A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
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Sunday, October 15, 2006
Posted 2:24 PM by Luigi
PNG forests lost in the spin cycle
Multinational loggers in Papua New Guinea have called in the public relations flacks, write Don Henry and Steve Shallhorn in The Australian. Don Henry is executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Steve Shallhorn is chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
WHAT do you do when your logging company can't shake off continuing negative publicity about illegal logging and human rights abuses, generated by a never-ending series of reports by international financial institutions, aid donors, journalists and non-government organisations?If you are multinational logger Rimbunan Hijau, you call in a team of Australian spin doctors to give the company a makeover.
Rimbunan Hijau, a company controlled by Malaysian billionaire Hiew King Tiong, dominates forestry in Papua New Guinea. The company and its subsidiaries run five of PNG's 12 largest logging projects, the country's biggest sawmill and its only veneer plant. So when evidence continues to show most logging in PNG is illegal and unsustainable, fingers inevitably start pointing at Rimbunan Hijau.
Everyone loses from illegal logging except, presumably, the loggers. The environment is exploited beyond recovery, forest-dwelling communities lose their sources of food and are left with no lasting benefits. Governments are deprived of royalties and timber producers in countries such as Australia are forced to compete with cheap illegal imports.
A recent World Bank report estimates up to 70 per cent of logging in PNG is illegal. We believe it could be as much as 90 per cent. Independent reports and studies by the UK Timber Trade Federation, PNG's Ombudsman Commission, the PNG Department of Labour and numerous non-government organisations have raised serious questions about the legality and sustainability of large-scale logging in PNG.
Rimbunan Hijau's response has not been to clean up its act but to attempt to clean up its image. The company has engaged Australian consultant ITS Global, headed by Alan Oxley, an associate of industry-funded think tank the Institute for Public Affairs. It has put together three reports for Rimbunan Hijau this year, defending the company's activities in PNG and attacking those who question them.
Unfortunately, the consultant's method is merely to blame others for the problems swirling around the logging industry. It's either PNG's fault ("There have been irregularities in forestry administration, as expected in a low-income developing country," Oxley wrote in Inquirer on September 16), or it's the forest communities that are to blame ("landowner aspirations are often very short-term and focus on consuming monetary benefits only," Rimbunan Hijau's PNG director James Lau was quoted in an ITS Global report). Or it's the NGOs.
It's a tried and true stalling tactic. You could call it "talk and log": keep arguing the issues and keep cutting down trees. After all, it is much easier to attack others than to address the deep-rooted problems of illegal logging in PNG. But in the meantime the forests, the landowners who rely on the forests for survival and the PNG economy suffer.
A recent court decision in PNG suggests big loggers would be wise to start paying more attention to the complaints of landowners. PNG's Post Courier reported in August that the National Court had ordered Rimbunan Hijau and its subsidiary Pinpar to pay 3.17 million kina (about $1.5 million) in damages over a logging project in Rigo, Central Province, that turned ugly.
Contrary to the consultant's claims, conservationists are not against development in PNG. Indeed, ridding PNG of illegal and destructive logging will strengthen the country's economy. There are far greater future economic opportunities in ethical timber extraction. Consumer demand means an increasing number of countries import only timber that can be verified as legally and responsibly logged. The British Timber Trade Federation has warned its members not to purchase timber originating from PNG and Solomon Islands because "our own investigations found that little evidence can be obtained to give even a minimum guarantee of legality. Any wood from these countries must therefore be deemed very high-risk."
If PNG does not get wise to this international reality, its markets will quickly dry up.
Large-scale forestry can continue to operate in PNG, but it will survive only if it meets internationally recognised and credible third-party certification standards.
And, although big business consultants don't like to hear it, medium and small-scale operations will also be part of the solution.
Eco-forestry causes minimal damage to the bush and the money made from just one tree can pay a child's school fees for a year.
Unlike the existing dominant industrial logging model, the profits stay with the local communities.
Governments can - and must - act to make a difference. The PNG Government needs to set up an independent, high-level inquiry into the persistent problems plaguing large-scale logging in the country. PNG should also put a ban on new logging permits and the renewal or extension of permits until the appropriate mechanisms, legislation, institutions and enforcement capacity are established to properly oversee a sustainable timber industry.
Australia has a deep interest in helping PNG clean up its logging industry. Apart from any good-neighbour obligations, the well-established links between illegal logging, corruption and poor governance make an out-of-control timber industry in PNG a threat to regional stability. As a leading aid donor, Australia can ensure future aid funding and assistance to PNG's forestry sector is linked to measures that will lessen the damage large-scale logging does to human rights, regional security and the environment.
As a timber importer, Australia can ban the import of illegal timber and wood products, introduce a robust definition of legality and phase in internationally recognised third-party certification for all imports in the next two years.
The only reports that have given the PNG logging industry a clean bill of health are the ones written by ITS Global and paid for by Rimbunan Hijau. Who is telling the truth about logging in PNG? The World Bank, the British Timber Trade Federation, Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the PNG Ombudsman Commission? Or the consultant hired by a logging company?
Ultimately, people will make up their own minds. Now the Australian Government must make up its mind about whether it will continue to allow the importation of illegal and destructively logged timber.
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