On Our Land: Modern Land Grabs Reversing Independence in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages and over 600 islands. Among its many natural treasures, a unique asset is its rainforest, the third largest in the world and home to endangered wildlife, plants, and diverse groups of people.
It has been said that PNG has the most equal distribution of land on earth. The country’s constitution protects customary land rights and there is virtually no private ownership. Land is almost entirely controlled by clans and tribes. The constitution sets self-reliance, sovereignty, and the sustainable management of natural resources as overarching principles for the country.
Yet, even with these legal protections, a massive land rush is currently taking place in the country. In recent years, 12 percent of the country, 5.5 million hectares, has been leased out to foreign corporations. Dozens of foreign companies have signed land deals under a government scheme called Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). Ostensibly formed to launch agricultural projects, these firms appear to be mostly occupied with harvesting timber that is then exported to overseas markets. With the SABL scheme, foreign companies have found a new and relatively easy way to open new areas for logging.