PNG: Logging

Alan Bradley abradley1 at
Sun Feb 24 17:29:59 MST 2002

>From the Post-Courier ( ):

 Monday 25th February, 2002

Impact of logging on rural dwellers

Forests provide the basis of livelihood and cultural life to the 80 per cent
of Papua New Guineans who still live in rural communities

THE vast and beautiful rainforests of Papua New Guinea are internationally
acclaimed as a biological wonder for the great diversity of life that they
But these forests are also a vital habitat for more than four million
One of the world's four remaining significant tropical forest wildernesses,
the forests of PNG support about 200 species of mammal, more than 15,000
plant species, 1500 tree species and 750 different species of bird.
In the midst of this abundance live a rural population of people that depend
on the forest for food, medicines, building materials, clean water and for
their culture and customs.
Among the world's largest butterfly, largest orchid, longest lizard, largest
pigeon and smallest parrot are thousands of small communities.
These people are so isolated that they have developed more than 750
different languages while living for many thousands of years a life that is
intricately interwoven with the fabric of the forest.
Yet most of the accessible coastal forest has been lost in the last 20 years
by a logging industry dominated by Malaysian multinational companies that
feed the paper and plywood mills of the Pacific Rim.
And now a further 5 million hectares has been identified for immediate
development as new logging concessions.
The destruction that comes with the bulldozer and the chainsaw is quite
staggering. Scientific studies show that the loggers in PNG destroy on
average 17 trees for every one that is felled and removed.
It is estimated that a further 60 are left to whither and die.
>From all around PNG, studies have documented the appalling social and
cultural costs that come with forest development.
Not only do the people suffer from the environmental destruction, having to
search further and longer for food and medicines - with animal and bird
populations dispersed, fruit and nut trees destroyed, medicinal plants and
vines crushed - and finding their water polluted by soil erosion and their
traditional building materials bulldozed; the people have to suffer the
social consequences.
Increased drunkenness among the men, increased promiscuity, prostitution,
greater levels of sexually transmitted diseases and increases in
malnutrition, low birth weight babies and malaria have all been documented.
These are accompanied by frequent stories of police brutality with special
"mobile squads'' being flown into the logging areas by the logging companies
to enforce their own brand of law and order.
Communities can be torn apart, not just by the pressures on family relations
of a sudden but all too transient influx of easy cash, but also by the
political turmoil.
The big men convinced by the loggers' treats; a four-wheel drive vehicle and
an expenses paid trip to the capital city where the logging agreement is
signed while the women and the young are left to deal with the realities
that the logging brings and start to question their long culture of respect
and trust for the decisions of others.
And then there is the community's spiritual life. Living for generations
among a mega-diversity of life, surviving beneath the vast canopy of the
forest, the people depend on their environment for their spirituality.
Sacred places, ancestral spirits, intricate ceremonies, ritual dances and
song, stories handed down from mother to daughter, from father to son. All
that can be crushed by the bulldozer and chopped to pieces by the chainsaw.
Dr Christin Kocher Schmid has spent several years studying the impacts of
logging on the peoples of the Vanimo-Kilmeri area in West Sepik Province.
Dr Schmid's report concludes that:
* ACCESS to unpolluted water is severely restricted by logging operations
thus putting people's health at serious risk from waterborne disease;
* A RANGE of resources collected from the wild in the forest are crucial for
the local people's well-being and health: construction materials for housing
and protein components of the diet. Such forest resources are destroyed by
logging; and
* WOMEN bear the brunt of these negative effects: it is their task to supply
their families with water and collect foods while they hardly participate in
the decision-making on logging and in the distribution of timber royalties.
Caring for the land
The forest in the Kilimeri area south of Vanimo on PNG's north coast has
been home to forest people for countless generations.
They have shaped the mix of plant and animal species to their own benefit.
The border between forest and garden, between cultivated and wild, is not
solid but permeable.
This extraordinary balance is completely destroyed when a logging company
moves in.
The people of Killimeri live by hunting, gathering, swidden and gardening.
But perhaps most remarkable to many outsiders is their great skill in
arboriculture (selecting, planting and managing tree species).
They put wild and nurtured tress to a wild range of uses as food, medicine
and building materials. Of the 149 recorded locally distinguished trees, 96
per cent are used for fuel for cooking and heating. Nearly 50 per cent host
edible grubs and just under 40 per cent host edible mushrooms.
Wild mushrooms as well as grubs found on dead wood are important
contributions to the daily diet of the people.
Fruit and leaves from about 15 per cent of tree species are used directly
for food. More than 8 per cent have medicinal applications.
Other trees are used as hides to ambush game. Houses are built almost
exclusively from bush materials.
People live by nurturing the resources on which they depend. They are
constantly "caring for the land".
Prominent in the long list of nurtured trees is sago palm (Metroxylon
gnemon). These are supplemented by semi domestic and wild fruit and
vegetables and low intensity gardening.
Sago stands are found in the swampy river and creek basins, whole
fruit-whole groves are found further up on the hillsides near settlements.
The hunting of feral pigs, birds and marsupials as well as fishing and
collecting are important sources of protein.
Men hunt nine kinds of bandicoots, 15 types of cuscus, ringtails and
rodents, three kinds of wallaby, as well as a variety of cassowaries,
crocodiles and large lizards.
At least 60 species of birds are hunted and a variety of fish, turtles,
prawns and crabs are caught in the rivers and creeks.
Women collect for food 18 kinds of frogs, four types of spiders, three kinds
of crickets and three kinds of small lizards.
The forest is not only a resource for food and shelter. It also caters to
people's spiritual needs. This is where bush and ancestor spirits dwell and
where people may contact the world beyond.
In the Kilimeri area there are 22 sacred sites within an area of 500sq km.
But the land of several villages has been logged out by WTK Reality, a
Malaysian company which operates along the Vanimo-Bewani Rd.
Among the trees species most sought by WTK are those which local people used
to build their houses.
Now more areas are being logged and others are due for logging over the next
few years, with 80-90 per cent of village territories subject to selective
Those villagers who have already been paid have spent their money within
less than a year (mainly on clothes, food and beer). Only a few men have
succeeded in reinvesting their share into small businesses.
The opportunity for semi-skilled wage employment has disappeared with the
logging company.
For most villages that have been logged, livelihoods have been destroyed.
Landowners in the region have asked for the company's licence to be revoked
"before PNG's forests and natural environment is completely destroyed under
the dictatorship of the foreign contractor company WTK Reality".

- This article is courtesy of PNG Forest Watch, a Non-Government

Copyright, 2001, Post-Courier Online.

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