Managalas Plateau was declared the biggest conservation area in Papua New-Guinea on Wednesday by the country's Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change MP John Pundari and Governor Gary Juffa. The official celebration took place on the Managalas plateau itself.
The government representatives, among many other guests from far and near, were received by various traditional dancing groups with a display of wild birds and animals. The celebration marked 32 years of hard work to get the area officially declared as a conservation area.
A plaque was unveiled in the presence of United Nations Development Program resident representative Roy Trivedy, deputy head of the Norwegian Embassy in Canberra Beate Gabrielsen, a delegation from Rainforest Foundation Norway and not to forget the organization running the project on the ground; Partners with Melanesians. Hundreds of people living on the plateau were there to take part in the celebration.
-This has been a long struggle, which finally has ended in an important victory. We are proud to have been part of this victory protecting a unique and diverse rainforest area sustaining the lives of thousands of people, says Rune Paulsen, Pacific senior advisor at Rainforest Foundation Norway.
United against the logging companies
It all began with a few students and a big plan: To save the 360, 000 hectares of rainforest, covering the Managalas plateau tucked between rugged mountains in central Papua New Guinea. Managalas is rich in valuable timber resources and suitable for palm oil plantations. However, the local population has repeatedly stood up against commercial interests trying to get access to the area. In 1997, Rainforest Foundation Norway decided to back them financially.
This is an area where 21 000 people, speaking three different languages, live in small villages spread across the plateau. Traditionally, the different clans have been in conflict with each other. “Then they realized that their main problem was not their neighbours. There was someone else who tried to take their land,” says Rune Paulsen, senior adviser in the South East Asia and Oceania Department of the Rainforest Foundation Norway, who has been involved in the project since the beginning.
At the end of 2016, the inhabitants of Managalas finally received the news they had been waiting for: The Government had signed the final documents defining Managalas as a protected area. The 29th November 2017 the villages were gathered for a joyous celebration, putting on a traditional sing sing, with guest from far and near.
In Papua New Guinea, the local population, who has traditional ownership to the land, can continue living within a protected area. They can harvest the forest resources according to a long-term management plan, which they, in the case of Managalas, themselves have drawn up. After years of countless village meetings and consultations, the clans united behind a shared vision for the future.
“Before reaching the conclusion not to sell their resources to outside interest, the inhabitants had to study and discuss the consequences of logging, mining and plantation development. We supported them in providing local communities in the Managalas with the necessary information,” explains Paulsen, adding that it was a long process.
“The result was, however, that every single community said no to palm oil and logging,” he continues. The fact that a range of local communities came to an agreement, about how to manage this huge rainforest in the future, is in itself a victory. “Historically, in Papua New Guinea, the people have not developed decision-making institutions that can handle cases above village level. We had to do something completely new,” says Paulsen.
An unanimous no to logging
The people of the Managalas plateau were divided into zones based on language and cultural criteria. Within each zone, the local population had to make decisions on a range of topics, including the question of logging and palm oil plantations. When the local communities in each zone had discussed and agreed, representatives from each zone were invited to a so-called ‘Combined Forum’. The forum was entrusted with the final decision on the future of the entire Managalas.
“In the Forum, all the issues were discussed once more. At this point, the process had been going on for years,” says Paulsen. Still, he believes the future of the Managalas could not have been decided in any other way. “It is absolutely crucial that the local population is consulted and is able to influence what will happen to their forest,” says Paulsen, adding that the Managalas project has provided valuable experience in how to establish a structure for decision making when multiple communities are involved.
“The way we did it worked beautifully. The process gave us a unanimous no to logging. The people made decisions about their own futures, what they want and what they do not want. They decided to maintain their heritage,” says Paulsen.
Solutions for the future
Now, the Managalas project enters a new stage, as the local communities are to develop ecologically and financially sustainable models for the harvest of forest resources. There is already a substantial production of coffee, and the soil is suitable for most crops. The experience gained over the past two decades is invaluable to the entire country: “We believe the people of Papua New Guinea as a whole will say no to palm oil, logging, mining and other industries, if they are able to make an informed choice.
The story of the Managalas might be a drop in the ocean, but it is an important example of the fact that there are alternatives to plantations and logging. This story must now be relayed to other communities faced with similar choices,” says Paulsen.
Help us achieve more victories.