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In 1982 the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) began working with Australia's closest neighbours, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) - among the poorest countries in the world. It soon became apparent that rainforests in these countries could not be protected without addressing the legitimate aspirations of the traditional landowners for economic development. Unless benign, sustainable economic alternatives could be created, the forests would surely be destroyed by industrial logging and mining interests.

Some communities had been able to get hold of a small portable sawmill - the Wokabout Sawmill (WS) - and we noticed that the multinational loggers were unable to get a foothold amongst these peoples because they had a means of exploiting their own timber resources and could get a much higher price for the sawn timber that they produced than the loggers were offering for the raw logs.

In 1990, funded by the Australian government aid agency AusAID, RIC conducted an ecological audit of Wokabout Sawmills and found that, as we had suspected, even the worst operated WS was less environmentally destructive than the best of the large industrial logging operations. When accompanied by sound forest management, WS's were among the best tools in the world for sensitive harvesting of trees.

In 1991, RIC was funded by the Australian Council of Churches to make our first intervention using Wokabout Sawmills. The Zia tribe in Morobe province, PNG were about to sign a contract with a large logging company which would have allowed the clearfelling of about 100,000 acres of virgin rainforest. The company was so confident that their negotiations would succeed that they had already built a wharf and fuel dump.

However, instead, the Zia signed a contract with RIC and the local non-government organisation Village Development Trust (VDT). This contract stated that VDT/RIC would provide the Zia with 3 WS's, a boat to get their sawn timber to market, training in ecological forest management (including sawmilling, log utilisation with minimum waste, tree felling techniques and safety, sawmill mechanics and maintenance as well as nursery and reforestation techniques).

In exchange, the Zia agreed to allow no logging or mining companies onto their land, to abide by the eco-forestry management plan drawn up by VDT/RIC and to equitably share all proceeds from the sale of timber throughout the whole community. The sawn timber could be sold for $450 per cubic metre and more compared to the $3/CuM that they would have received for the raw logs which would have been shipped to Japan. The management plan allows careful logging on 1000 acres (about 20 acres/year over a 50 year rotation) leaving the vast majority of the land untouched.

In 1992, RIC conducted further WS interventions funded by AusAID in Madang Province. RIC also funded landowner awareness patrols and conferences conducted by VDT and other national NGO's which spread the news about this new mode of sustainable development. RIC has provided VDT with a comprehensive slide program including slide projector, as well as laminated photographic poster displays for use in the villages.

Another component of the RIC's work in eco-forestry has been to assist villages with establishing tree nurseries for tree planting in the old sawmill sites. Four nurseries have been established.

In 1993 funded by AusAID and others, RIC/VDT updated the WS training manual and translated it into Tok Pisin, and bought an A$69,000 boat to get the ecotimber to Lae for it to be loaded into containers, and sent a volunteer carpenter from Australia to work with carpenters and architects in communities operating WS's teaching them how to work with sawn timber and
helped them build a school and community centre.

In 1995, funded by the Australian Government Department of the Environment, RIC produced a 60 minute video documentary about industrial logging in PNG and the RIC/VDT alternative.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Projects in Paradise
by Anja Light
(Report from a 1996 journey to PNG to visit RIC projects)

I had only two weeks and very low expectations about what I could achieve or even just find out during this lightening visit to PNG. I was also full of dread about how depressing the trip might be having followed the trail of logging companies from Malaysia to PNG and being highly aware of their destructive activities. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover great cause for hope and cautious optimism when witnessing the activities of PNG NGOs, local communities, enlightened students and the power of the forest itself.

While I cannot deny the disturbing political trends and the relentless invasion of logging companies throughout PNG, I remain optimistic that the potential to support a new approach to development is growing. There is, for a start, freedom to be informed. Eyewitness reports and stories about the destructive and ruthless tendencies of logging companies spread fast. Sometimes a difference of opinion within the community can hold off the logging until other options for appropriate progress are developed.

And there are a growing number of more ecologically benign options - ecoforestry or small scale community forestry is one that has been gaining interest and an initiative that RIC has been involved with for some time. But there are others - fishing, ecotourism, non timber forest products, village level extraction of coconut oil. All of these are worthy of initial support.

There are ideal situations for micro -hydro units and solar energy technology. PNG is and should remain a paradise. Australian taxpayers should demand that their taxes support initiatives which provide empowerment and employment in the community - not impose a development model based on economic fundamentalism that is proving disastrous in all other parts of the world.

The bulk of my visit was spent with staff of the Village Development Trust who took me to visit project sites around Lae and down the Morobe coast. I was also able to visit a range of NGOs and other contacts based in Port Moresby. These meetings convinced me that there is increasing communication, cooperation and coordination of ecoforestry initiatives in PNG.

As I left the country I found a small announcement in a newspaper stating that Germany had agreed to provide over K5 million to an ecoforestry initiative for 11 villages in the Bainings area in West New Britain to be managed by the Pacific Heritage Founda tion.

Ecoforestry may have come of age.

On a project level and in assessing our work with the Village Development Trust, I feel renewed faith that they are committed to their original aims, have greatly increased their capacity to raise funds and have on their team some very talented and committed staff.

I understand much more about the difficulty in doing anything in PNG. It is hard not to generalize in explaining why - but at the end of the day I think it comes down to a clash of cultures and paradigms. Development must not be imposed but invited at a level where the community is informed and aware about what type of development they choose. I firmly believe that if communities have alternative options and are fully informed they will not allow large scale industrial logging companies onto their lands.

Evolving an enlightened vision and practice of working with local people is the prime ingredient in the success of any project that aims to deliver legitimate development needs without environmen tal destruction. The Rainforest Information Centre discovered many years ago that this would be the only feasible way of
protecting the forests and ultimately the peoples of PNG.

Now this method of working is being taken up by increasing numbers of environment and development organisations, including the United Nations which has shown support for the Integrated Conservation and Development concept. It may take a long time before these initiatives prove to be successful, but during my visit I observed some positive indications about the type of approach that may be effective in the long term.

Promoting positive examples of people who make development work for the collective good of the whole community may be one way. I was inspired by many local people (especially the exuberance and joy of the children) - Titus is one.

Titus comes from Saigara village and was trained in the use of the wokabout sawmill through initiatives of VDT and RIC. In all, 4 Wokabout Sawmills were provided to villages in exchange for their agreement to not sign over their lands to the logging companies and their commitment to sticking by strict environment management of their forests.

The mills have been used to provide sawn timbers for local con struction and some sales to Lae. I visited the sawmill sites with the director of VDT, Sasa Zibe, and was satisfied that extraction methods were far more environmentally benign than industrial logging. However they are not being operated on a consistent basis and have not become highly commercially profitable for the village - with the exception of Titus' mill.

He has sold high value sawn timbers in Lae and profits from these sales has allowed him to build his own house. In addition his work team have derived benefits. What, to me, was even more inspiring was his general attitude towards life. In his spare time he has set up a theatre/culture group in his village which has performed on World Environment Day in Lae with a strong environmental message of protecting the forest.

It is difficult to quantify all this brings to the village - pride, self determination, local employment, strengthening and evolving of culture in the face of a modern world. He is applying his skills, talents and intelligence to the wellbeing of the whole village, not only for himself or his own family. He is taking an active, informed role in deciding what type development is appropriate for his children.

In my view - a single example like this can be more effective in protecting the forests and way of life of PNG's people than all the money directed to various large scale 'development' projects. Whatever series of events helped Titus take this path should be made available to as many communities as possible. I am convinced that VDT's and RIC's style of information dissemination with an ethical base, has had much to do with this positive response.

Another factor may be RIC's small scale, grassroots approach. Our projects are dependent on the efforts of dedicated volunteers, not highly paid consultants. Seeing the results of 4 months of work in building a school and a guesthouse on a budget of just $23, 650 (including building materials, tools, air travel and living expenses for our volunteer and administrative expenses) convince me that enthusiasm, commitment and determination are far more important than bucketloads of money.

During my visit I was able to assess the situation regarding the international marketing of timber harvested with wokabaut saw mills under strict management plans. VDT is focussing on setting up Wokabaut sawmill operator cooperatives around Lae to access the international market while the wokabout sawmills in villages around Bau will be busy supplying sawn timber for the 'Habitat for Humanity' housing project.

This is an offshoot of the success of RIC/VDT's housing project which proved the village's capacity for carrying out this type of project. 'Habitat for Humanity' will fund the construction of 40 houses over the next two years to villages around Bau.

After visiting the mill sites and holding meetings to discuss the housing project and the boat project, I traveled back up the coast with Sasa, to visit the Kamiali Integrated Conservation and Development project where an ecoforestry training for 3rd year forestry students was taking place.

Kamiali is an area that has high conservation values, yet has not been properly studied for it's biological values. There is an abundance of food from the fertile river mouth farm, from the forest and from the sea. In fact, they told me that they hardly ever go into the forest, except for some hunting, because they don't need to - they have more than enough food. They didn't sign their lands away to the logging companies and it is unlikely that they will - particularly if the ICAD project VDT is involved with succeeds.

For VDT it is an attempt to provide a fully integrated model that can be replicated throughout PNG. Ecoforestry is a component in the model in setting up and training a village Wokabout sawmill team that has provided sawn timbers for the training centre and aims to sell to local markets.

The training centre itself will also be used for training in ecoforestry. In witnessing part of the first of such trainings of 3rd year forestry students, I was impressed at the approach not only of VDT staff, but of the local people talking about why they had chosen the ICAD path.

I witnessed hundreds of village people crowded around the VDT video monitor, powered by a diesel generator, showing RIC's video on logging in PNG, 'Mama Bilong Olgeta'* which also show cases ecoforestry as a development alternative. There were grumblings of displeasure as the camera zoomed in on shots of industrial logging operations.

Before the 'show' had ended I performed a new song that RIC volunteer Ron Martin and I had written the week before, describing the good fortune of the people of Kamiali to have chosen such a paradise to live in. The children were singing the chorus: 'Kamiali, me laikim, laikim, laikim, laikim you' as we walked back to our huts.

Choosing what development path to take is not easy. In setting up projects there are great challenges in dealing with the confusing array of development choices to local communities. They have been greatly influenced by factors such as colonisation, cargo cult mentality, TV, Coca Cola, Marlboro cigarettes and the entry into a cash economy which can bring miraculous technological advances like the outboard motor.

In the west we are slowly beginning to realise that our development model is on a collision course with nature, threatening most of the world's species including humans. Yet most of us are extremely resistant to changing in order to live a sustainable lifestyle. Back at the village level in PNG, one of the most important things we can do is provide information and examples of the type of development options that the rest of the world has chosen and the devastating environmental and social impacts. We can also reassure the people that their lifestyle is indeed valued by the 'outside'. Then there may be a chance for them to make an informed choice about development.

* Resource kit : 'Mama Bilong Olgeta' Video plus 80 page informa tion background available from the Rainforest Information Centre (PO Box 368, Lismore, NSW 2480) for only A $50. Write us an email to place a credit card order.

TELEPHONE:(675) 4721666.  FAX: (675)472 4824"


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Last Updated: 27 Dec 2001