Yat Paol is a farmer on Madang’s North Coast. He runs a grassroots NGO aimed at linking up rural PNG communities who are using their land to build small businesses. Rather than selling off their land, and their children’s future, to a logger or miner. Journalist Andrew Pascoe interviewed him.
“This model of development, this alternative from the outside, that’s aggressively being promoted and pushed by the government and all the other powers – including the financial institutions on the outside, the Australian government with AusAID, aid programs by other governments also, and even some NGOs who buy into these programs like poverty reduction and that garbage – they say we are a poor country, we are a starving people.
I plant my own food and I eat it from my own land. I catch fish from my own river. We get it free. We get it free, we don’t buy it, so what do you need $1 a day for? I don’t need that garbage. And I’m not alone in that thinking.
Our own model of development is already there. We’re already having it. I’m living in my village. I’m OK. I can live for up to a week without a kina or a toea, without spending one toea. Everything I need is there already. That’s our model of development which our government and the powers that be lose sight of, they’re blind to that, turning a blind eye to that. The real model of development that is ours, that has sustained us for 50,000 years or more. And now we have this alternative model of development that’s come in and is aggressively promoted.
The government and all these who are supporting this model of development, this outside model of development, they forget that people are living their lives. Life still goes on in the villages. People don’t need your big money. People don’t need your big industry – big, so-called ‘development’. We have marketable produce all over the country. We are not poor people. And I don’t believe this garbage about poverty reduction — not in this country. Papua New Guinea is evergreen. We have everything.
So whose interest is this model of development serving? It’s serving big business, it’s serving the Government through the taxes, and those corrupt politicians and high level executives who steal all the money, most of the money, anyway. And their bosses: the foreign governments and the aid programs, international financial institutions, who think they are doing good, for the so-called developing nations. So it’s benefiting rich people – not us, on the ground. I’m saying us because I am part of that now.
The only thing we need is good roads, accessibility to the markets. That’s the only thing – access to markets and services. To goods and services that we cannot produce ourself. That’s basically what we really need.
I believe in agriculture. But agriculture in our terms, agriculture that we the people can be in control of, not some foreigner-controlled agriculture project. Whatever we can farm ourself, of course with technical support, and some finance from the outside, but we do it ourself, and we control it. Like cocoa, or our buai, even tobacco. Those are money makers. We don’t need to buy this British American produced tobacco, we have our own local tobacco. And buai, that’s a big money maker. They talk about ‘informal’ sector. What’s informal? That’s what’s sustaining us, economically and socially. That’s the only sector that sustains us financially and socially, not the so-called formal sector. What is it doing?
I’m optimistic, because I see that people are not sleeping. They don’t need no government to come with their development model. They are tilling their land. They are cultivating their land. They’re making small business. Of course they need outsider support. For them to be able to manage, because managing cash economy is something that’s new for us. We need skills to be able to manage it and grow the business. This is small-to-medium kind business, not big business, not industries. Management skills and also processing kakao, we can make our own chocolate on a small scale. If the government is serious about its people, it should make that possible to happen, I think that’s the work of government, to be able to facilitate that. If its really serious about being a government for the people, by the people, and of the people, that’s the real work of the government.
And our constitutional founders saw that. The constitutional planning committee, they saw that our strength is in our land, in our cultural heritage, and in our artistic talents that’s ours. I think that’s the key. It’s in our blood. We are farmers. We discovered farming 10,000 years ago, so that’s in our blood. We don’t need no alternative to come and teach us how to farm. Our people are farming already.”