By PISAI GUMAR
HIDDEN riches in the Wafi mountains in Morobe are about to shine a light upon the surrounding tribes of Hengambu, Yanta and Babuaf.
These communities lie west of Lae in the hinterlands of Wampar LLG of Huon Gulf and and Mumeng LLG of Bulolo.
The soon to be mined gold and copper could make Wafi the proverbial land of milk and honey but for some reason that is a concern to Wale-Babuaf Landowner Association chairman Thomas Nen and Huon Gulf MP Ross Seymour.
It is also a concern to Yanta and Hengambu landowners in Mumeng as well as Bulolo district administrator Tae Gwambelek and MP Sam Basil.
The concerns are chiefly related to lasting benefits for the locals and ensuring that they do no miss out on any economic opportunities.
Mining in Wafi is expected to offer various benefits in employment, spin-off activities and royalty gains to landowners and also contribute to provincial and national government revenue.
However, the riches and the resulting wealth expected will inevitably impact the livelihoods of the locals in both good and bad ways.
Understanding the long term impacts of the project, Nen had negotiated with Huon Gulf District Development Services (HGDDS), the district’s business arm for partnerships in community participation.
More ground work is needed to mobilise and prepare communities before actual mining operations commence.
Therefore Wale-Babuaf and HGDDS formed a joint venture after formal negotiations to work in partnership to construct access roads to link four Babuaf villages – Kapumung, Wongkins, Wori and Mazim.
The HGDDS leased a bulldozer and an excavator to signify beginning of the JV with Babuaf.
A PMV truck purchased from district services fund (DSIP) was also given to serve local fresh food producers and cocoa farmers.
Seymour also pledged an ambulance to be based at Wongkins Aid Post, a chainsaw to the primary school and K50,000 to Maralina church building.
These villages are located northwest of Exploration License 1105, the entry to the anticipated mine tunnel.
The 13 Lower Watut communities residing either side of Watut River have lacked basic health, education and road links to Lae for years.
People have been risking lives to travel to and from Lae using motorised canoes until Seymour provided funding for the the constructing a road from Mafanazo to Tsiletsile during his first term.
With the JV initiative, Nen has no doubt HGDDS would work to alleviate some of the issues faced by the community. The road access in particular would be a catalyst to socio-economy activity flourishing in the area.
The developer Wafi Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV) has already spent millions of kina during the feasibility and pre-feasibility studies period.
Similarly, millions will be spent on construction and the waste disposal pipeline from the mine site to Lae.
As a result coastline communities of Labuta (Bukawa) and Salamaua that rely on marine products in Huon Gulf would also be affected.
Seymour and Nen remain united and want to lead their people in Wampar. On June 8 they launched road construction equipment at the Babul community centre.
Not only is the Wale-Babuaf community focusing on mining-related benefits like royalties but also in agriculture.
The community recently initiated the Wames cocoa nursery station that is aimed at supplying cocoa pod borer-free seedlings to farmers.
Cocoa production is expected to in Lower Watut and Morobe after necessary resources are in place on the ground.
The cocoa nursery station is an entity of Babuaf Development Ltd, the business arm of Wale-Babuaf Landowners Association in Wafi.
Michael Toliman is the station manager at the cocoa nursery and takes the lead in the cocoa bud wood garden.
The nursery is supported i=by Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture (WGJV), the mine developer of the Wafi gold-copper project.
The bud wood garden has 18 cocoa varieties that are promoted by the PNG Cocoa Board.
“We have four hectares of cocoa bud wood garden and four hectares of galip nut garden,” Toliman said.
The seedlings from 18 varieties are planted, grafted, cloned and are nurtured in nurseries for a while before distribution to farmers.
“On an average, a farmer with one hectare land will plant 676 cocoa trees that will give him or her 23 bags (per year),” Toliman said.
With current cocoa selling price of K470 per bag in Lae, a farmer is expected to earn K10,810 from 23 bags.
The cocoa nursery is the result of a survey conducted by WGJV to identify cash crops that can enhance the local economy in Kapumung, Wongkins, Wori and Mazim. Cocoa was selected as the most suitable crop.
It is anticipated that Babuaf cocoa cooperative will work in partnership with nine other Lower Watut villages that receive support from WGJV.
The Yanta, Hengambu and Babuaf are permanent landowner partners with WGJV.
The three landowner groups are also conscious about illegitimate groups using their landowner name to form illegal groups without landowner consent to access funds from government and commercial banks.
Babuaf chiefs Judah Utin and Simeon Guruf, women’s leader Linda Ipang, Nen, Seymour and his wife Marie, acting district administrator Moses Wanga and a representative from the mining company attended the launching on June 8.
Utin was impressed with the progress made by the Wafi joint venture and urged all Lower Watut elites to unite and work together to realise positive changes in their areas.
From her own pocket Marie Seymour gave K1,000 each to the local women’s group and the primary school after the launching.
Nen said was it was the first ever joint venture created by the mining landowner association and the HGDDS to work together.
“Our priority in road construction will pave the way for spin-off activities to thrive including health, education and small economy activities to enhance human livelihoods in Lower Watut,” Nen said.
“We also have interests to work with Coastal Freighters Ltd in freighting cargoes because it is our local Wampar company with reputable experience.”
Nen said the JV with HGDDS was based on landowners’ community development plan to take lead and enlist the assistance of the investor.
“We are happy to confirm from WGJV general manager sustainability and external relations David Wissink that Golpu-Wafi Development Corporation (GWDC) is the only recognised umbrella company for Babuaf, Yanta and Hengambu,” Nen said.
By PISAI GUMAR