papua new guinea: holding corporations accountable
However, destructive and illegal logging are quickly erasing this natural wealth, while the expansion of oil palm plantations is a growing threat to biodiversity and the livelihoods of rural peoples who depend on the land.
Logging and palm oil together already take up around a fifth of Papua New Guinea’s total land area.
All forest concessions are harvested with permits that are given by the appropriate authority, yet independent investigations show that the harvesting is violating the logging laws. Current commercial forest management is ecologically and economically unsustainable.
Most people in Papua New Guinea depend on natural resources for their survival – yet are unaware of the legal issues and how to defend their land and livelihoods.
Throughout 2008, Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea / Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) continued their work to protect the rights of people threatened by illegal and unsustainable forest practices and oil palm expansion.
They carried out community legal education in Eec Bosong, a forest community located next to two concessions. The five-day workshop covered a lot of information that was new to the communities in and around the area, including the constitution, relevant laws and the court system. The villagers were planning to bring in another logging company, who they believed would be better. FoE Papua New Guinea explained why this might not be a good idea. FoE staff also spent an afternoon at the local primary school teaching about environmental issues, and were well received by teachers and pupils.
Other community work included legal patrols to conduct awareness work and strengthen community groups defending their land from logging and oil palm expansion.
FoE Papua New Guinea also worked with P2UIF, a popular gospel band. Staff assisted band members in writing songs, providing them with information about issues affecting the country, and the world as a whole. FoE Papua New Guinea also helped to launch the record, appearing on radio and television to discuss issues and organizing a concert. At the launch concert, staff went on stage to talk about their work; they also had a stand where they gave out information and dealt with questions.
In May 2008, FoE Papua New Guinea’s Oil Palm Campaigner attended a training workshop on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Many stakeholders, including the communities who are engaging in oil palm farming, know very little about RSPO and its aims, and FoE Papua New Guinea used the workshop to gain a deeper understanding of RSPO’s potential applications in Papua New Guinea and the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.
FoE Papua New Guinea researched an agro-forestry project in Inland Baining and held a meeting with concerned landowners to discuss this and other ‘development’ projects. They also compiled data on all the oil palm companies operating in Papua New Guinea.
FoE Papua New Guinea has also developed a successful partnership with the National Broadcasting Corporation, which has ensured good media coverage, including a monthly hour-long radio talk show. FoE also made a video documentary about logging in Kavieng, New Ireland Province. The documentary airs communities’ concerns regarding land issues and the environmental damage caused by logging, as well as breaches of labor law and social problems caused by the introduction of workers from outside the area.
FoE Papua New Guinea, together with other NGOs, co-hosted a two-day workshop on Women in Oil Palm, for people living in potential and existing plantation areas, and covered issues including the overall impact of plantations, sexual division of labor, gender relations in the local communities, and resistance and survival strategies. The workshop was an eye-opener to most of the participants, and raised awareness of those in areas targeted for oil palm development.
The community legal education work informed and motivated communities to understand and defend their rights, and to be far more sceptical of approaches made by forestry companies.
The launch of the P2UIF album attracted national media attention and resulted in numerous information requests to FoE Papua New Guinea. It has created a lot of goodwill towards the organization. Program Officer Mr Harrison Owage said, “This was a milestone for the campaign section and it has encouraged us to push forward into greater things.”
Communities in Inland Baining have agreed to FoE filing a court case to halt a proposed project until a proper Free Prior Informed Consent exercise has been conducted. The landowners are planning to campaign at the local and provincial levels to save their forests.
The Women in Oil Palm Workshop provided an opportunity for women to share testimonies, give voice to their frustrations, and become empowered to resist oil palm developments.
FoE Papua New Guinea strengthened its links with other groups in the FoE International network, and other civil society groupings, especially through activists’ attendance at meetings and workshops, including the FoEI Bi-annual General Meeting in Honduras in November 2008.
It was difficult to involve women in the workshops, yet vital, as they are the most directly affected. The FoE Papua New Guinea staff always took the time to talk to the women outside the workshop hours, because sharing information with women can often have a greater impact on the community.
At times, some people attending the workshops were unreceptive or hostile, and prejudiced against NGOs. FoE staff were always able to turn this around by reassuring people that they were there to inform them of the law. This often changed their mindset, and many came to understand and appreciate the work FOE Papua New Guinea and other NGOs are doing.
FOE Papua New Guinea plans to write a policy paper on the RSPO process and run training on RSPO for NGOs and community partners.
They will continue to campaign and assist communities in East New Britain affected by corporate-driven agro-forestry projects.
FoE Papua New Guinea will compile information on all logging companies operating in the country, and will digitize this and the data collected on oil palm companies, to create an accessible information resource.
NBC has promised a package of media coverage worth US$15,000 to FoE Papua New Guinea in 2009. FoE will continue to develop this relationship, and will pursue collaborative work with other media companies.
with thanks to our funders: the sigrid rausing trust