Twenty members of community based organisations from Momase Region who deal with issues affecting the environment are undergoing a three-day workshop facilitated by the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights, or CELCOR.
CELCOR is a non-government organisation that aims to increase the understanding of land rights and sustainable resource management as an approach to address environmental issues.
CELCOR Policy Lawyer did a presentation on the Lands Act that includes customary and alienated land that has been acquired from customary landowners by the Government and is no longer regarded as a customary land.
Over the past years, 3% of the land in Papua New Guinea was owned by the government while 97% was owned by customary landowners. However, it has decreased to 86% because of the Special Agriculture Business Lease, or SABL – one of the topics covered in the workshop.
The Special Agriculture Business Lease are being used by foreign companies with the support of politicians and public servants to acquire a 99-year land lease from the customary land owners for activities such as logging and mining.
The SABL was introduced in 1979 with the understanding of allowing customary landowners to enter into formal agriculture projects on their own land. For many years it was not used and when it was utilised, it was only for small coffee and cocoa plantation.
The number of SABLs increased until 2007, when the Forestry Act was amended that opened the doors for foreign companies to use the SABL system to acquire customary land from the landowners. Today, most customary landowners, especially in the remote and rural areas have lost rights to their own land while being promised by their government that they would be given better education, health services and infrastructure.
By Julie Badui Owa – EMTV News, Lae