Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Eco-Forestry in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea

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In the late 1990's an NGO-supported eco-forestry movement sought to empower and benefit Papua New Guinea's (PNG) customary landowners interested in developing forest resources[1]. Eco-forestry projects established small-scale community-based forest enterprises, harvesting timber using portable sawmills[1]. This case study focuses on the eco-forestry projects supported by the Foundation for People and Community Development (FPCD) in Madang Province (Madang), PNG between 1998 and 2006. Discussing complications of the land tenure system, identifying stakeholder groups and assessing access to forest resources, this wiki page concludes that the long-term viability of eco-forestry in Madang requires on-going support from the Government of Papua New Guinea (Government). Recommendations, targeting customary landowners and the Government highlight the value in repairing fragile political relationships to achieve sustainable economic development in PNG.


Papua New Guinea's Forest Industry: An Overview

PNG's economy is largely dependant on extraction of natural resources such as tropical timber [2]. In 2006, various forest types covered more than 80 percent of the country's land, offering lucrative business and development opportunities[3]. The Government, customary landowners and foreign-owned logging companies are major players in PNG's forest industry. Owning 97 percent[3] of the land in PNG, customary landowners reside in rural areas, fronting the challenges of limited economic opportunity in addition to sparse health and education facilities [2]. Undermined by the Government, customary landowners have little power in the development of their own forest resources[4]. In fact, customary landowners interested in developing timber resources gain support uniting to create a civil society group that becomes backed by funding offered by donor organizations[5]. As allies, the Government and foreign-owned logging companies dominate the forest industry, characterized by large-scale timber extraction[4]. The Government is instrumental, orchestrating a process in which foreign logging companies earn massive profits, exploiting PNG's forests at the expense of customary landowners.

Political Context

In PNG there is historical and on-going tension between the Government and civil society including customary landowners. This fragile relationship undermines cooperation in the forest industry; social, cultural and traditional values do not align with Government's views and objectives. Many of PNG's citizens belong to indigenous tribes. Tribes have their own social structures where customary law impacts and regulates social conduct and behaviour[6]. Perceived as an enemy, citizens have little respect for their Government[7].The Government, established in 1975, much after the existence of PNG's tribes, has struggled to assert its control over citizens [6]. Forcing cooperation from its citizens, the Government has embraced corrupt and violent practices; police systems have evolved to include raids and displays of power with incidents of death, abuse, property destruction and theft[6]. There is evidence that corruption has trickled down to the forest industry as reports uncover transfer pricing and mismanagement where customary landowners are cheated of their profits[6].

Defining Eco-Forestry

The original definition of community forestry offered by the FAO in 1978 resembles goals of eco-forestry in Madang. In this situation, eco-forestry engages local citizens in forest activities, generating income, processing timber at a small industry level[8].Characteristics of eco-forestry are comparable to the objectives of community forestry. Eco-forestry in Madang also suits Menzies' (2007) global south definition of community forestry. In Madang, customary landowners attempt to protect their forest resources and eco-forestry serves as a reaction to increased Government control over forests, where industrial and commercial interests are prioritized[9].

In 2004, eco-forestry is defined by PNG's Eco Forestry Forum as achieving development without destruction; forest resources are sustainably managed, providing maximum benefit to current and future generations of traditional resource owners[1].

File:Madang province.png
Madang Province, Papua New Guinea

Eco-Forestry as Portable Saw Milling Operations in Papua New Guinea

Eco-Forestry in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, 1997-2007

The province of Madang, located on PNG's northern coast, is characterized by mountainous terrain, fertile soil and a variety of forest types [3].Human settlements are remote and livelihoods depend on the land and its resources [3]. Madang's forest industry resembles that of PNG; large-scale and foreign-owned logging operations dominate, harvesting and exporting round logs to international markets[3]. Several large-scale logging concessions exist in Madang including one clear-cutting operation that has contributed to widespread social disharmony and environmental destruction [4]. This case study will investigate eco-forestry as an alternative to the predominant model of forest development, where portable saw milling operations sustainably harvest, produce and export timber products. A 2007 report suggests that several eco-forestry initiatives have been implemented in Madang during the 1990 to mid-2000 time period[1]. This case study will focus on a portable saw milling operation supported by the FPCD between 1998 and 2007. The literature indicates that this eco-forestry program operated until 2007 and a Greenpeace article suggests that the project continued in 2013 however, it is unclear if the initiative is on-going in 2017.

Tenure arrangements

Customary Land Tenure

In PNG, 97 percent of the land is held under Customary title while the remaining 3 percent is held under alienated title[10]. Collectively owned by a tribe or tribes (where there are overlapping claims to land), customary land serves to safeguard on-going survival of a tribe[10]. Customary land is collectively owned; individual members hold the right to use and occupy the land[10]. There are verbal agreements that dictate land/resource use and outline penalties for infringements[10]. Customary landowners have a unique relationship with the land; they believe it the foundation of nationality as individual communities are linked to specific landscapes[7]. To customary landowners, land cannot be commodified and in their view, the permanent sale or transfer of land is a loss of identity[7].

Colonial views impose that customary land tenure challenges economic prosperity by impeding development[5]. Unlike other land tenure arrangements, customary land is not an economic good that can be traded amongst individuals and business entities [10]. Development traditionally demands land tenure conversion as freehold or leasehold tenure support trade and investment[11]. Freehold tenure is problematic, allowing Government to alienate land from customary landowners and communities become displaced or landless[12]. Customary landowners are rightfully reluctant to this type of land conversion, historically causing social disharmony in PNG when land was alienated for the establishment of plantations in the colonial era [13]. Cash poor, customary landowners fall victim as the Government pressures them to give up their land supporting large-scale logging activities[4]. Removing title to land dissolves customary landowners' control over forest resources and participation in development activities; they become forced spectators, collecting royalties from industrial timber extraction[7]. To add further complication, customary landowners do not benefit financially, selling or leasing their land to developers or the Government. [14]. They tend to under value the cost of their land, possess little knowledge and experience managing leases and mortgages [14].

Administrative arrangements

The Forestry Act, 1991

The Forestry Act 1991 (Forestry Act) represents an attempt to reform PNG's forest industry responding to revealed incidence of corruption, malpractice and poor forest management in 1989[3]. Objectives of the Forestry Act 1991 seek to empower customary landowners, increase employment opportunities and conserve forest resources[1]. The Forestry Act additionally prioritizes consultation and consent from customary landowners[4].The Forestry Act creates the highest decision making authority: the National Forestry Board (the Board)[3]. Comprised of individuals representing the government, industry, and NGO's the Board must ensure that best interests of citizens and the environment are upheld within the forest industry[3]. The Forestry Act additionally establishes 19 Provincial Forest Management Committees (Provincial Committee), developing provincial-scale forestry plans and coordinating management between national and provincial tiers of government in addition to special interest groups[4]. Although representatives of the Provincial Committees include two landowners and one individual from an environmental NGO, government representation remains the majority[4]. On paper, the Forestry Act seems just however, it has been noted that provisions of the Forestry Act have not been successfully implemented and customary landowners have been largely uninvolved in the forest industry where most logging operations remain foreign-owned[4].

Amendments to the Forestry Act, 2005

The amendment Forestry Bill of 2005 (Forestry Bill) nullifies good intentions of the Forestry Act, increasing political control while reducing customary landowner rights[4]. The Forestry Bill allocated new rights to foreign logging companies, promoting unsustainable logging practices[3].It is odd that the Forestry Bill was passed by parliament despite public outrage, including clauses that were inserted without the knowledge of the Board, the highest decision-making authority in the forest sector.[4]. The Forestry Bill modified the Board, increasing government representation in the Board[4]. Consultation processes are vaguely addressed in the Forestry Bill making the process of customary landowner participation become unclear[4].

Eco-Forestry Activities Demand a Timber Permit

In theory, customary landowners do not lack title however, their rights are limited in practice. In order to harvest timber on their own land, customary landowners must apply for and obtain a government-issued permit[4]. Considering the remote location of most communities in Madang it is difficult to obtain the necessary permit[4]. Trips to government offices are long, requiring several days to complete[4]. There is no guarantee that a forestry officer is present once a landowner arrives to the appropriate government office[4]. Meeting with a forestry officer may require several trips to the government office, exhausting time and financial resources required to travel[4]. Once a permit is obtained challenges ensue as issues of illiteracy and limited knowledge of forest laws disadvantage customary landowners, discussing matters with forest officers and government/industry representatives[4].


Interested and Affected Stakeholders, Eco-forestry, Mandang Province, Papua New Guinea

The Madang Forest Resource Owners Association

Affected stakeholders interested in developing their own forest resources, customary landowners, unified, to establish the Madang Forest Resource Owners Association (MFROA) in 1997 [4]. To become a member of the MFROA, an individual must be a forest resource owner in Madang, committed to doing forestry work using his or her own respective resources [4]. Individually, customary landowners have little power however, the establishment of the MFROA increases power by numbers and gives voice on a larger scale. With local and regional influence, the MFROA's interests include earning income and managing/controlling their own forest resources. With high interest, the MFROA initiated eco-forestry projects, seeking assistance from the FPCD in 1998[4]. .


The FPCD's mission is to support citizens of PNG, developing and managing forest resources, achieving environmental, economic and social benefits[1]. The FPCD increased the MFORA's power and influenced outcomes of the eco-forestry project, providing financial and technical support[1]. Greenpeace and the Imported Tropical Timber Group (ITTG) assisted in exporting timber from the MFROA's small forest enterprise to international markets in New Zealand[1]. NGO's, the FPCD, Greenpeace and ITTG have high interest in the success of Madang's eco-forestry projects. Their power is less limited than the MFROA, yet less forceful than foreign logging companies backed by government support.

The Government of Papua New Guinea and Foreign-owned Logging Companies

A highly powerful figure, the Government seeks to achieve economic development, favouring large-scale timber harvesting[1]. The Government has local, regional and national influence and uses its authority to enact laws undermining eco-forestry initiatives. For example, The National Forest Policy, 1991 failed to support eco-forestry and there have not been any strategies assisting small-scale saw milling enterprises[1]. A brief Eco-Forestry Program ended in 2006 and a National Eco-Forestry Policy failed to be endorsed by parliament[1]. Looking to expand its control over forests, accessing rights to timber from customary owners and encouraging developers to assume projects, it is clear that the Government has negligible interest in eco-forestry[1]. Comparably, foreign-owned logging companies have no interest in eco-forestry and their sole priorities point to massive profits. As powerful actors, foreign-owned logging companies have no regard for environmental outcomes; development does not include formal environmental plans and social, traditional, and cultural values remain overlooked [3].


Small Successes and Major Challenges

Successes of eco-forestry initiatives in Madang offered an alternative to large-scale logging operations backed by Government support. Practical and sustainable, portable saw milling operations achieved social development offering business opportunities and generating income. Customary landowners were genuinely interested in the training programs offered by the FPCD and local timber processing retained revenues in PNG[3].

From the literature, several challenges threatening the long-term viability of the MFROA's eco-forestry program can be identified including:

  • Poor governance and policy implementation;
  • Lack of knowledge;
  • Priority to short term gains of large-scale logging vs. long-term benefits of eco-forestry;
  • Limited financial capital;
  • Insufficient training and development opportunities; and
  • Pressure to engage in illegal logging

All identified challenges could have been alleviated, mitigated or managed if the Government had provided support services rather than acquiring the rights of landowners, allocating forest resources to companies offering the highest bids[4]. Dynamics between the Government and customary landowners in Madang resemble situations in other countries including the Ekuri Forest Community in Nigeria and the rural community of Nambaradougou, Senegal. Comparably, in these situations, the Government undermines citizens belonging to rural and forests-dependant communities, increasing its power, acquiring and asserting several means to access forest resources. Robot and Peluso (2003) conclude the ability to access resources extends beyond property relations; access to capital, technology, authority and information are powerful tools shaping a stakeholder's ability to benefit from natural resources[15]. This section uses Ribot and Peso's article to guide an assessment determining the extent to which the Government and the MFROA's can access and benefit from forest resources in Madang.

Analyzing Access to Forest Resources

Although customary landowners represented by MFROA hold "rights-based access" to forest resources in Madang, they require government support, enforcing this claim to ensure the long-term viability of eco-forestry[15]. The FPCD temporarily empowered the MFROA, increasing the necessary capital, technology, and knowledge to establish the portable saw milling enterprise[1]. The FPCD facilitated capacity-building seminars in topics including business and forest management, sawmill operations and maintenance[4]. Furthermore, the FPCD promoted self-reliance, administering courses in good governance to community leaders[4]. The FPCD additionally allowed community members to use their sawmills until the group could save enough to purchase their own[3]. In 2007, Greenpeace and the ITTG increased the MFROA's access to markets, arranging the export of MFROA-produced "eco-timber" to New Zealand[1]. Even though the three NGO's groups involved in Madang's eco-forestry initiatives were instrumental, attempting to level the playing field for customary landowners, it is largely impossible for the MFROA to be self-reliant without support from the Government.

In PNG, government-business alliances ensure increased profits and privileged access to production, markets and labour[15]. Employing coercion and deception, the Government illegally accesses and benefits from forest resources[15]. Similarities exist in Nambaradougou, Senegal where the community is unable to profit from commercial forest exploitation; Rural Council Presidents, intimidated and threatened by authorities, felt that they had no choice but to sign off on charcoal production [16].Together, the Government and foreign-logging companies are extremely powerful. Large-scale logging uses advanced technology and equipment and the foreign nature of logging companies increases access to markets overseas. The Government's authority enables foreign logging companies, creating and enforcing laws such as the 2005 amendments to the Forestry Act.


The Madang Forest Resources Association and NGO's

Solidarity gives voice to customary landowners. Members of the MFROA must continue to organize themselves, using support mechanisms such as the courts, garnering attention to challenges including insecure property rights[16]. Unity demands that the MFROA continue developing and enhancing institutions at the community-level, setting goals and means to manage and resolve inter-community conflicts[17]. Social-cohesion is necessary and community-agreed defences against external pressures[18] to participate in for example, illegal logging must be determined and the ability to represent group interests on a larger social and political scale should be enhanced[17]. It is additionally necessary that customary landowners demand consultation and free prior and informed consent as deals continue to be negotiated between the Government and foreign logging companies[19]. As allies with legitimacy in policy circles NGO's have great influence that can affect change, benefitting the MGROA[16]. Garnering national and international media attention, NGOs, including Greenpeace, possess substantial power to pressure the Government, attempting to ignite a shift away from inequitable and unsustainable means achieving economic development.

The Government of Papua New Guinea

The Government must mend its history of an uneasy relationship with PNG's citizens, prioritizing principles of sustainable and inclusive development that incorporate the indigenous world view of customary land owners. A space for new and cultural knowledge must be recognized, reconciling historical tensions for a shared future[20]. Second to this, decentralization is imperative, shifting power to customary landowners, minimizing their vulnerability to players higher up in the government. Ensuring success, this transfer of powers must be enforced and respected by political actors. Recognizing that the MFROA require backing from publically-funded institutions, providing access to legal and administrative support, a final recommendation calls for the provisions of on-going Government support services.[21]. Examples of support institutions, providing necessary expertise and advice on decision-making point to the Native Title Representative Body in Australia, providing support in indigenous claims to title[21].


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Bun, Y. A., & Scheyvens, H. (2007). Forest Certification in Papua New Guinea: Progress, Prospects and Challenges. Kanazawa, Japan: Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, 1-26
  2. 2.0 2.1 The World Bank (n.d.). The World Bank in Papua New Guinea. Retrieved December 3, 2017, from
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Bun, Y. A., & Baput, B. (2006). Community Forestry Benefits Customary Landowners: Case Study on Madang Province Papua New Guinea. Madang, Papua New Guinea: the Foundation for People and Community Development, 1-38.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 Bun, Y.A. (n.d.). Community based forestry experience in Madang, Papua New Guinea - Governance and Decentralisation. 1-21. Madang
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bun, Y. A. (2012). Current Forestry Laws do Not Allow Papua New Guineans to Develop Their Own Forest Resources. Port Moresby
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Sinclair, D. (1991). Law, Order and State in Papua New Guinea. State, Society and Governance in Melanesia, 97(1), 1–13
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Ballard, C. (1997). It's the Land, Stupid! The Moral Economy of Resource Ownership in Papua New Guinea in Larmour, P. (Ed.), The Governance of Common Property in the Pacific Region (pp. 47-56). National Centre for Development Studies
  8. FAO. (n.d.). Community Forestry. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from
  9. Menzies, N. K. (2007). in Bulkan, J. (2017). FRST 522: 'Community Forestry' in the Global North and South. (PDF Document) Retrieved from Lecture Slides Online, November 27, 2017,
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Armitage, L. (2001). Customary Land Tenure in Papua New Guinea: Status and Prospects. Brisbane, Queensland: Queensland University of Technology, 1–10.
  11. Larmour, P. (1997). Introduction in Larmour, P. (Ed.), The Governance of Common Property in the Pacific Region (pp. 1-18). National Centre for Development Studies
  12. Bulkan, J. (2017). FRST 522: Introduction to Tenure and Property. (PDF Document). Retrieved from Lecture Slides Online, November 27, 2017,
  13. Power, T. (2008). Incorporated Land Groups in Papua New Guinea. Making Land Work, 2, 3–20
  14. 14.0 14.1 Anderson, T. (2006). Land Titling Issues: On the Economic Value of Customary Land in Papua New Guinea. Pacific Economic Bulletin, 21(1), 138–152
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Ribot, J. C., & Peluso, N. L. (2003). A Theory of Access. Rural Sociology, 68(2), 153–181
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Ribot, J. C. (2009). Authority over Forests: Empowerment and Subordination in Senegal’s Democratic Decentralization. Development and Change, 40(1), 105–129.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Menzies (2007) in Bulkan, J. (2017). FRST 522: The Scope and Requisites for a Viable / Successful Community Forestry Project. (PDF Document) Retrieved from Lecture Slides Online, November 27, 2017,
  18. Bulkan, J. (2017). FRST 522: The Scope and Requisites for a Viable / Successful Community Forestry Project. (PDF Document) Retrieved from Lecture Slides Online, November 27, 2017,
  19. Bulkan, J. (2017). FRST 522: Free Prior Informed Consent. (PDF Document) Retrieved from Lecture Slides Online, November 27, 2017,
  20. Dolter, B. (2017). Sustainable Inclusive Development: Carol Anne Hilton's Concept of Indigenomics is the Next Transformative Step in Economics. Alternatives Journal, 43(1), 56
  21. 21.0 21.1 Weiner, J. F. (2013). The Incorporated What Group: Ethnographic, Economic and Ideological Perspectives on Customary Land Ownership in Contemporary Papua New Guinea. Anthropological Forum, 23(1), 94–106.

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