Papua New Guinea: community managed forests

Sep Galeva is from Papua New Guinea and is the head of Lake Murray’s Kuni tribe. Sep shared the story of the fight which began in the early 2000s in the western province of Papua New Guinea.

Sep shared the general lay-out of Papua New Guinea and that of Lake Murray. Ninety seven percent of the land area of Papua New Guinea still is customary land owned by the people.  This lush land with more than 700 recognised culturally and physically distinct peoples, each with their own language and traditional culture, used to have traditional landowners exercising sustainable forest management with little interference from outside.

Sep lives in the Lake Murray area which is the largest lake in Papua New Guinea with a population of about 5,000 people scattered in small village on the islands surrounding Lake Murray. The lake is a source of nourishment for many of the local people and for the lush forestal area surrounding Lake Murray.

In the late 90s to early 2000s, more and more foreign companies entered the country to carry out massive industrial logging, primarily for round-log exports, in pristine areas of Lake Murray without regard for sustainable forest management practices. Companies indiscriminately logged timber without consent from the landowners. Notorious of these companies are Rimbunan Hijau and Samling (both Malaysian owned companies), and Concord Pacific.

These companies continued to ravage the forests, destroyed everything in their path to grab the most valuable logs that were then shipped abroad to be processed. Around 100,000 hectares of ancient forest was degraded by logging along the Kiunga-Aiambak road project.  Sep also spoke about the human rights abuses by the police, women raped at gunpoint, laws broken by logging operators and others. A lawsuit was also filed against the company for the human rights violations and illegal timber logging practices.

Despite the problems faced in his community, Sep led his people to shun industrial logging and instead adopt community-based forest management as this would improve the livelihoods of the people.

Around this time, Sep and other community members and islanders started to have capacity building and education awareness programs on sustainable management of forests. Parallel to this, the Lake Murray communities, together with Greenpeace, fought against Concord Pacific through legal means and through a global campaign. By 2003, Concord Pacific was successfully forced out of the area.

Today, the community manages its own forests and now have 3 sawmills. They have just sent their community-managed timber shipment to Australia. The communities have strict codes in the management and logging of the trees and have shared learnings with other islanders.

They are encouraging eco-tourism, fish farming in freshwater lake and other community solutions to ensure they continue to keep their land within the community. At the end of his sharing, he appealed to the Malaysian Government to see the suffering of the people who are and have been oppressed by Malaysian owned timber companies and stop the felling of trees in Papua New Guinea.