Climate Change, Water Wars Warning!

Countries may fight international wars over oil, but local wars can be started over drinking water because life needs water to survive.

Rausim OBE Long PNG

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Local Volunteers as Development Partners

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These feet are made for walking

He walks the entire coastline, along the picturesque beaches when the tide is out. And when the tide is in, he takes  the long detour through thorny swamps, over cliffs and over sharp gravel beds.  From one coastline to another. From one side of the bay to the other – one step at the time.

Sometimes the road takes him up the river, over high mountains, down steep valleys and though wind swept grasslands into cold dark forests.

Meet him – middle-aged, average height,  tough, wiry and bronze from being chiseled by sun, rain, wind and salt;  limbs – lean and tough, disciplined to walk from sunup to sundown. Not a trace of body fat – a body that has accepted that humans eat to live not live to indulge the stomach.  Soles of the feel toughened up in layers that can withstand sharp gravel and even coals of fire.

Who is he? He is a man on a mission – a crusader. His message: nutrition. Sago grubs, green frog, wild yam and other lost food of the ancestors.

His mission: rekindling confidence in the ways of the fathers that had sustained generations prior to colonisation. Putting confidence into mothers, showing them the difference between eating sago grubs versus a can of tinned fish from Taiwan that costs money, which she may not have.

Why does he do what he do? I asked and he replied that he believes that what he is doing is his calling. If he does not document the secrets of the fathers, who else will? If he does not teach his people to survive, who else will?

No, he is not a shaman. He has a diploma in catering. He has had the taste of the high life, working for city hotels to well stocked mining camps. At the pinnacle of his career, he was even a head chef.

But then he started noticing the trend. Taro yield has decreased both in size and quality.  There seem to be a positive correlation between taro yield and the stature of young people. Even the energy levels and creativity and leadership capacity seems to be at an all-time low.

The river valley was being turned to rice fields, killing all seed bank consequently turning it into a river highway when it flooded. The river was getting killed – no more prawns and no more fish but algae greening the warm waters of the river during dry seasons.

Despite that, the people where still too far away from opportunities to earn money to buy food. His people were destined to suffer malnutrition.

Something had to be done. So he retired from cooking for money and put his life into service for his people – teaching mothers about nutrition using local food sources.

His  total budget is zero. All his expenses paid for with information that he carries in his head. For his pay, he appreciates a smile, a cup of hot sweet tea, food for his stomach and a place to lay his head for the night.

There are so many just like him. Walking bare feet, with a well-worn jacket and raincoat that also keeps cold away at night. A trusty torch, a bag full of buai and a heart that beats for the people.  Reaching one person at the time. Walking all the steps.

He may not win the men of valour award but he is the champion. He is a hero. Even with the taste of the high life of town still mellowing in his memory, he chose to return to the village and is destined to die in the village. Another statistic in the government books. Despite that, the likes of him are conduits of hope for building self-esteem and confidence among the rural masses.

Volunteers such as him are the unsung heroes who are working without recognition. There are so many of them, all in the ministry of dispensing hope. Pastors, health workers, nutritionists, conservationists, elementary school teachers, peace officers and the list will go on.

These people are the hope for educating rural PNG. People like him bring direction to the confusion of a people caught between the past and the present – a people lost in transition between cultures.

These volunteers are not looking for recognition. These volunteers approach what they do as a calling, a purpose for being born into this country for this day and time. They are the real patriots, a shining beacon of example to many who expect pay to do the minimum required to serve this great country.

In the hand of a wise government, local volunteers represent a workforce that can accomplish a lot of government plans in the rural and remote places in PNG. At the moment, these group of people act on their own, with their own resources and at their own time.

They struggle, but they continue because they believe it is their calling. Blessed are the feet of those, who bring good news and hope.

Poverty in PNG. What did they measure?

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According to Oxfam Australia, poverty has increased in PNG since the mid-1990s. It now stands at 37%. In other words, just over 2.6 million people out of a population of 7.5 million total population of PNG live on less than USD $1.25 per day.

To get a picture of the 2.6 million poor people in PNG – combine the population of the five highland provinces plus Morobe Province.

At today’s exchange rate, being poor in PNG means, having less than K3 at the end of any given day.

Indeed, in an urban setting, a K3 cannot buy the standard daily town meal of rice and tinned fish. A K3 is only enough for an unhealthy lunch of one deep fried flour ball and one boiled sausage. Similarly, at the market, a K3 can only buy a small heap of kaukau or potato for just one meal.

In contrast, in the rural area, a K3 has more value at the market but dramatically decreases at the trade store. At the market, a K3 can buy kaukau, greens and a piece of fruit or a coconut. However, a K3 in the village is not enough to get anything, except a packet of biscuit or two. A rural family wishing to eat both rice and fish need to have at least a US$7 or K20.

The K3 has different value at different places. Economists may explain this as the impact of supply and demand. The value of a K3 is high in the rural market because the demand for vegetables is low where supply is high. Demand for store bought goods however, is high in the rural areas. The price hike is probably because of freight charges as well as the fact that imported stuff including food are luxury items in rural area.

A luxury item is not needed for survival but is acquired for various reasons including to make life more pleasant or as a status symbol. Luxury goods are typically more costly and are often acquired by people who have more money than an average person.

What is money when people maintain their livelihood from the environment at no charge? This reason makes the current definition of poverty irrelevant in a place where cash is irrelevant.  The question now is, who are the 37% poor people in PNG?  What did they measure to come up with that number?

Definitely, the poor people are not the politicians and their cronies, who make up 1% of the population. It definitely is not the 10% working class who get paid enough to eat more than just rice and tinned fish until the next pay day. Because of the reasons above, the 75% rural people are out. The only group remaining are the vagabonds – the village runaways who have left the village for a life in town.

The absence of good data makes it hard to verify the Oxfam data if indeed, vagabonds when rounded up can fill up the highlands region and spill into Morobe province. Current assumption elsewhere put vagabonds at around 15% of the total population. Where then, is the other 22% of poor people as reported by Oxfam Australia?

Making lists and ranking people according to an irrelevant target can affect the psyche of human beings.  When people are made to feel helpless, they stop looking at ways to help themselves. They become dependent, feel impoverished, and disillusioned.

Change your mind and change your life. That is all it requires for us to take our life back from dependency. Since time immemorial, people have depended on their environment to maintain a livelihood. The instinct for turning soil into food is not lost to even the urbanites. Go to any house with a yard and you will see banana, or cassava or even fruit trees incorporated into the landscape. Go to any settlement and you will see people tending any piece of soil they can find.

Therefore, poverty in the PNG context is not about money. Living in poverty in PNG is when households go to sleep hungry because they are not willing to turn soil into food.  Poverty in PNG is when people forsake food security in the village for town where cash is king.

The use of a single currency as the only legal tender has disadvantaged the rural people. If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas for people to earn money, then it must allow rural people to barter using wealth from their environment. They can barter for food and especially medicine using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

El Nino and the Millennium Development Goals

PIC01921.JPGThe current El Nino is showing why Papua New Guinea (PNG) will still struggle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) into the future.

The MDG is a people based project. It measures the welfare of the people in achieving a certain standard of living . This is a human right of all people in the world regardless  of their status in society, wealth or influence. In other words, the successful attainment of the 8 goals of MDGs will happen when the poorest of the poor in the society achieves an improved life as per the 8 MDG goals.

Who then are the poorest of the poor in PNG?

Most reports identify three groupings. The first class, the working class and the grassroots.But there is actually four groups. The first are the rich who make about 10% of the population. Second, the people who serve the government system also known as the working class – this group makes the next 20%. Third group are the villagers, they make the largest group of about 60%. Last group are the drifters, the so-called vagabonds, the runaways from the village – this last group bring in the last 10%,  but membership in this group is increasing as we speak.

The first group is also the smallest group. The rich have money to buy goods and services required for an easy life. They have the option of going overseas to access better opportunities in education and healthcare.  In this group, one will mostly find political leaders and their cronies, landowners and expatriates who have infiltrated and mixed with the locals in the country.

Second is the working class. This group serve the government system. Teachers, nurses, doctors, bureaucrats to name a few.  Like an assembly line, these group trudge on daily like human robots, unthinking, unquestioning, undemanding, unchallenged, uninterested. The system rewards them just enough to keep them from going hungry and revolting. The minimal care in health system exists to remove unfit humanoids. The education system churns out more robots to quickly fill any gaps that appear.

The third are the villagers and they make the biggest proportion of the population. The government system is designed to serve the villager. In reality, the villager is so far removed from that system. they are invisible and remain the forgotten group. For survival in their little corners across the country, villagers depend on their own system – the most authentic system that has supported life for PNGeans since the dawn of time – family, kin, custom, barter. In good times, the villager has food, family and shelter and is content living a life with less cargo and little money.

The fourth group are the vagabonds, villagers who have drifted into urban areas for a better life.  These people shun the simple village life and desire the bright city lights. But it is not as easy as it looks, and these vagabonds quickly realize that they need money to satisfy their desires. They could work for money, but they most times do not have the qualifications.  They have no proper job, they pay no tax, but they are the most demanding from the government system. The one thing they have is time, and they are mostly labelled trouble-makers for using that time to cause mischief in the society. This lifestyle is perpetuated when children get born into this life.

When put under scrutiny, the third and the fourth groups make the statistics of poor people.  In good times, the villager lives a content life, but the vagabond life is one of constant struggle and hunger because of lack of cash and loss of support from extended kin.

Despite that, the vagabonds are in some way better off than the villager because there are many opportunities to earn money in a city. They may have access to running water and light, even if illegally connected. They can send their child to a school where the teacher is always present. They can depend on church groups and other well-meaning people to help them out, out of sympathy. Importantly, through hard work, these vagabonds have the opportunity to break out of their low status in society and advance in life – an opportunity not available to a villager.

In trying times, the vagabonds are lucky by virtue of their positioning themselves closer to the system so that they can punch a hole in the system to get some form of assistance to trickle down to them.

So what does El Nino have to do with the MDG?

Statistics exists to show that deaths were higher in the rural areas compared to urban areas during the last El Nino. The reason – the villagers were too far away from any government intervention. There was a lack of health services, no health worker, no medicine or the medicine and aid did not reach villagers in a timely manner.

There was also no information on how people could help themselves. There was also a lack of opportunities for the villager to raise the money needed to buy food and medicine.

The El Niño reveals the government shrugging off its obligations to its biggest constituent – the villager. It is a contradiction when money for development is earned from resources belonging to the villager, but no goods or services goes back to the village. The money is stuck in the urban areas to  maintain a system that is of no use to the villager during his hard times.

And so, the villager remains the poorest of the poor. If not for the natural disasters, they would remain invisible.  Instead of expressing embarrassment for failing their duty of care to their constituents, the government keeps on making budgets on how to spend money on new developments in the cities while leaving the charity groups to work with the villagers.

If the government wants to achieve the MDG it must understand this: anything good for the poorest of the poor is good for achieving the 8 goals of MDG and that is why PNG will never achieve the MDG targets until genuine effort is put into improving the lives of the villagers.

Starvation is not the death threat, dis-ease is.

IMG_0065 copyAccording to statistics collected after the 1997 El Nino in Papua New Guinea and reported by Bang et al (2003), a total of 1.2 million people suffered from severe food shortages. The two regions most severely impacted were the Highlands with 169,000 and the Southern region with 62,000 people with almost no food available locally.

Water supply was reduced to critical levels throughout the country. Ponds, wells, creeks and smaller rivers dried up, but larger rivers continued to flow, although at much reduced levels. In many places, available water sources became contaminated, sometimes because wild and domestic animals used the same water source as humans and partly because on islands and coastal areas seawater infiltrated normally fresh water supplies.

Loss of life was recorded within the drought period. Most of these deaths were in rural areas than urban areas and affected more children and the elderly  ((Igua 2000), Lemmonier (2000)).

 Lemmonier (2000), an anthropologist working with the Ankave-Anga in the remote mountains of Kerema  reported 80 deaths from the two years of drought. The deaths reduced the population of this remote mountain people by 20%.

According to the author, the mortality was due to diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery that attacked people whose body was already made weak by diminished caloric intake.

And in his observation,  “people who were accustomed to drinking directly from watercourses with pure water were forced to drink from pools of polluted water. This was probably responsible for the epidemic that decimated the people from Ankave- Anga, perhaps due to typhoid.” (Pierre 2000).

Similar sentiments were expressed in other post 1997 El Niño reports which were presented at a food security conference held in the year 2000 at the University of Technology, Lae.  A copy of the conference proceedings containing all the important lessons learnt can be accessed here.

From the experience, what can we do to help?

First and foremost is to look after human health. A diminished intake of calories and a reduction in the variety of food depletes the body of essential minerals and vitamins. This will cause the body to become weak and succumb to dis-ease.  Old people and young people, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system are especially vulnerable and must be protected.

A practical step will include a change in the daily routines. The vulnerable group must be protected from over exertion. Any hard work must be scheduled for the cooler parts of the day. Even the strong must innovate to avoid over exertion to preserve energy.  The hottest parts of the day must be used for other meaningful activities, for instance, the creative arts (e.g. making bilum or clothes or making beads and carvings) to sell for money.

All food must be cooked well before consumption. And attention must be given to maintaining a high level of personal hygiene.

Second is the protection of water sources. It is important to protect water sources and this includes protecting coconut palms for their nuts and juice.

Even if big rivers keep flowing, the flow would be reduced, and the water would be warmer thereby encouraging algal bloom. Algae in waterway can contaminate drinking water as well as cause skin diseases. Furthermore, in the absence of a good hygiene or good information on hygiene, it is easy for humans to contaminate water sources leading to a spread of disease.

Water wells in lowland may dry up or get an intrusion of salt water rendering it, undrinkable.

Water sources must be protected, even if that means erecting strict rules around water sources. Any human waste must be put into a toilet to avoid contamination of water sources. Animals must be watered away from the human drinking water source. Most importantly, all drinking water must be boiled.

Minimal water intake over long periods of hot days can result in dehydration. Death from dehydration happens sooner than death by starvation.  An essential first aid is the Oral Rehydration Sachets (ORS). The small one dose sachet contains minerals, salts and sugar that must be mixed with water and drank as a  first aid dehydration treatment. Any person can buy their own supply since ORS is very cheap and sold in all pharmacies.

In a drought, it is also advisable to remove any liabilities. This may include selling extra animals for money and use that cash to buy food and medicine.

Apart from the disease outbreaks. Law and order will be an issue. 1997 reports show an increased migration out from affected areas. Mostly from the badly affected high altitude areas down to the lower valley, towns and even distant cities.  Stealing to survive, both in the rural areas as well as in towns will increase (Kiza and Kin 2000).  People must be extra vigilant. When faced with a decision to defend loss of property from theft, the best option would be that which uses less energy.

During the last drought, there were hungry and thirsty people, but few died from starvation (Barter, 2000). Most deaths were from diseases. Therefore it is important to look after the health of people in this El Nino season.

El Nino is here, now what?

It has been 18 long years since the last major El Nino event in PNG. In months, 216 months has come and gone. In weeks, that is close to 900 weeks. Three different governments have come and gone, we are under the fourth. One gold mine has closed but the Liquefied Natural gas Project (LNG) has come about.

Between then and now, PNG has seen several flooding events, cyclones, volcanoes eruption, and a major landslide event.  Given such a long time, and the benefit of varied experiences, how have we prepared for this current threat?

The current El Niño event was predicted by numerous sources as early as 1997.

In 2015, the days started getting considerably cooler during the Pacific Games in July, predictably because this is also the beginning of a dry and cool season. Then in the early August 2015, the hot days and cooler nights saw consecutive days of frost in some high attitude areas.

Social media has been full of reports and images of rotting vegetation from the highland provinces and hinterlands of some coastal provinces. On the other hand, images  from other parts of the country show dry, hard baked soil and reduced water level.

It has been close to 28 days and yet but there seems to be a lack of coordination of relief activities by designated government authorities in addressing the current natural disaster.

Why is that so? Definitely this is not because of lack of a system.

There is a permanent National Disaster and Emergency Service (NDES) housed in the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs (DPLGA). The NDES is responsible for coordinating the emergency responses to disaster affected areas.

Above the NDES is the National Disaster Committee (NDC). The secretary of the DPLGA is the chair of a NDC which is made up of secretaries of select departments. The NDC then reports to the National Executive Council (NEC) which is headed by the Prime Minister.  All these is governed by an Act of the Parliament.

To be fair, the system only makes decision given information it receives from technical groups which includes the Weather Office, the National Disaster Office, and the office of climate Change.  However, information from relevant authorities on this issue has been very scarce.

Even information in the mainstream media is very rudimentary.

This lack of information may be a contributing factor to the lack of an action plan.   The only reports that give any lead to the type of action to be taken comes from Australian Academics who point out the importance of securing food for the unpredictable days ahead.

The slow response may also be because of lack of funds. But this is not a good excuse given the long time we had for preparation.

If it not a lack of money then, it is either lack of trust for the designated authorities to implement government plans. It was in the media that the office of the PM is taking a special interest and sending delegates from his office to inspect situations for relief.  If work cannot be delegated to the designated office, then why set them up in the first place?

Or most probably, the designated offices are incompetent and cannot serve their office.

The University of PNG has taken steps to educate practitioners in a Diploma Program called the Climate Hazard Assessment and Risk Management (CHARM).  Despite this effort to increase competence of workforce in this field, the fruits of this effort will have a lag time of 3-4 years.

Another cause of failure can be due to lack of follow through – so many ministers of the government give lip service to citizen programs but never follow through. An example from 2012 can be seen here. Such  leadership can only be corrected through the ballot in 2017.

While we bite our nails, and share images on social media, people will suffer and livelihoods disrupted.

But eventually people will rebuild because they are resilient. Papua New Guineans are already used to making do with very little available resources as many are so far from the government services. But that should not be the excuse for the government not to support people in times of trouble.

Instead of a very heavy top-down approach to helping citizens that is too cumbersome to implement, the government must put in place the infrastructure and disseminate information needed to facilitate an easier livelihood. Papua new Guineans are not lazy people, they will use available infrastructure and information to help themselves – in good times and bad times.

So, what now?  Don’t wait for the government.Look after your family and your extended family as we have always done. Look after your health and your water and pray the El Nino will be over soon.

What is conservation for Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea like other last frontiers of biodiversity richness has been recipient of a lot of money for biodiversity conservation.   A notable donor is the United Nations Global Environmental Facility (GEF).  When PNG ratified the Rio Convention in 1993, GEF grants totaling US$34,728,691 that leveraged US$63,040,600 in co-financing resources were given to PNG for nine national projects. These include five projects in biodiversity, three in climate change, and one multi-focal area[1].

But, how much conservation has PNG achieved with such amounts of money from donors like the GEF?

Currently, there exist 56 Protected Areas (PA) in PNG.  Of these 33 are Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) established under the Fauna Protection Act 1974 while the rest are National Parks, Sanctuaries and Memorial Parks, established under the National Parks (Act) ordinance 1966-1971 and the Sanctuaries and Fauna Protected Area Act (1966). Until recently, one Conservation Area has been established under the Conservation Areas Act 1980.

These PA are situated on state land and were acquired between the 1970’s and 1980’s – none in the last two decades and all before the availability of the GEF money.  Similarly, almost all WMA’s were established in the 1990’s using some GEF money, but none in the recent past.  The Conservation Areas Act 1980 has never been implemented until recently in this decade..

If conservation is about acquiring land as PA’s, then PNG has failed dismally. The PA’s occupy a tiny 2.8% of the 46, 000 km2 of the PNG landmass.

If conservation is about protecting wildlife then this is another dismal effort. Notable wildlife sanctuaries established in the 1970s and 1980s only exist on paper.  Baiyer Wildlife Sanctuary is not on the tourist maps anymore, so is the Wau Ecological Institute and the Moitaka Wildlife in the Nation’s Capital.

If conservation was meant to be an alternate development option to environmental destructive development, then the previous conservation projects (eg: the Lak Integrated Conservation and Development Project  (ICAD), New Ireland Province) shows that conservation will never compete with the extractive industries in fulfilling the people’s developmental aspirations.

If conservation was about sustainable management of resources, there is no way of measuring the impact of a sustainable management project because stories are still being told of people hunting wildlife to low numbers. There is also evidence of large scale destructive logging practice in Wildlife Management Areas.

Government efforts in conservation so far, has been found wanting. The low budget allocated to conservation year after year, the lack of new PA’s in the last two decades, even the issuance of logging and mining license in conservation areas show that conservation is a low priority to the government.

What is it that we are trying to achieve with conservation in PNG, when conservation projects are not achieving envisaged success?  Could it be that we are measuring the wrong target?  What is conservation in PNG anyway?

Conservation seems to be an alien concept in Melanesia.  Activities like hunting, mating, eating – all have a name in the local language, but the preservation and sustainable management of nature was the unintended outcome of low population, less destructive harvesting technology, and fear of the unknown.

Being isolated in a small hamlet in the forest, the world to the people was the forest boarded by their tribal enemies on all sides. There was no way for people to appreciate that they were also global citizens.

The precautionary view for conservation was non-existent because there was no global view and importance attached to the theory of extinction when the people were surrounded by vast forests.  The people were not aware that population growth and climate change was changing their landscape.

This conservation ethos of conserving biodiversity because of its inherent value was non-existent for the locals.  The priority of local people was on species of utilitarian value and traditional taxonomy attest to this.

Furthermore, there was no observable urgency for conservation among the local people to secure food security.   Surrounded by the vast forest, the prevailing thought was that there is enough for now and there will still be enough for the future.

Even the posterity value of conservation is not shared by Melanesians. The local people expand energy to maximize harvests to strengthen social relationships and alliances which would then provide the support in times of need.

If conservation is an alien concept in Papua New Guinea, do we need it?

Yes we do, because of the encroaching environmentally destructive activities for economic development for the elite few. Conservation is the last hope to protect the livelihoods of  Papua New Guineans who still depend on forest resources.

How can we implement successful conservation projects in Papua New Guinea?

The thrust of conservation should not be about nature, but about reforming people’s attitudes toward nature. Conservation in Melanesia and in PNG should be about education that shows people the consequences of their actions on their natural resources that will eventually impact their livelihood.

Furthermore, the people must be given alternatives so that they can minimize their dependence on the forest. If this is not forthcoming, then, science knowledge must be used to inform sustainable management strategies.

The local level government must be given the mandate to make their own conservation laws as well as enact appropriate penalties for offenders.

Last, but not the least, any new conservation interventions must involve local people.  They must be made decision makers and not mere observers – after all, it is the people who live on the land and their actions determine the outcome of conservation efforts.  Therefore, they need to own their actions.

With a clear understanding of what conservation looks like Papua New Guinea, future conservation efforts can be planned so that there is realistic outcomes to measure success. This will also ensure that Papua New Guinea get value for all the foreign currency pouring in for conservation efforts.

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[1] http://www.gefonline.org/Country/CountryProfile.cfm,

Securing food for uncertain days using “kastam”

Traditional knowledge or kastam is the accumulated wealth of human experiences and adaptations over time. Kastam is closely tied to language, social relations, spirituality and worldview, and is generally held collectively. The evidence of the long interaction between the people and nature can be seen in the detailed rituals based on this knowledge and the specific management practices of natural resources.  Indigenous people show reverence for their kastam because their survival depends on keeping this knowledge alive.

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The introduction of the Western Culture as the grander culture has killed kastam by labelling it primitive and out-dated. However, this knowledge is needed for survival for the three quarters of Papua New Guineans who still live a life style reminiscent to that of their ancestors – a lifestyle that requires an understanding of kastam to live off the land.

What should food security in Papua New Guinea look like? In this essay, I show that aspects of our  traditional knowledge or “kastam” can be used to secure food for the rural Papua New Guineans. Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and the right legislations by the government can complement kastam to secure food for the people.

Customary Land Tenure

Anthropological work shows that indigenous people relate to the bush and the resources within to be their source of personhood, society and sustenance. There is no distinction between the physical soil, the tribal land boundaries and nature contained on it – all these are generally referred to as land. The land is considered a gift from some mystical ancestor and therefore, there is strong emotional attachment to the land.

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The land ownership arrangement in Papua New Guinea is security against hunger.  Having access to a piece of healthy forest allows people to gather and hunt and share the resources they find to meet their dietary needs and food preferences. When forests are protected, water sources are protected and consequently, the health of the people is protected.

The paradox however, is that within the last three decades, environmentally destructive industries have increased. Tribal forests are being lost to development. This is inevitable because, nature is the “capital” for economic development in Papua New Guinea, often as large scale extractive and environmentally destructive industries. Reports show that logging has changed 48.2 % of forest in Papua New Guinea since the 1970s.  The areas accessible for logging are situated in lowland rain-forest which contains high biodiversity richness and high endemics. The lowlands also contain highly dense human population.

Apart from the loss of land for development activities, crook land deals are also marginalising some landowners, making them beggars in their own land. With no economic power, no land, and no influence and status, these landless people are pushed to the fringes of society as well as fringes of productive land. The food that is grown at the fringes is not enough to support an active life. The money given in compensation is not enough to meet family needs and obligations as well as purchase preferred food which is also nutritious.

The government can secure food for the people by preventing the loss of customary land. This can be done through a Protected Areas system. This ensures the land is protected from outside interests.

Protecting the environment using the Protected Area Legislations can stop the loss of customary land. There are several options for Papua New Guinea, including but not limited to; National Parks, Conservation Areas and Wildlife Sanctuaries. These options, however, are top-down processes that remove the forest owner and make the government the custodian of the Protected Area. The land is locked away by the government, preventing local people access and use.

The Wildlife Management Area under the Fauna Protection Act 1966 is an excellent option. Under this option the local people manage their own resources on their land, they make their own laws to protect land as well as use the resources on the land.

Local laws based on social taboos and kastam has advantages that it is voluntary and costs nothing. The self-imposed management laws are self-monitored and are hard to change as opposed to formal institutions that impose rules that are written, designed and enforced by third party and which costs money to enforce.

Currently, the Wildlife Management Area system is voluntarily done outside of the government authority. By erecting appropriate legislations, the government can support forest communities who wish to protect their land using the Wildlife Management Area system. Further support can be given to the local communities by making available science information that shows the link between harvest and recruitment of wildlife. With credible science information, the local people can sustainably manage the resource in their forest.

Strong local Leadership

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Traditionally, kastam is maintained by elders and passed down the generations. There was respect for elders and the rulers on the land. Strong local leadership held communities together by maintaining communal beliefs and ensuring respect and full community participation in cultural practices and rites; strong local leadership also had the power to solve conflicts arising from disputes.

Strong community bonds ensured that all members of the community were accounted for when it came to sharing food, land and other resources. Relationships forged through marriage ensured that even people without land have user rights in land belonging to their kinsman.  Furthermore, elders and clan leaders knew their allies and used that in times of need. The western styled nuclear family system however encourages estrangement from kin – kin groups however, are the best buffer against food shortages.

When the government or any other well-intentioned group choose to work with communities, they work with committees, or bring outsiders or choose the young educated community members. In doing so, they change the power systems in cultural institutions, generating debate and resistance. What is not understood is that; the peoples’ alliance is with elders in their clan groups not committees and outsiders and the young and inexperienced. The role of cultural leaders and institutions to hold communities together must be incorporated in community projects including food security projects.

Barter System

Less than 25% of the Papua New Guinea adult population engage in a cash economy and live in urban and peri-urban areas. These small numbers of people support the national economy through tax, these people also remit cash back to rural areas to supplement the subsistence livelihood of extended relatives in the rural areas.  This system cannot be relied upon to secure food for people in times of prolonged food scarcity.

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Bartering, a traditional transaction in which people exchanged resources they have in excess with others for something of a comparable value ensured people had a variety to their diet. The currency for the transaction was not limited to just food but included wealth from the forest – bird’s feathers, cuscus pelt, canes, tree bark, bark cloths, shells and necklaces.

The use of a single currency has disadvantaged the rural people who have limited avenues to earn money to pay for services and goods including food.  Rice, flour and tinned-fish cannot be bartered; it must be bought with money. Even with a rich wealth of bird feathers, a person cannot access the easily available store-bought food.  By encouraging economic activities in rural areas, rural-based people can participate in it and earn money to buy food and medicine.

If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas, then it must allow rural people to barter for rice, flour and tinned fish using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

Swidden system of gardening

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that food security for people who still depend on the land for food can be achieved through a diversified crop garden containing varied cultivars – a concept consistent with the swidden agriculture system.

The swidden system (also slash-and-burn) of agriculture largely practiced in PNG is a system tested over thousands of years and is suited for the nutrient deficient soil of the tropical environment.

In a swidden system, a forest patch is identified, cut, left to dry and burnt to get rid of the leaves and branches and undergrowth before the land is planted. The burning adds vital micro nutrients like potassium and magnesium to the soil. A variety of crops, from herbs to bigger plants like the banana are grown together in a single plot to take advantage of the differing nutrient status of the garden. Importantly in this traditional method, the forest seed bank is left intact in the soil.

Food crops gradually decline in yield in subsequent usage of a plot of land; to avoid this, the land is allowed to fallow. A long fallow is positively correlated to higher crop yield.  During the fallow period, the forest seed bank germinates and through the process of decomposition, soil development takes place.

The tradition system of gardening secures food for the people. The time in between abandoning an old garden and making a new garden is a time of food shortage. The banana always takes the lifetime of the garden to grow; it is always the last plant in a garden to bear fruit after other food crops have been eaten. People eat banana while making new gardens – this is a classic example of a perfected method of gardening that ensures food security when farmers are in transition between the old and a new garden.

There are some food crops that are used as the last resource to see people through times of food shortage. For instance, the sago – though of lower nutritional value, the high carbohydrate content keeps people through times of food shortage.

Food security for PNG lies in strengthening the traditional agriculture method, complemented by improved agricultural techniques. Together with improved agriculture education, food security programs must integrate health and hygiene in food preparation, food storage, and the protection of water resources.

Food Storage

Traditional methods of food storage are limited to the dry storage of yams, coconut and other nuts and desiccation by smoking. Food preserved by this method cannot be stored over a few weeks for smoked food and a few months for dry storage items

dry fish

Technology and new knowledge can enable people to store food for long periods. Downstream processing of local staples into forms that can be stored over time is a food security intervention. PNG can easily process local food like sago, kaukau, banana and cassava into flour that can be stored for long periods of time; or even freezing taro and cassava; drying corn, peanut and beans and appropriately packing that can be kept for a long time.

Such vital information can be made available via advances made in the Mobile Technology and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Positive change will happen en masse when more people access scientific information to help them decide their course of action for their land and resources to secure their own food supply.

Conclusion

Many well-intentioned groups including the government envisage they can bring a total solution for food security from outside. However, it should be acknowledged that the people are better suited to helping themselves. Therefore, effort must go into supporting the existing systems of self-help.

Looking for answers from outsiders breeds a dependency habit that is detrimental to the innovative and self-preservation and innate intelligence of the people that has sustained their ancestors for thousands for years. The people must be encouraged to innovate on existing knowledge – the kastam. In that way, the knowledge generated is relevant and implementable and affordable.  Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and relevant legislation can then complement kastam in securing food for the people of Papua New Guinea.

Growing rice in PNG for food security? Not a good idea.

Growing rice in PNG must not be encouraged as a  food security measure for PNG because the infertile tropical soil is not conducive for growing this crop over a long period of time.

Rice needs a lot of nitrogen to produce grain. Nitrogen, however, is in short supply in the tropical system.  Human intervention is therefore required for rice to maintain yield over a long period of time.

Nitrogen in the form of commercial fertilizer must be continuously added to the soil. Continuous fertilizer use is harmful to the environment because residual fertilizer in the environment is responsible for algae bloom in waterways. The alga competes with fresh water species (plants, fish, frog, shrimps etc) for the oxygen in that system. The alga eventually kills the system by removing all the available oxygen molecules.

The cost of running a large scale rice project that needs constant fertilizer intervention will be passed on to the consumer making it expensive for a villager to buy locally produced rice.

Furthermore, if the farmer opts not to use fertiliser, then the farmer will need to clear new forest land every few years because the rice plants would use all the available nitrogen. The farmer must clear new forested land to take advantage of existing nitrogen in the forest soil.

Clearing new forest lands is not good for the environment when rice cultivation has more negative impact on the soil than advantages.

For food security, PNG must focus on indigenous cultivars.

The downstream processing of our traditional staple food crops into forms that can be stored over time is a practical way to ensure food security through times of food shortages.

Turning sago, kaukau, banana, cassava into flour that can be stored. Freezing taro and cassava. Drying corn, peanut and beans and packing them in vacuum sealed bags are some practical ways of helping our people to help themselves in times of food shortagesImage.

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