Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, released a statement last week saying that hugely controversial land leases under the country’s Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) will be cancelled if they are found to be run for extracting timber. The SABLs program was meant to increase development of local agriculture in the country, but many of the leases—some of which last 99 years—were given to timber companies that had no intent to develop agriculture.
The Prime Minister’s statement, which was read out by the country’s High Commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani, at the Australian Association for Pacific Studies Conference, confirmed that the government intended to cancel all SABLs abused by the timber industry. In addition, the statement said that future large-scale land leases would go before the government’s Cabinet.
Indigenous man in Indonesian New Guinea. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Following protests and widespread criticism, the government of Papua New Guinea set a moratorium on issuing any future SABLs in 2010, but by then the country had already handed out 11 percent of its total land mass—5.1 million hectares—or an area the size of Costa Rica. The hand out of massive tracts of land, which in Papua New Guinea is ostensibly owned by local communities, led to conflict and worsening poverty as communities lost access to traditional forests.
“The first that many communities would know about a [SABL] project was when the bulldozers arrived. This failure to obtain consent has led to large numbers of conflicts between developers and local people,” reads a recent report on illegal logging from the UK think tank, the Chatham House.
If the prime minister’s pledge is fully implemented it could mean the end for a majority of the now-notorious SABLs. Last September, a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry found that over 90 percent of these land leases were illegally obtained and recommended cancellation. But the government has been slow to act.
“The biggest challenge is dealing with collusion between corrupt officials and logging firms,” author of Chatham report, Sam Lawson, told mongabay.com recently. “The logging industry in Papua New Guinea is very powerful, while the government is extremely weak…The largest logging firm owns one of the two national newspapers, for example.”
From 2000 to 2013, Papua New Guinea lost over 633,679 hectares of forest according to the Global Forest Watch, an area about the size of Delaware.
(04/28/2014) Seven years ago, a palm oil company set its eyes on Woodlark Island—a small rainforest island nearly 200 miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea—but was rebuked by the local populace. But locals and conservationists who spoke to mongabay.com at the time felt that wouldn’t be the end of it: they were right. Recently, a company, Karridale Limited, has landed machinery on the island.
(04/22/2014) Corruption, weak governance, and powerful timber barons are illegally stripping the forests of Papua New Guinea, according to a new report from the Chatham House. The policy institute finds that 70 percent of logging in Papua New Guinea is currently illegal, despite the fact that 99 percent of land is owned by local indigenous communities.
(04/03/2014) Unlike other palm oil giants that have recently made strong commitments to eliminating deforestation and social conflict from their supply chains, Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) continues to source palm oil associated with forest destruction and community conflict, argues a new report published by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities “home.” A new study in mongabay.com’s open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.