Sustainable logging for decent housing

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday October 29th, 2015

 FOR a number of years people in the Gogol-Naru area of Madang had an uneasy relationship with a Japanese logging company operating there.

The company logged out virgin forest initially and later established tree plantations under an ownership arrangement with the local communities. Unlike logging operations in other parts of the country, the company harvested logs to feed a mill that produced and exported wood chips for the production of paper and cardboard products.

The relationship between the logging company, the provincial government and the landowners had not been without the occasional confrontation. 

Landowners, led by a few outspoken leaders and activists from outside the immediate area, had time and again, queried why the company was unable to meet expectations such as building permanent roads and bridges for the volumes of tropical timber extracted and for its land use.

The company eventually ceased operations and while a few landowners may be enjoying a legacy of sorts, Gogol and Naru communities in general, are left with very little to be proud of.    

They are but one group of people who felt they were given a raw deal for signing away their forest resources.

In other parts of the country, people were also critical about logging companies because they were seen to be not doing enough for the local communities where they operated. 

Over time, non-governmental organisations and anti-logging activists joined the bandwagon and attacked the industry which was mired in controversy. Logging or forest development these days is still viewed with disdain and suspicion because of the perceived wrongs of a few in the past. 

There is some resistance to logging out of fear that it may lead to rapid deforestation.

Ironically, a Japanese agency has shown from a study that Papua New Guinea’s forest resources remain generally in good health. 

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which recently released a study which says that more than 80 per cent of the country is still covered by forest.

Contrary to concerns of large scale loss of forests through logging and agriculture, JICA asserts through the use of satellite sensing, that there had been no significant deforestation in PNG over the past 25 years. JICA’s analysis has been endorsed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Bob Tate, executive director of the PNG Forest Industry Association described the revelations of the agency’s study as good news saying this was the first full inventory ever undertake of the country’s forests.

“This latest research finding indicates that sustainable forest management has been practised and has demonstrated to be successful but concerns about deforestation have largely been exaggerated,” Tate said.

In further good news Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told the third APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Forestry in Port Moresby on Tuesday that the PNG government intended to end round log exports as part of measures to ensure sustainability in the forestry sector.

O’Neill admitted past mistakes by governments and developers but assured the meeting that this government was now creating a more sustainable industry.

PNG holds more than 38 million hectares of forest cover which is equivalent to 80 per cent of the total land mass.

Minister for Forests Douglas Tomuriesa told the meeting that the country’s forests were home to 85 per cent of the country’s population who constitute some of the world’s last remaining forest-dependent societies. The forests are therefore vital not only for sustaining lives but in a global context contribute to mitigating climate change.

The announcement by the Government to ban round log exports is welcome and should greater sustainable forest development that should also include selective logging either on a commercial scale or micro-mill operations to benefit resource owners.

Where village communities do not have the financial capacity, LLGs, provincial governments of parliamentarians who have control over public funds should assist villagers build homes or other infrastructure using their local resources. 

This is already happening in parts of the country where community-based-organisations, LLGs or provincial governments have assisted in purchasing portable mills for people to produce their own timber to build affordable, permanent homes.

This should be an important aspect of sustainable forest development because besides other benefits, it would mean decent housing for the resource owners.