Since 2011, the people of Papua New Guinea have been waiting for the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). In the meantime, logging companies have been fast-tracking the harvesting of logs as landowners feel powerless to protect their homes and their precious forests.
The SABLs are controversial leases which have allowed for the theft of 5.1 million hectares of indigenous-owned land. SABL leases can last for 99 years – nearly a century. This is how the PNG government allows foreign logging companies to harvest vibrant woodlands without providing any opportunity for landowners and local people to participate and benefit directly from their own forests.
More than 30 years of industrial logging in Papua New Guinea has not provided any tangible and sustainable development for the people. Logging companies reap profits from the people’s resources and venture into other business activities leaving the people destitute.
However, there is an alternative: Papua New Guineans are capable of managing their forests through ecoforestry. With the support of NGOs, local communities have organised themselves and have been practicing this alternative to large-scale destructive logging for more than 20 years.
Communities have benefited directly from the income generated from the small-scale portable sawmilling which is part of ecoforestry. At the same time, communities have proved that practicing ecoforestry saves their forest by limiting harvesting to a minimum number of trees, respecting high conservation values and using very low-impact techniques which protect the ecosystem. In recognition of this, many communities have become Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
Greenpeace applauds these efforts, but with 26.2-million hectares of primary forests remaining, and approximately 60% of the country’s forest under threat from logging and agricultural expansion, Papua New Guinea still has a lot of forest to protect.
They country has now reached a crossroads. A proper National Land Use Process is what is required for the remaining forests of Papua New Guinea. Coupled with ecoforestry, a land use plan can be the key to empowering the local communities and curbing the problems created by the logging industry and SABLs for palm oil.
Papua New Guineans have the will and the knowledge to do it. They deserve their government’s support to adopt a national land use plan, practice ecoforestry and save their forests for future generations.
Sam Moko is a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific