A plea to stop the land-grabbing in New Guinea

ALERT is reposting here parts of a recent blog by Lester Seri, a traditional landowner in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea. 

Lester belongs to the Wo Ari Kawo tribe.  He is a Coordinator for Oro Communities Environmental Advocacy Network (OCEAN) Inc., which campaigns against illegal land, logging and oil palm issues in Papua New Guinea.

Earlier this week ALERT began a campaign against the massive land-grabs in Papua New Guinea known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases.  Lester's tribe is being plagued by one such land-grab.

A vista from Collingwood Bay  (photo by Erik Wakker)

A vista from Collingwood Bay (photo by Erik Wakker)

My name is Lester Seri, and I have been mandated by the Wo Ari Kawo Elders to speak on behalf of them on Tribal land matters.

I am writing to you today because the people of Collingwood Bay urgently need you to support our struggle. 

My people -- the Maisin people -- along with our neighboring communities in Collingwood Bay have been fighting to protect our customary lands from illegal land grabs for logging and palm oil development for nearly three decades.

In 2002 we won a four-year court battle against the government for illegally leasing our land for logging and palm oil projects without the consent of the customary landowners. 

Yet, in 2012 this SAME land area was leased again to suspect middlemen landowner companies and ultimately sold to Malaysian palm oil company Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK).  When I and several other landowners heard that our lands had been leased without our consent again, we took our case to court once more.

In May of this year, the National Court of Papua New Guinea declared the two leases claimed by KLK illegal again and ordered them to be cancelled.  While this court victory was important, KLK has not yet left Collingwood Bay and our struggle continues.

The people and the forests of Collingwood Bay need your support now more than ever.  Please stand with us now and tell KLK to leave Collingwood Bay immediately! 

KLK was forced to give up two leases on customary lands through the court case, but the company still claims a third lease in Collingwood Bay called Lot 5.  In recent communications, KLK has stated that it has no intentions to leave Lot 5, despite the fact that it is within Maisin customary lands and holds primary forest and small patches of ‘kunai grass’ that our people use annually for game hunting.

As a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and through its own voluntary commitments, KLK has also pledged not to clear primary forests, High Conservation Value Forests, or High Carbon Stock forests, so there is absolutely no way KLK can develop palm oil on Lot 5.  Therefore, there is absolutely no reason for them still to be here, yet they are.

Rainforests being cleared for oil palm in New Guinea

Rainforests being cleared for oil palm in New Guinea

Join me in telling KLK it’s time to pack its bags and leave Collingwood Bay for good. 

Our people have been fighting companies like KLK for too long, and we are fed up with their attempts to undermine our local economies and culture and rob us of our rich natural resources.  Our paramount chiefs have said no to these forms of development, and they have said no to palm oil development in Collingwood Bay.

The forests and cultures of the Collingwood Bay people are at stake if KLK proceeds.  We urgently need your voice to send this message to KLK loud and clear: No palm oil development and no KLK in Collingwood Bay!

In solidarity, Lester Seri.

ALERT's campaign to defend Papua New Guinea's rainforests

Today, ALERT is launching a press release to highlight a serious peril to the rainforests and indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea

Not happy about land-grabs  (photo by William Laurance)

Not happy about land-grabs (photo by William Laurance)

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a South Pacific nation with one of the world's largest surviving tracts of tropical forest.  And it is among the most culturally diverse regions on Earth, with more than 800 distinctive tribes, each with their own unique language.

But in recent decades the forests of PNG have come under assault from predatory logging, land-clearing, and mining.

Some of the worst offenses are known as 'Special Agricultural and Business Leases' (SABLs).  SABLs span a vast expanse of PNG -- more than 5 million hectares -- over 11% of its entire land area.

The SABLs are notorious not only for their serious environmental impacts, but also because they are seen as corporate land-grabs that are robbing indigenous groups from their traditional land rights. 

Most of these leases are for 99 years in duration -- an eternity for an indigenous group that relies on its forest and traditional lands for survival.

The PNG government initially set up the SABLs as a way to encourage large-scale development, such as oil palm plantations.  But many of the SABLs have been snapped up by foreign logging corporations that are using them to dodge PNG's forestry laws -- to log the rainforests illegally.

In response, there has been an outcry in PNG, especially from indigenous groups.  This eventually forced the government to launch a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the SABLs.

The Commission found so many problems, abuses, and outright illegalities that it recommended the government cancel or phase out most of the SABLs.

But the PNG government has so far failed to do so -- at least for the biggest and most damaging SABLs.  Why?  There is a distinctive whiff of something not right here.

ALERT's press release, on the eve of the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia next month, underscores a critical peril to one of the world's most biologically and culturally diverse regions.

 

Papua New Guinea's growing forest scandal

Top investigative journalist Jemima Garrett continues to ferret out scandals surrounding the notorious "Special Agricultural and Business Leases" in Papua New Guinea.

Cut and run...  (photo by William Laurance)

Cut and run...  (photo by William Laurance)

In brief, around 5 million hectares--some 11% of PNG's land area--has been given over to long-term industrial leases, typically for 99 years in duration.  Ostensibly the leases are intended to promote long-term agricultural development, but in fact most been snapped up by foreign timber companies more interested in cutting and running than anything else. 

Many of the quick-buck timber companies are from Asia but, in her latest story, Jemima shows the seedy side of an Australian company that's right up to its neck in the growing land and timber scandal.

The SABLs are now the focus of a major Commission of Inquiry.  The outcome of this inquiry could have big implications not just for the environment, but also for the many tribal groups that have deep links to their traditional lands in PNG.