Remote PNG landowners welcome sawmill

Feature story - 15 March, 2006
The people of the remote Lake Murray area in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have celebrated the arrival of their first 'walkabout' or portable sawmill.The sawmill is a significant step forward in their quest to say no to destructive and illegal logging and introduce sustainable ecoforestry, which will benefit the whole community.

A "sing sing" to welcome a sawmill to the Lake Murray area of Western Province, Papua New Guinea

The sawmill arrived by boat at Ogia, a village on the eastern shore ofLake Murray to a traditional welcome, "sing-sing" and feast prepared bythe whole village.

Painted elders rushed the boat, firing arrows overhead, while thewomen on the lake edge sang the sawmill and representatives ofnon-government organisations (NGOs) ashore.

In grass skirts and with purple and yellow flowers in their hair,the women sang gospel songs of praise and celebration. "We are happytoday, we are happy today," they serenaded, while the "dignitaries"stepped off the boats and were garlanded with frangipanis andbougainvillea.

The singers and arrival party formed a procession for the sawmill,which was taken along a palm frond-lined walkway to its enclosure. Abamboo grandstand, built for the occasion, faced the sawmill. Aftermore songs and speeches, the sawmill was assembled under the avid gazeof some 100 men, women and children.

The arrival of the sawmill is the culmination of several years'hard work in fighting illegal logging and developing community-basedsolutions throughout the Lake Murray area.

Brian Daniel, forester with Foundation for People and CommunityDevelopment (FPCD), one of the key NGOs in this ecoforestry initiative,officially handed over the sawmill to Oleng Seote, a village leader.

"The work of FCPD is about helping communities acquire the skillsand equipment to be able to manage their own resources and forestssustainably," said Daniel.

FPCD is providing the sawmill in a "lease to purchase" agreementwhich allows the clan to pay for the sawmill with future income fromthe timber it cuts and sells.

The sawmill will then be passed on, so another clan on the Lake to do the same.

Community ecoforestry will protect and preserve the landowners'forests, the source of their food and shelter, and provide a return4-10 times greater than royalties paid by the large-scale loggingoperations.

It will also provide sawn timber for house construction, employmentfor the young men as well as income for school fees, health costs andbuilding materials.

Along with FPCD, Greenpeace is working with Barefoot, a communitydevelopment organisation, and Celcor, which provides landowner legalsupport, to assist the landowners to register their land, survey forestareas and prepare for milling to begin.

By providing volunteers and logistical support, our Global Forest Rescue Station (GFRS) is accelerating this process.