Beautiful Madang Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG) -- long known as the "Jewel of the South Pacific" -- is beginning to be clearcut for half a million hectares of industrial oil palm plantations. This will devastate the region's rainforests, rivers, coral reefs and peoples. The villain is renowned illegal loggers Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia, only now getting aboard the oil palm bandwagon. Madang peoples are vehemently against further rainforest destruction, and are ready to embrace full protection for their rainforests if they can make a living doing so.
Madang's people have a long, tragic history of industrial logging. For decades JANT Corporation of Japan clearfelled primary forests to make cardboard boxes in the Gogol-Nauru, and now bankrupt WTK Realty of Malaysia has harvested much of the Sogeram rainforest. Just behind these already harvested areas lies the mighty Ramu River. There some 500,000 hectares of biodiverse, intact tropical rainforests lie along the Ramu River and between two mighty mountain ranges. The region has been identified as amongst the most biodiverse in Papua New Guinea. The area is sparsely populated.
Most of Madang's local peoples oppose wholesale destruction of their rainforests and way of life, yet have been sold out by their government and a few corrupted leaders to a fierce band of timber mafia. Discontent with industrial logging and Rimbunan Hijau has never been higher, as nationally landowners have joined together in a Supreme Court case to halt their operations nationwide. In Madang, landowners in the Sogeram logging area are petitioning to have their timber permit cancelled to pursue ecotourism and REDD. Ramu logging block 2 has already expelled the loggers and made clear they reject oil palm and logging. Madang landowners are preparing to take all necessary actions to stop the logging.
But the challenge for Papua New Guineans, whose clan based ownership of the land is legally recognized, remains how to find alternative means to meet reasonable development aspirations such as schools, roads and health clinics. Now there is a boom like excitement about real, ecologically vigorous REDD -- which pays to keep standing forests intact. If logging ends in PNG in anticipation of avoided deforestation carbon payments commencing at Copenhagen climate conference at the end of the year, there is a real chance to demonstrate for the world the paradigm of community development based upon intact standing forests.
The time is now to end forever industrial primary forest logging in PNG. Either PNG's industrial forestry for log export and oil palm will permanently end, and methods of benefiting from standing forests derived, or the country faces widespread ecological collapse as its final rainforests are cleared. Over coming months Rainforest Rescue and Ecological Internet will be committing ourselves to affinity campaigns and raising modest funds in support of local protest. Industrial forestry can be ended first in Madang and then throughout PNG, just in time to challenge the international community to fully fund avoided deforestation payments for the nation.
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