manager of Ramu Nico, said this rice growing initiative is meant to sustain the livelihoods of the displaced families while the mine is in operation. The Ramu Nickel Project supposedly will have a lifespan of more than 40 years. This early, there are suspicions whether the initiative is a genuine goodwill project, or just a scheme to justify more local displacement.Lately, it seems that hybrid rice seeds and technical assistance are not the only ones coming in to PNG as a result of its bilateral cooperation with China. Illegal Chinese immigrants are also reported to be entering Papua New Guinea for work at the Ramu Nickel Mine. A Raicoast member of the parliament, Niuro Toko Sapia, reveals that the ships coming from China – carrying equipment for the mine – reportedly go straight to Basamuk Bay where the illegal migrants are off-loaded in large shipping containers. He says these illegal migrants are pushing local landowners out of job opportunities at the mine.Messing with local food cultureMonoculture is not the traditional way of farming in PNG. The Ramu Valley communities are primarily subsistence famers, which means the core purpose of crop cultivation is to support their food needs and livelihoods using local species that have cultural and traditional significance. Subsistence farmers in PNG enjoy the variety and diversity of food crops that suits the conditions of the tropical climate, seasons, soil types and vegetation. These include such crops as taro, bananas, sago, yam and sweet potatoes.“With the hybrid rice project, the locals are forced into a new culture of cash crop farming completely at odds with their traditional practices and food system. To the locals, rice can thus pose a real threat to their local crops and culture,” according to Steven Sukot of the Bismarck Ramu Group in the Madang Province.However, the consumption of rice has been gaining ground on the island in recent years. According to Adam Bande, a rice specialist who also coordinates the rice project in Kurumbukari, rice is now a staple part of the PNG diet which makes the country a regular importer because of the high demand. A typical family unit now supposedly consumes about 158 kg annually.Bande thinks that PNG can supply its own rice needs. "Every year PNG imports around 203,000 tonnes of rice worth K56 million (US$ 21,279,832). This amount of rice can be grown here in PNG as there are large areas of arable land available and we are capable of producing up to 5 tonnes per hectare if these lands are being utilized," he says. Bande was referring to the lands at Kurumbukari that are going to be grown with hybrid rice. But there is also a larger 10-year Domestic Rice Development Policy that was approved by the National Executive Council in 2005. The policy aims to establish “a sustainable domestic rice industry that would enhance household food security and nutrition, generate cash income for farmers, and reduce dependence on imported rice.” Cash crop for export?In the last decade, other big investments have crept into the valley, harnessed by the government's Medium Term Development Strategy 2005-2010, an export-driven policy that outlines the overarching plan for economic and social development in PNG.Right now, the hybrid rice growing seems to be entirely limited for the mine workers at Ramu Nickel Project. But given the recent surge in global rice price, PNG could easily become another venue for countries like China to outsource the production of rice for export back home. Steven Sukot provided much of ground research for this piece.