Palau does not produce enough food to support itself, mainly because the cost of doing so is higher than the cost of importing needed items. The main crops are coconuts, bananas, root crops such as taro (similar to the potato), vegetables, and tropical fruits. Poultry, pigs, and dairy cows are the main livestock. Crops and livestock generated only about 2 percent of GDP in 1998. Since Palau cannot incorporate any economies of scale in agricultural production, the likelihood of significant increases in the sector are slim. Fisheries generated about 3 percent of GDP in 1998, but output from the fisheries sector appears to be in a steady decline—in 1992, the value of fish landed was almost 4 times greater, and the fishing fleet has halved to 150 vessels in 1998.
Much of the catch from Palau's waters is taken by Chinese and Japanese vessels, and Palau receives income from licence fees of around $200,000 a year. It is felt that there is considerable illegal fishing. In addition, local boats meet with Chinese and Japanese vessels at sea and sell their catches to them, leading to under-recording of the Palau catc.
About 75 percent of Palau is covered with a native tropical forest, much of it on the inhabited rock islands. The remaining 25 percent of the land area is agroforest, savannah grasslands, marshes, and urban areas. At least some of the grasslands were created by conversion from forests by repeated burning over many centuries (McKean and Baisyet, 1994). The vegetation in the volcanic islands of Palau varies from the mangrove swamps of the coast, with trees often from 10 – 16 metres high; to the savannah type grasslands of the near interior which support palms and pandanus, and the densely forested valleys further inland. In brief, Palau is fertile with mangrove swamps along the coast backed by savanna and coconut and Pandanus palms, rising to rain forest in the hills. The outlying coral islands are mostly wooded and support mostly coconut palms.
|4. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMSIn the past buffalo, cattle (beef) and goats have been the major ruminants in Palau livestock agriculture, but numbers now are very limited. There is little statistical data on present livestock production in Palau. Beef cattle production seems to be more organized and the animals are raised on either improved or natural pastures depending on the area of Palau. The prevalent cattle breed is the Brahman (Wilson, et al, 1996). Three ruminant livestock production systems have existed in Palau, but at present the most predominant is the subsistence system.|
During the Colonial era of Japanese rule of Palau [1914-1943] , large commercial (ranch) farms were operated by the Japanese Training Centre (OISCA) and wealthy individuals. The farms under this category raised many cattle herds at a time. For example, the OISCA had feedlots and the financial capability for large-scale operation, in terms of number of animals, technical know-how, management skills, disease control and sales of their animals.
The next category of ruminant livestock operator is the Government Department of Agriculture (Palau Community Action Agency, PCAA) that serves as a research station, providing training and extension services and supplying animals to organizations or individuals with interests in livestock (ruminant and mongastric) production. The smallholder or subsistence livestock farmers are the third group and they raise small numbers of animals for family use or to meet traditional social obligations. These animals are kept as a sideline operation to crops. The animals in most cases are tethered or grazed on natural pasture along road embankments. These farmers usually raise beef cattle and goats under the same management and production system. Numbers have declined (although few data are available) and at present very few cattle are found in Palau (Bamman, Heiko, 2000, personal communication). In 1984 there were 82 cattle, 52 goats, 1 343 pigs and 9 500 poultry (Palau report). In the 1989 Agricultural Census for Palau only pigs and chickens were recorded and the author was unable to obtain results from the 1994 Census. However, sales of local beef are mentioned in reports from 1995-97 and also in the Statistical Yearbook 2001 for Palau (Robin De Meo, personal communication). A report on "The animal health status of Palau"(Saville, 1999) mentions livestock numbers as: cattle - 23; pigs - 862; poultry - 20,702; horses -3; buffalo - 1 and goats -32.