Still hope for Papua New Guinea’s forests
by Sam Moko
With logging and clearing for oil palm threatening many forests in Papua New Guinea, some communities are still standing strong and protecting their forests. This week I've been out with a Greenpeace team filming and photographing 'Ecoforestry' as a solution for a community in the province of East New Britain. Tavolo community and two neighbouring village communities are protecting 32,000 ha of forest in a Wildlife Management Area together with 4,000 ha for ecoforestry. Ecoforestry protects the forest ecosystem while at the same time providing an income for the community from small-scale portable sawmilling. I was amazed by how strong this community is in their stance against logging and forest conversion for palm oil. The people of Tavolo have seen and experienced the impacts logging has had on other areas in East New Britain. They have depended on the forest for generations. They maintain a strong connection to their forest as customary landowners and have strong vision as their leaders show the way for younger generations. I was impressed by the careful way the community looks after the forest and most of the people I met would tell me a story of the forest and it's importance to them. But there is an ongoing threat to the forest of this peaceful community: the Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) a system that allows companies to clear areas of forest. This scandalous scheme has allowed unrepresentative landholders and foreign-owned companies to swindle and steal peoples land and livelihoods for up to 99 years. In some cases, the leases were granted without permission or knowledge of the local community and the government has since launched an official inquiry. But the land-grabbing scheme still poses a real threat to the Tavolo people's way of life and Tavolo leaders have spoken up against this through the government's Commission of Inquiry. We hope to tell this story to PNG and the world and highlight the threat that the SABL system poses to PNG communities and how ecoforestry can form a solution to help protect the area's precious forests.