A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
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Friday, November 30, 2007
Posted 1:47 PM by Tevita
Response to Ms. Lee Tan’s article “Papua New Guinea: Women and Oil Palm” which appeared on the PGR website on the 21st November, 2007.
From : Gina Koczberski
I was moved to respond to the article after hearing that some of the female oil palm smallholders felt denigrated by the article and wanted the facts to be corrected. In the article Ms Lee refers to an oil palm smallholder payment scheme introduced in 1997 at Hoskins, WNB, that pays women separately from their husbands for work on their family oil palm plots. The payment system is known as the ‘Mama Lus Frut Scheme’. Ms Tan’s article asserts that the scheme is “associated with prostitution” and is “reportedly supporting a thriving sex trade”.
Ms Tan claims that:
… women who are desperate for cash provide sex to men in exchange for more loose fruit to be left by the men for them to pick. There are now more women working in the oil palm grove offering an opportunity for a sex trade to take place. This situation has dissuaded genuine women pickers, who fear being tarnished with the same brush, from taking part in the scheme.
The claims made by Ms Tan of a “thriving sex industry” are not based on interviews she conducted among female oil palm smallholders, despite her statement that the “information contained in this article is based on several field trips in Oro and West New Britain Province between 2003 and 2007”. Instead, Ms Tan’s information sources come from email communications with two people and from discussions at an NGO meeting in 2004. One of the main email informants quoted in Ms Tan’s article is Dr. Morgina, an ethnobotanist at UPNG, who informed me that her comments were taken out of context and there was no inference in her communication with Ms Tan that the scheme was linked to a “thriving sex trade” (Dr Morgina pers. comm., 27th November, 2007).
As a researcher who has worked among female oil palm smallholders in WNB and Oro Province since 2000 and interviewed dozens of smallholder women, I have not heard local women or men talk about any links between prostitution and the Mama Lus Fruit scheme. Further, given that at Hoskins over 4,500 women have their own harvesting cards (representing approximately 63% of oil palm blocks) there is also little evidence that women are “dissuaded” from collecting loose fruit because they “fear being tarnished with the same brush [of prostitution] from taking part in the scheme” as claimed by Tan. The income figures used by Tan are also misleading. In 2003 women earned an average weekly income of K49 (OPIC data), almost double the national minimum weekly wage of K24.68 (Bank of Papua New Guinea, 2005) (total household weekly income from oil palm in 2003 was approximately K200). Women’s income is earned from approximately three days work per fortnight collecting loose fruit. Women’s individual income levels in oil palm compare well with other commodity crop earnings in Papua New Guinea. For example, in 2001 the average weekly cocoa income for households growing cocoa was K55 (Omuru et al., 2001). From January to October this year, women at Hoskins have earned K16.2 million (OPIC data), averaging a weekly oil palm income of K109. The income earned by smallholder women in oil palm is a significant achievement in a country like PNG where men typically control the income earned from women’s labour in commodity crop production such as cocoa or coffee.
Prior to the Mama Lus Fruit scheme in 1997 most loose fruit was left to rot on the ground in family oil palm plots as women refused to collect the fruit because their husbands who were paid by the company, did not give them a ‘fair’ share of the income. Women preferred to work on other activities where they had more control over the income – like producing and selling garden foods at local markets. The local agricultural extension services (OPIC) at Hoskins devised the Mama Lus Frut scheme after learning from women that loose fruit collection might be improved if the Milling Company paid them separately for this work on their family plots which would help overcome the unfair distribution of income within the family. OPIC began a trial of paying women separately and the Mama Lus Frut’ scheme was introduced within three months of the trial beginning because of the overwhelming interest and pressure from women to join the trial and obtain their own harvesting cards.
The income women earn from their mama card has given them greater financial autonomy that enables them to better meet their needs and that of their families. Papua New Guinean women carry a large share of the responsibility for childcare, family welfare, household food production, supporting the extended family, and contributing to local church and community groups. The increased access to income has improved women’s capacity to meet these various responsibilities and obligations. The scheme continues to operate successfully: the new payment card has become known locally as the Mama Card, and the original payment card is now called the Papa Card: the new titles defining the ownership of the income. The Mama Card has now been adopted in other oil palm growing areas of PNG (at Popondetta, 90% of smallholder blocks have a Mama Card) and several female extension officers are now employed by OPIC. Rather than being a negative smallholder intervention as suggested by Ms Tan, the Mama Lus Frut Scheme offers a model for some other smallholder commodity crops where payments are typically made to male household heads.
Finally, to conclude my response to Ms. Tan’s article I have reproduced below a statement made by the OPIC-Hoskins agricultural extension Lus Fruit Coordinator and the smallholder representative for ‘lus frut mamas’. As the following extract shows, in an attempt to link the mama lus fruit scheme with prostitution, Ms. Tan has also caused immense distress and shame to the oil palm smallholder women of PNG.
Elizabeth Rawa (OPIC Lus Frut Mama Coordinator) and Elizabeth Warpin (Lus Frut Mama representative)
Mama Lus Fruit Scheme long OPIC HOSKINS ikamapim blong helpim ol meri long rural area long mumutim lus frut. Mipela ol wok meri wantaim ol blok meri (10 mamas) bin wok bung na wok hat long mekim dispela scheme ikamap na nau klostu long 5000 meri igat mama card Hoskins Project.
Lukluk igo bek long wanpela article, wanpela meri name bilong em Ms Lee Tan ibin mekim long namba 21 dei blong mun Novemba (PAPUA NEW GUINEA WOMEN AND OIL PALM).
Mipela ol meri igat mama card, mipela ino hamamas na mipela igat bikpela kros tru long ol toktok dispela meri ibin mekim long mipela. Yu husait meri tru, yu wonem kain meri na yu mekim dispela ol kain toktok long mipela? Yu lukim wok blong mama lus frut long ai blong yu na mekim ol toktok o yu harim nabaot na mekim? Mipela ino ol Pamuk meri na salim bodi blong mipela long kisim lus frut.
Ol dispela toktok yu mekim emi bagarapim culture na ibringim shame long mipela ol meri long PNG, WNB Province especially long “ HOSKINS PROJECT”
Dispela wok blong mama lus frut scheme emi wanpela rot mipela ol meri ihamamas long en bikos emi helpim mipela wantaim ol family blong mipela long wanwan blok blong mipela na tu emi daonim pasin blong “ PAITIM MERI”
Sapos yu laik mekim moni long ol kain article, comments or pepa olsem, yu mas kam long WNB long Hoskins Project na lukim stret long ai kiau blong yu:-
1. how lus frut scheme iwok
2. how ol meri ibenefit long en
3. how ol meri isapotim family.
The Mama Lus Frut Scheme at OPIC Hoskins was introduced to help all the women in the rural areas to collect lus fruit. Working women and block women (10 women) combined and worked hard to make this scheme grow to approximately 5,000 women who have a mama card, Hoskins project.
We refer back to an article by a women, named Ms. Lee Tan written on the 21 November.
Those of us women who have mama cards, we are displeased and very angry about what this women wrote about us. Who are you? What kind of women are you to say this about us? Have you seen the work of the mama lus fruit or do you just say what you hear from gossip? We are not prostitutes who sell our bodies to get lus fruit.
These kinds of remarks you made discredit our culture and bring shame to us PNG women, especially WNB province Hoskins project.
The mothers are happy about the work of collecting lus fruit because that’s one way of helping us and our family on our own blocks and it has also reduced domestic violence.
If you want to make money from this kind of article, comments or paper, you must come to WNB, Hoskins project to see it with your own eyes.
How the lus fruit scheme works.
How all the women benefit from the scheme.
How all the women support their families.
Gina Koczberski, Curtin University of Technology, Perth. For further information email: email@example.com
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