Documentary on oil palm slammed

National

A GROUP of customary landowners in Pomio has slammed a TV documentary on their oil palm project and challenged the journalist to reflect back on his country’s own economic development.
They described British journalist Andrew Thomas as “ignorant of the facts”, and asked if his country could be what it is today if it had not converted forested land to farms, cities and factories.
“Perhaps he should check his privilege and allow the people and government of PNG to make their own development choices, and prioritise the livelihoods of citizens over the tender feelings of fly-in journalists and foreign environmental activists,” they said yesterday in a joint statement.
The statement was signed by Memalo Holdings managing director Wesley Pagot, Pomata Investment Ltd chairman James Lutkal, Ralopal Investment Ltd chairman Bruno Tevolmana and Nakiura Ltd chairman Mathew Lila.
They were responding to the documentary aired over Al Jazeera which they said was known for “biased and politically-motivated reporting”.
They also wrote to Lands and Physical Planning Minister Justin Tkatchenko expressing disappointment over the way his comments were reported by the Qatari network.
They reminded the minister that the courts had confirmed on three occasions that their Sigite Mukus oil palm project was legal.
The directors said they were elected by West Pomio customary landowners and over the past few years had worked with a commercial agricultural operator to bring about great economic change.
“We have succeeded in delivering thousands of jobs, millions of kina in royalties and levies, new roads, bridges, aid opportunities and school opportunities.
“For the first time, the people of West Pomio have economic opportunities, better health services and the chance to educate their children.
“Unfortunately, privileged journalists would prefer that we all remain poor and uneducated, and die young,” they said.
They noted that Andrew had commented that the sight of land converted to agriculture was “profoundly depressing”.
“Far more depressing is the fact that in PNG, one in 16 children dies before turning five, and of those that survive, only one quarter attend secondary school,” they said.
They also said it was untrue that PNG’s forests were at risk of disappearing as claimed by the documentary and activists.
They pointed out that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation had reported that more than 80 per cent of the country was covered in trees and there had been zero deforestation since 1990.
“Converting some forested land to agriculture is one of PNG’s stated development goals,” they said.
“Palm oil is not a ‘poor substitute’ for forest – it is an income-generating industry that lifts poor farmers out of poverty and drives broad economic development.”

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