papua new guinea: building resistance to forest destruction and palm oil expansion
Throughout 2007, Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea / Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights continued their work to protect the rights of people threatened by illegal and unsustainable forest practises and oil palm expansion.
what happened: FoE PNG carried out many activities throughout the year. One highlight was attending a forestry and oil palm workshop in August 2007 in Cairns Australia, organised by the Australian Conservation Foundation and attended by many PNG NGOs. The workshop stressed the need for a good relationship with European, Australian, and New Zealand governments, and a strong consumer campaign in Europe and China where demand for PNG timber is high.
In September 2007, FoE PNG staff attended the Friends of the Earth International Forest and Biodiversity Programme meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon. One major challenge, as yet unresolved, is whether member groups will simply say “no” to all forest destruction and logging, or work to strengthen current policies, institutions and governance.
In terms of other work, although the national election created a huge disruption to FoE PNG’s work plans, they still managed to carry out a number of important patrols and fact finding missions. One entailed taking a member of the Rainforest Action Network on a patrol to communities affected by proposed oil palm expansion, particularly with respect to palm and soy oil giant Cargill. The tour was successful and RAN has pledged to assist FoE PNG in campaigning against oil palm expansion at the international level, especially in the USA.
Another fact-finding patrol was motivated by national government approval of a massive, 300,000 hectare agro-forestry project in the Musa-Collingwood Bay area. Political influence in the approval was suspected, and landowners, who were not consulted, required urgent legal assistance as this project would definitely affect their livelihoods, if developed.
In a similar case, FoE PNG and partner NGOs carried out a patrol in the East New Britain province, to investigate an agro-forestry project approval in Lsul Baining. The communities in this remote and hard-to-access area made it clear that they were not consulted and did not want the project. They have requested FoE PNG’s legal services to take possible legal action, namely a court injunction.
In July 2007, FoE PNG was invited by RAN to join a delegation of southern countries affected by agribusiness for a RAN campaign launch and speaking tour in the US. Lynette Hambuga of the Sorovi Women’s Council and George Laume, FoE PNG’s oil palm campaigner attended. They were able to dialogue with students at one of the USA’s largest universities on the threats posed by oil palm plantations.
Finally, towards the end of 2007, a capacity-building exercise entailed engaging a volunteer from Australian Business Volunteers, who gave staff hands-on training in proposal writing, project planning and fundraising.
what is changing: FoE PNG is delighted to be moving forward on its work with RAN. “This is a really big step forward for CELCOR, as it has established an effective networking and relationship with RAN for campaigns at the international level, specifically at the consumer level or the company’s headquarters, and it is foreseen that local issues will be exposed at a much higher level,” said a FoE PNG staff member.
There was also a major success with regard to the proposed giant Musa-Collingwood Bay agro-forestry project. FoE PNG applied for an injunction to halt the project, and request a review and community consultation. They also engaged a television crew to interview landholders and produce a documentary, which was aired. Communities, educated elites from the area, and some local parliamentarians also became active, calling for the proposal to be withdrawn. As a result, this project has been put on hold for an indefinite period, and will continue to be closely monitored by FoE PNG.
what we learned: At the workshop in Cairns, one suggested strategy under discussion by PNG NGO partners is a website to promote PNG certified timber overseas. Understanding carbon trading, which has big implications in PNG, was another key topic, especially given the PNG government has not revealed its plans and policies on this. Strategies were discussed to obtain disclosure about these plans.
The meeting in Cairns also affirmed the need for NGO partners in PNG to campaign more at the political level, at which the main drive for illegal logging and palm oil expansion occurs. FoE PNG has already begun working with Local Level Governments (LLGs), however this work will now merely be strategic, as new national government amendments have removed LLG’s participation at Provincial Assemblies and Provincial Governments.
The approach to the current government is difficult, particularly given its possible intention to make environmental NGOs illegal. One possible strategy is working with parliamentarians with a strong record on advocating for their people’s rights, to fight for these issues from the floor of parliament. Another is to make use of the “Whistle Blower” strategy that exposes scandals and triggers huge media and public outcry.
what next: At the Cairns workshop, they agreed all partners should now put more effort in building the relationship with existing international partners for market or consumer campaigns either for palm oil or logging. FoE PNG is also planning a legal patrol to the East New Britain province before action is taken to combat the massive agro-forestry proposal there.
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs