Aitape’s ‘friendly’ planet bid

Weekender

Story and pictures by CYRIL GARE
THE new wave of ‘selection forestry’ or ‘restoration forestry’ commonly known as eco-forestryis gaining momentum in the country.
The main idea of eco-forestry is to maintain or restore the forest to standards where the forest may still be harvested for products on a sustainable basis. Eco-forestry is forestry that emphasizes holistic practices which strive to protect and restore ecosystems rather than maximize economic productivity only.
Last Thursday (Feb 15) the people of Ause area in the Aitape district of West Sepik consented overwhelmingly to giving 45,000 hectares of their customary land to a proposed Plantation Forest development in their area that will adopt the selective harvesting technique of timber of larger DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) of 50+ cm as well as adhere to all other practices set out in the Logging Code of Practice.
It followed a successful ‘mandatory’ public hearing at Kara Ausein spite of a heavy downpour. In it, a Forest Clearing Authority (FCA) application was sought by PNG Hills Limited (PHL) that proposes to PNGFA to achieve all the objectives of the PNG Government – PNG Forest Target of establishing 800,000 hectares of plantation forest by 2050 under its “Painim Graun Planim Diwai” initiative.
The public hearing was attended by West Sepik Governor, Tony Wouwou, acting Sandaun provincial administrator, Conrad Tilau, public hearing team leader and deputy secretary Department of Agriculture &Livestock (DAL) in Port Moresby, Stephen Mombiwho were accompanied by two senior DAL officers namely John Kendiga and Tom Morris, deputy district administrator Aitape, Raphael Seki, Port Moresby’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) senior officer, Joe Katape,Provincial Forest Officer (PFO) East Sepik, Richard Kali, PFO Sandaun, Jim Silu, PNG Hills Limited directors and shareholders from PNG and Singapore; Roxon Undi, Kevin Mansu, Dinesh Patel, Narashia Patel, Sri Rangan, and clan leaders and tribes men, women and children of Kara Ause villages led by Richard Waisu.
The project will assist in natural regeneration of new high value seedlings to be reforested into gaps created as a result of selective harvesting and count towards the country’s low carbon emission pathway–serving as an environment buffer for carbon sink.
The project also aims to protect and conserve the natural habitats for endemic animal species such as the endangered Tenkile (tree Kangaroo) found only on Torricelli and Bewani Mountain ranges which will support the work ofTenkile Conservation Alliance based at Lumi.
PHL country manager, Kevin Mansu said: “The method of natural regeneration as a technique to reforest deforested and degraded areas of Aitape is not new. PNG Forest Authority with funding from AusAID piloted the technique in the Kandrian Gloucester District of West New Britain. Under this FCA, the role of PNG Forest Authority at no cost to itself is important in supervising and training locals of the Ause area as well as other areas within Aitape, to participate in the managed natural regeneration (reforestation) activities to establish high value species timber plantations”.
Assuming that Ause landowners proceed to registering the 45,000 hectares under the voluntary customary land registration process to obtain State Lease, the whole plantation area could be counted towards PNG Forest Authority target of having 800,000 hectares by 2050, adding on to the areas covered by the below established plantations to date:

  •  Morobe – Bulolo -Wau Pine forest 12,000 hectares
  •  Western Highlands – Wahgi Eucalyptus 2,143 hectares
  •  Eastern Highlands – Lapeigu Pine 2,723 hectares
  •  Eastern Highlands – Fayantina Pine 1,500 hectares
  •  Madang – Gogol Acacia/Eucalyptus 8,000 hectares
  •  West New Britain – Hoskins Mix Hardwoods 12,000 hectares
  •  East New Britain – Open Bay Eucalyptus 13,000 hectares
  •  Central – Brown River Brown River Teak 2,000 hectares
    “The establishment of the above plantation forests does confirm the emerging realization in PNG that the long-term commercial viability of the forestry sector in PNG should not rely solely on the successful regeneration of logged over areas. Instead, establishing a plantation forest estate should be pursued consistent with PNG Government’s commitment to climate change and to sustain the logging industry into the future.
    “The timber yields (annual increments) rates in cubic metres per hectare shown in the PNG Forest Authority BuloloKlinki pine plantation does confirm that harvesting rotations of between 15 and 22 years to achieve harvests of 250 m3 per hectares is possible, compared to what is now estimated to be around 35 m3 per hectare density from natural forests.
    “The success of the plantation forest projects in neighboring countries such as in New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Fiji further attest to the viability and sustainability of the forest industry from plantation forests.
    “A report presented by Tim Curtin titled “ Forestry and Economic Development in Papua New Guinea” reports that plantations forests are profitable but asks “Even the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority (2004) recognizes that its Klinkii pine plantation at Bulolo has yields about ten times larger than those of most natural forest logging operations, at around 250 cubic metres per hectare, why is there no attempt by PNG Forest Authority to either replicate the Bulolo plantation elsewhere on its own account or to encourage plantation forest projects to be established by landowners themselves?
    “A multi sector approach to promoting the plantation forest estates through selective harvesting as opposed to clear felling operations allows for a natural regeneration of replacement mature trees of merchantable sizes available for sustainable harvesting”.
    “PNG Hills Limited in acknowledging this expanded agro forestry project scope and taking into account the PNG Government promotion of sustainable development activities involving a strategic national asset such as the country’s forests, developed the proposal to establish plantation forests.
    “The financial reward schemes available through the UNFCC REDD+ schemes do support the promotion of plantation forests. Remuneration for other forest values such as Carbon sinks (C ) has generated much interest in PNG, particularly as an alternative income source to large-scale timber harvesting. In particular, tropical forests have been recognized for their ability to absorb and store C in forest biomass—an initiative under the UN FCC includes reducing CO2 emissions in developing tropical countries towards international targets using REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
    “REDD+ can potentially offer economic, environmental and social benefits for PNG and, if implemented appropriately, could provide wider social and economic opportunities for indigenous people,” Mansu said.
    The landowners fully support this project proposal, as it will generate employment opportunities and transform their area into a major agro forest plantation area that involves a multi stakeholder ownership.
    Prime Minister, Peter O’Neil had stated in the National REDD + Strategy 2017 – 2027 that PNG is committed to “an alternative mode of development: one that generate growth and improvement in people’s lives in ways that are consistent with the principles of sustainable development”.
    PHL therefore is on track and path in its effort towards establishing a plantation forest in Aitape– that which will compliment other existing plantation forest activities in the country – that will contribute to enhancing forest cover through reforestation and forest rehabilitation and meet the country’s efforts toward a low carbon emission destination in the world.
    Cyril Gare is a freelance writer

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