PNG landowners fight timber giant

Issue 

By Asples Madang (People of Madang)

For the past 17 years, JANT Pty Ltd has paid the landowners of the Gogol-Naru in Papua New Guinea's Madang province only K1.18 per cubic metre (K1.00=US1.05) for premium timber — hardwoods that can easily fetch K250 per cubic metre when sold overseas.

In its 17-year history, JANT has exported 3.2 million cubic metres of pulp woodchips and paid K3,841,000 in royalties, a yearly average of K225,941.

This level of exploitation is all the more tragic because these priceless hardwoods are being pulped to make cardboard in Japan. It is the only place in the world where clearfelling of tropical hardwoods is occurring exclusively for wood pulp.

JANT now wants to expand into 17,000 hectares of virgin tropical hardwoods because it has nearly finished chipping its original timber concession of 70,200 hectares. The original agreement stated that by 1985, JANT would no longer need to chip hardwoods because it was going to create 20,000 hectares of plantations. In fact, it has planted only 4900 hectares.

The landowners of the Gogol-Naru, angered by the environmental damage to their land, set up roadblocks in November to blockade JANT's operations. To defuse the situation, JANT and the Madang provincial government made a series of promises during a meeting with landowners, including K5 million as compensation for lack of services provided by the company and an environmental impact assessment of the area.

As a result of these promises and under intense pressure from the provincial government, the landowners removed the blockade. This has resulted in intensified cutting and a complete failure by the government and JANT to follow through on their commitments.

The landowners want compensation for the pillaging of their resources over the last 17 years. It appears likely that JANT and the provincial government will tie any damage claims to negotiations for JANT's two new timber concession applications, a linkage that the landowners reject.

The landowners, together with Asples Madang, are working full time on setting the timetable and strategies for another blockade.

People and organisations are asked to voice their dissatisfaction with JANT to Honshu Paper, its parent company and sole purchaser of its pulp, at the following address: Yoshinobo Yonezawa, President, Honshu Paper, Honshu Building, 5-12-8, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104, Japan.