Papua New Guinea landowners take a stand for forests and climate

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While bureaucrats from Australia and Papua New Guinea work out the details of a bilateral ‘forests and carbon partnership’, the Simbukanam people of Madang Province in PNG have today made a significant contribution to their children’s future and the global effort on climate change by recommitting more than 1000 hectares of rainforest as a conservation area.The 1000 hectares of rainforest was first declared a protected area on 26 July 2003. No resource extraction or felling of trees is allowed. The people farm cocoa, copra and other crops on their land outside the conservation area.

Today the community re-confirmed the protection of the area with a celebratory ‘sing sing’ and several neighbouring clans pledged to make their lands conservation areas too, taking the total protected area to 1,928 hectares.

Landowner Alfred Kaket said the community’s previous bad experiences with a big logging company had shown them the value of protecting their forests. “Seven years of logging damaged our land and our culture. Now the rivers are clean again and the birds and animals are coming back. We are proud to be looking after our forests for now and for our children and grandchildren,” Mr Kaket said.

John Chitoa, Coordinator of NGO the Bismarck Ramu Group, said the conservation area showed how PNG’s system of customary land tenure strengthens communities. “In Papua New Guinea, being connected to your land is like a guarantee of survival. Logging, mining and cash cropping break that connection. This conservation area has confirmed the people’s connection with their land and is a vote of confidence in the community’s future,” Mr Chitoa said.

Lee Tan, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Asia-Pacific program coordinator, said it was essential any arrangement involving forests in PNG comes with the informed consent of forest-dwelling communities, as required by PNG law. “Destruction of the world’s forests contributes around 20 per cent to global greenhouse emissions, so the Simbukanam and other PNG communities that choose to protect their forests are making a great a contribution to the international effort on climate change,” Ms Tan said.

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