A massive land grab has occurred in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the impact on communities across the country has been devastating, a new Greenpeace Australia Pacific report has revealed.

PNG is a nation rich in forests, which have long been in the eye of foreign logging companies. Most of this dense forest land is held under 'customary ownership' by communities, and to gain access to PNG’s valuable forests, a scandalous scheme has been systematically rolled out across the country.

The report ‘Up for Grabs’ details how customary landholders have been alienated from 5.1 million hectares of land and forests – land they depend on for their food, homes and livelihoods.

Logging Roads in Papua New GuineaThe scheme is called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) and has allowed unrepresentative landholders and foreign-owned companies to swindle and steal people’s land and livelihoods for up to 99 years.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s data and mapping analysis shows how this massive land grab occurred and how logging companies have been allowed to satisfy their appetite for tropical logs through this poorly regulated and often corrupt government policy.

The report also reveals that:

  • Log exports in PNG grew by almost 20% in 2011 due almost entirely to logging within SABLs.
  • Since 2006, logging companies have exported more than 1.5 million cubic metres of whole logs from SABLs, amassing over US$145 million for the companies involved.
  • 75% of SABLs are controlled by foreign-owned corporations and almost all the logs are being exported to China.
  • The PNG government was grossly negligent in meeting its responsibility to protect the rights of customary landholders while they were being pressured by logging companies to hand over their land.

Crime file

In one case, in the Pomio District of East New Britain, customary landholders opposing the land grab were reportedly beaten and abused by police on two separate occasions. The police were being paid by notorious logging giant, Rimbunan Hijau.

Greenpeace is standing alongside local communities in PNG calling for all fraudulently obtained SABLs to be overturned. We are demanding that the people’s land is handed back to them.

We’re also calling on the newly elected PNG government to put the rights of landowners and communities before short-term company profits – the lives and homes of generations of Papua New Guineans depend on it.

Read the report here and see the slideshow here.

Paul Winn is a Forest Campaigner with Greenpeace Australia Pacific