The project, ostensibly for a 125-square-kilometer (48-square-mile) rubber plantation, began in mid-2018.Satellite imagery shows that Maxland, working with a local landowner company, has built logging roads and deforested patches of the Great Central Forest on Manus Island.Like Papua New Guinea as a whole, Manus is home to a wide variety of unique wildlife — just one aspect of the forest on which human communities have depended for thousands of years.Government forestry and environment officials were aware of the importance of the forest and a local forest management committee protested the project before it began, but it’s been allowed to continue anyway. PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — The upstart deforestation over the past year and a half that’s sidling up to Pochon Lili’s land has him worried. “As a landowner, I’m concerned about the environment in which my land is located and has been affected,” Lili said. The 67-year-old environmental science professor’s property sits just to the southwest of a new “so-called agroforestry project” on Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea and sitting in the South Pacific’s Bismarck Sea around 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the country’s mainland. The project has already begun to cut into the 700-square-kilometer (270-square-mile) Great Central Forest, one of the last remaining blocks of high-quality forest on Papua New Guinea’s outlying islands. As a leader of the Machom clan, Lili feels obligated to look out for the interests of his fellow community members. His clan did not sign on in support of the project spearheaded by a local landowner company called Pohowa Agriculture Ltd. and its partner, a Malaysian timber outfit called Maxland Ltd. The project is called the Pohowa Integrated Agro-forestry Project, though there are few indications that the “agroforestry” the project intends is the sort that aims to grow a mix of trees and crops in a way that maintains vital ecosystem services. Instead, the loss of forest and replacement with a monoculture of rubber could spell trouble for the communities living nearby, Lili said. “I wanted to see that the project does not end up in all sorts of problems for us,” he said. A mother with her children on Manus Island. Image by Elodie Van Lierde. Crews began clearing the way for a 125-km2 (48-mi2) rubber plantation in mid-2018, an area equal to nearly one-fifth of the Great Central Forest. But since that time, questions have swirled around whether the benefits to the communities that are part of the Pohowa company, such as timber royalty payments, road construction and a lasting source of employment in the form of nursery and plantation jobs, would materialize. The deforestation so far has left behind a patchwork of bare land and splintering logging roads cutting into the Great Central Forest. Though small in comparison to the forests that blanket Papua New Guinea’s mainland, Manus’ forests host a dizzying array of species, many of which live only on the island. They’ve also sustained local communities, like the Machom clan, for generations. The story of how the project has been able to proceed follows a murky trail from Manus’ highlands out to the Topol log pond on the island’s southern coast and through the government offices in the capital city of Port Moresby hundreds of kilometers away. The story’s end? It hasn’t been written yet, as three more years of the project remain. But skeptics remain concerned that the tale will follow a familiar pattern in Papua New Guinea, one in which foreign companies extract and export wholesale the country’s valuable hardwood timber, leaving once-forest-rich communities without the purported economic engine of an agriculture plantation as a replacement. And along the way, opaque legal processes involving the national and provincial governments seem to ease the process for the companies involved.