Changing rural West Sepik

Weekender

The Amanab FMA project area in West Sepik is seeing socio-economic benefits brought about through the development of one of the country’s biggest tropical rainforests. Rural communities who were one isolated now have road access as well as other socio-economic developments through a Project Development Benefit fund.
By MICHAEL LUKONG Jr.

West Sepik is one of the chief timberprocessing provinces in Papua New Guinea. It is also a heavily logged province, where a number of logging companies have been operating there for decades.
One of the major players involved in logging in the province, Amanab Forest Products Limited, aims not only to take out logs but to export processed timber products and at the same time to be involved in a programme of works that will benefit the landowners and the whole province of West Sepik when the logging operation winds down.
The Amanab Forest Products project agreement spells out a maximum harvest per year of 186,000 cubic meters of logs, of which 40,000 cubic meters is for processing locally, an amount which will increase. It was envisaged that by the year 2037 all logs harvested would be for local production, thus fulfilling the aims of the national government’s forest policy.
Amanab Forest Products, being the concession holder for this large forest area, has conducted timber extraction in an environmentally responsible manner with accompanying social and economic benefits for the local people where the company is honouring that commitment.
Amanab Forest Products is operating a policy of reforestation by regeneration, in which the undergrowth is cleared around young trees which will be saleable in the future. Under the terms of its agreement, the company must manage the regeneration of 400 hectares of new forest each year.
Initially, the company in Vaimo TRP area under the name Vanimo Forest Products Limited was operating under a logging concept known as Timber Rights Purchase or TRP where levies were paid through royalties of 100 per cent to the landowners. Over time these royalties were being misused or mismanaged by the landowners themselves.
However, when approval for Amanab forest concession was issued, the Forest Management Agreement or FMA concept was introduced, the royalty was divided in the following ratio; 40 percent cash premium is paid to landowners whilst 60 per cent is kept in a trust fund operated by the Amanab Blocks 1-4 and Imonda Consolidated Project Area Development Committee for the purpose of funding infrastructure and community development projects within the project area.
Project Development Benefit (PDB) is an entity established in 2012 under the Forest Management Agreement concept, with the aim to deliver economic and infrastructure projects for the people to benefit and to improve their quality of life in terms of basic services after logging ceases. It is the first of its kind in the country where logging operations are taking place.
The PDB committee comprises of block representatives from each block – Amanab Blocks 1-4 and Imonda Consolidated FMA Project Area, a women’s representative, technical advisors from different stakeholders, and the provincial administrator who heads the committee as chairman.
Its primary objective is to fund community development projects within Amanab Blocks 1-4 and Imonda Consolidated FMA Project Area to provide minimum service delivery standards through the establishment of basic infrastructure and facilities for essential services such as health, education, law and justice, clean and safe water, roads and bridges and agricultural businesses in the projects areas.
People have always had the negative impression about logging without really looking at the scarcity and unavailability of basic government services in the remotest parts of West Sepik, and how difficult it has been for these people. People walked for weeks just to access basic government services.
Now, through logging operations in those project areas, roads and bridges have been built, which now takes them less than five hours to travel to and from Vanimo town to access basic government services.
The company has constructed and maintained village access roads connecting to the nearest logging roads and the proposed Vanimo-Green Highway. Villages within Blocks 1-4 that the company has constructed roads and bridges are; Moitari, Amini, Kanobasi, Biaka, Green River, Kilifas, Utai, Piemi, Fugumui, Itomi, Watape, Simog and Kwomtari to name a few.
PDB has funded and implemented community development projects where the very basic government services are scarce.
Water is the essence of life, however, these people lack access to clean drinking water for years. People die each day as a result of poor water quality. Water-related diseases, such as cholera, diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid, and other skin-diseases, still represent the single largest cause of human morbidity and mortality. Unlike now, people in these villages have access to an adequate fresh water supply for drinking, bathing and cooking.
PDB has funded water supply projects in most of the project areas, aid posts, teachers’ houses, classrooms, cocoa fermenting sheds, solar lighting system, and cocoa and livestock projects.
The newly built Utai High School was funded by PDB; a high school in this remote part of West Sepik with its ever challenging rugged terrain, where people did not have any access to quality education, now will access quality education.
Another such school, Green River High School, is situated in the Green River LLG. It is a church-administered school run by Christian Brothers and was established in 1989 and one of the top performing high schools in years.
Since its establishment, the school has not received any assistance from the Government or other organisation until Amanab Forest Products, through the Project Development Benefit fund stepped in.
A cattle project in the Block 4 of the project area in the Amanab LLG is venturing into the sale of livestock. The sale of livestock and livestock produce could account for the majority of income derived from agriculture not only in Fugumui village, but also in other project areas like Watape, Utai, and Mafor villages.
Cash cropping is most successful in regions where transport is well developed, where there is a large and expanding domestic market, and opportunities for export exist.
Few cocoa projects in these project areas have huge potential in terms of market and exportation which Indonesia is an alternate option.
Instead of selling the produce at our domestic markets, it is more convenient and reliable exporting overland to Jayapura.
All this is because of the thick virgin forests which cover most of West Sepik’s total land area. These forests contain more than 70 species of fine quality timber, with species such as kwila and pencil cedar being two of the most well-known. Sixty per cent of these 70 species are hardwoods, the rest are semi-hardwoods and softwoods.
By harvesting these people’s resource, the company, the PDB trust fund committee and the West Sepik administration, aim to funding and implementing development projects to sustain their livelihoods.
It is a positive incentive that will drive and encourage more development as far as logging is concerned.

  • Michael Lukong Jr, a freelance writer, recently visited the Amanab FMA area and compiled this report.

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