Greenpeace was on the ground for what local customary landowners are terming 'the biggest land grab in Papau New Guinea history'. Residents from Pomio villages in East New Britain province gathered to protest near a site where logs were being readied for loading on a cargo ship bound for China. A ship that Greenpeace activists later painted along the side "Stop The Land Grab" in giant, white letters.
Greenpeace campaigner Sam Moko writes from his home country:
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the few places on earth where indigenous people still control their land, with just three percent of the country controlled by the government or private enterprise. Customary ownership is partly responsible for the fact that PNG is home to one of the world's largest areas of intact tropical forests. PNG's indigenous people have close spiritual connections to their land and must be given free, prior and informed consent before any commercial activities can be carried out.
The recent assignment of almost 20 per cent of PNG's remaining forests to agriculture leases is therefore profoundly disturbing to all Papua New Guineans.
Over the weekend, I received reports that villagers and landowners in East New Britain, an island to the east of the PNG mainland were violently abused by police officers. They were reportedly being targeted for trying to stop their land from being stolen and their forests from being logged. I was also told that the plane the police arrived in was chartered by the Malaysian logging company Rimbunan Hijau – it is a Rimbunan Hijau subsidiary that is doing the logging.
Read the rest of Sam's post: Massive land grab of Papua New Guinea's remaining forests results in violence against local people.
Then read Sam's follow-up post: Taking action to protect forests in Papua New Guinea.
Earlier this year the Development Policy Blog reported on PNG's Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) which were effectively transferring land ownership from local custodians to foreign logging and agriculture companies - often without the legal permission required. They interviewed William Laurance, a leading conservation biologist with James Cook University.
According to Laurance, the revenue made from these deals is not aiding poverty alleviation efforts in Papua New Guinea, the profits are instead "mostly ending up in the hands of foreign corporations and political elites in Papua New Guinea."
"For instance, local communities in Papua New Guinea are capturing only around $10 per cubic meter of kwila, one of their most valuable timbers, whereas the same raw timber fetches around $250 per cubic meter on delivery to China," says Laurance, adding that, "many of the major socioeconomic indicators for Papua New Guinea have fallen in the past decade, indicating a decline in living standards even as the country is experiencing a huge resources boom."
While this may seem contrary to expectations, it is a pattern that has been repeated in many poor countries with great wealth in natural resources. Known to economists as the 'resources curse', such nations see their natural resources exploited while receiving little to no economic gain. Instead, promised funds are lost to bad business deals, corrupt politicians, or 'predatory' foreign corporations.
Greenpeace is calling for the government to throw out all the SABLs that are now under investigation. The Forest Authority should also suspend all the Forest Clearance Authorities for all the leases.
Greenpeace East Asia's Forests campaigner Yi Lan visited PNG in 2008, during a time in which similar land grabs were occurring. She adds, "I feel disappointed that things remain the same as last time when I was there in 2008." You can read her blog posts (in Chinese) covering her time there.