Remote PNG landowners welcome sawmill

Feature Story - 2006-03-15
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 of Lake Murray to a traditional welcome, "sing-sing" and feast prepared by the whole village.

Painted elders rushed the boat, firing arrows overhead, while the women on the lake edge sang the sawmill and representatives of non-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 happy today, we are happy today," they serenaded, while the "dignitaries" stepped off the boats and were garlanded with frangipanis and bougainvillea.

The singers and arrival party formed a procession for the sawmill, which was taken along a palm frond-lined walkway to its enclosure. A bamboo grandstand, built for the occasion, faced the sawmill. After more songs and speeches, the sawmill was assembled under the avid gaze of some 100 men, women and children. Throughout the day everyone feasted on cassowary, taro, sweet potato, and cooked bananas.

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

Brian Daniel, forester with Foundation for People and Community Development (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 skills and equipment to be able to manage their own resources and forests sustainably," said Daniel.

FPCD is providing the sawmill in a "lease to purchase" agreement which allows the clan to pay for the sawmill with future income from the 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 return 4-10 times greater than royalties paid by the large-scale logging operations.

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

Along with FPCD, Greenpeace is working with Barefoot, a community development organisation, and Celcor, which provides landowner legal support, to assist the landowners to register their land, survey forest areas and prepare for milling to begin.

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