Papua New Guinea: Women against further expansion
of oil palm
palm production is increasing in Papua New Guinea, a country where
97% of the land is communally owned and most of its 5 million population
still lives in the rural area and rely on subsistence farming for
their livelihoods. The palm oil produced is mostly exported to the
EU with the UK, Italy and the Netherlands being the main markets.
hidden large-scale scheme
more smallholders, the more profits the companies get. It's cheap
labour for the companies”. (Woman from Kokoda village)
all oil palm in PNG is grown under the so-called Nucleus Estate
Smallholder Scheme, whereby a central company –holding a large plantation-
contracts small farmers to supply it with additional oil palm fruit.
Promoted by International Financial Institutions as a way for “alleviating”
poverty in the country and allowing farmers to gain access to the
cash economy, this scheme is allowing the agribusiness sector to
increase corporate business while reducing investments and costs
for the companies. Corporations don’t need to buy more land to make
way for plantations, they have cheap labor from the small landowners,
no workers unions, and their responsibility over the ecological
impacts of plantations is faded away.
have been encouraged to plant oil palm “blocks” on their lands with
loan facilities to buy seedlings, fertilizers and agrotoxics offered
by the government. While the average land tenure is around 4 to
6 hectares of land, the blocks occupy two hectares in size. The
smallholder-schemes promoted in PNG are part of a large scale plantation
where their blocks are part of a complex formed of many thousands
of hectares. Today it is estimated that the country has more than
100,000 hectares of oil palm plantations.
of food sovereignty
only forest and agricultural land must be cleared to make space
for oil palm but also the land allocated to the oil palm blocks
can no longer be used for food production, for making their “gardens”
-as local people call them in Papua New Guinea.
we have limited land for gardening and no more forest for hunting
wild animals. The land we have is being used over and over again
and its ability to support food production is decreasing. In ten
years time, we will face food shortage. Actually we are experiencing
it right [now] but it will be worse in ten years. Because the forests
are gone we lack protein in our diets”.
(Woman from Kokoda Village)
on one crop may end up creating economic problems. For example,
the recent sharp fall in commodity prices (including palm oil) has
put at stake future incomes from the oil palm fruit.
from different provinces have expressed concern about increasing
population and future land shortages due to oil palm expansion.
Land which has never been a problem before -as the population density
was quite low- is now becoming a very scarce resource. This is clearly
reflected in increasing intra and inter-clan land disputes. According
to the President of the Women’s Council at Kokoda, land disputes
are a major issue now, and more than 50% of court cases are related
of land has been stolen by the State and we are almost landless
in own land that is rightfully ours by history, culture and tradition.
The land which the company has taken is our birthright inheritance
reaped from us.”
(Woman from Kokoda Village)
use of agrotoxics in the plantations is contaminating rivers, streams,
as well as soils and the air, affecting people’s health.
is a very big concern in our place right now. When sun heats the
chemicals sprayed in the company estates and even VOPs,[Village
Oil Palm] we breathe in the chemical. I’m pretty sure we are inhaling
dangerous substances and definitely are dying every minute. Some
pregnant mothers have babies who develop asthma within first one
or two months after birth. During my time there was never such a
thing. The chemicals are killing us; we will all die sooner.”
(Woman from Saga Village)
work needed during the harvest and transport of the fruit is also
am not harvesting my oil palm now because of the hardship that I
have faced as my estate is about 12 kilometers from the loading
area. It is very hard work transporting bunches to the river bank,
then ferrying them to the other side of the river on rubber tubes.
After about 6 years now I am giving up. Most of the time we get
sick, sustain big cuts and bruises and generally we are losing our
health status because of all the hard work we do even in bad weather.”
from Botue Village)
How oil palm
plantations affect women
explain how oil palm reinforces male control over women:
Men usually have more control over the income from oil palm production
than women. This is mainly because oil palm companies usually talk
to men instead of women. It is also because the highest paying jobs
on an oil palm plantation go to men (i.e. chopping the large bunches
of fruits from the trees).
Conversion of traditional farmlands to oil palm plantations restricts
women’s access to garden land making it harder for them to provide
food for their families. Gardens are important both for feeding
the family, and selling garden food at local markets. Women usually
have control of income earned from the markets, unlike oil palm
income which men often control. They also lose an important moment
Often, women only get a tiny amount of the money their husbands
earn from oil palm, even though they have contributed to the production
of palm fruits. Many say that the money they get from their husbands
is only enough to buy store food for the family for a couple of
days after pay day.
Families now have to rely on store food since there is less land
for gardens and subsistence farming.
Domestic violence has become common around payday- men often spend
the money carelessly on gambling and beer while women struggle for
cash to buy essential household items.
as the new panacea for Papua New Guineans, that would bring about
many improvements, oil palm plantations have not lived up to expectations.
the workshop, women complained that:
only sign of spin offs in the village are trade stores that were
built from our own money earned from oil palm. But the trade stores
are operating on ad hoc basis (seasonal), the stores are fully stocked
during bigger harvests (and high prices) and at times (during low
prices) there will be no stock.
is as far as spin off services go. Other spin off services like
schools, health and transport in our village is virtually nil. Many
times our children stay back at home and do miss out on school because
the village is flooding and they cannot cross it. Because of that
we built our own elementary school using corrugated iron and timber
so that our children will easily receive education but the school
inspector said that we do not have enough children. Currently we
have less than 30 children and we need more than that to qualify
for elementary school status. So now our children have to attend
Mamba Estate elementary and go to Kokoda for their primary schooling
which is quite a distance for a 5-7 year old child.”
the resolutions of the workshop conducted in PNG, the women “united
in one voice” and called for the recognition of their rights in
all decision making processes and demanded a stop to any further
oil palm development.