by Edwin Fidelis – EM TV News, Kokopo
More than 12 families are now living without a proper home after they were forcefully evicted from their land.
Their blocks of cocoa trees and food gardens were also completely destroyed.
The incident has been happening over the last four months, in a remote location in the inland Baining LLG of East New Britain province.
It was not reported on the media until recently when the impacts of the oil palm project began affecting the lives of those who are displaced.
This comes after a foreign oil palm developer was tasked by a Baining Landowner group to plant oil palm in the area.
EM TV News was taken into the newly established oil palm field that stretches for more than 60 hectares, in Mandres, the Inland Baining area of East New Britain province.
Locals who run the farm keep the area under strict routine checks to prevent unauthorized entry… but there wasn’t any security when EM TV News got there.
An area which used to be a churchyard, had its church pulled down recently, to make way for the oil palm development.
And, further down to the coast, for the eye to see, is a vast pocket of untouched environment that once used to be large hunting and fishing grounds.
There used to be a small community of about 500 men, women and children who once lived here.
Each family owns a little over a hectare of land that they used to grow cocoa.
Today, what’s left of it is a cleared piece of land planted with oil palm.
In 2014, the landowners in this area began diversifying their cocoa operations to include oil palm farming.
Recently, they allowed a locally based Asian oil palm developer, Jen Niugini, to clear the forests and plant oil palm in the area.
The result of the development has brought with it challenges to the Baining people.
Earlier this year when the work began, the group of people who grew cocoa were asked to give away their land to plant oil palm instead. Those who resisted were evicted, and their cocoa blocks, food gardens and homes were demolished.
Those evicted forcefully were settlers, who arrived in the area in the 1970’s as labourers to work in cocoa and coconut plantations.
Michael Mone is from Southern Highlands but had since lived here for the last 45 years.
He owns a piece of land that was given to him by the landowners.
Michael says if he opposes the oil palm development on his piece of land, he too will be evicted.
Michael says, “At least 12 families have been evicted from this area since January. Their cocoa blocks, fermentries, homes and food gardens were destroyed.”
At the far end of the oil palm field, EM TV News found Caroline Kande. Her 1.5-hectare of cocoa block that once used to be her income earner was razed to the ground.
The people here have been suppressed to speak openly as they are outnumbered by their rival faction, who prefer oil palm to cocoa, they say.
In the last 4 months their concerns raised to the provincial authorities have achieved very little results.
Meanwhile, the oil palm development continues to move towards the hinterlands of Mandres, Kulit Radingi and Kamanakam.
In these areas, there are many more families who live along the ridges, and are also expected to go through this similar situation.