Posts Tagged ‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’

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.”

A few questions niggled in the back of my mind a few days ago after a long discussion with friends. We talked about the expectations that the Papua New Guinea education system embeds in our minds.

After more than 30 years since our colonisers (supposedly) relinquished direct control over our affairs, our education system – their education system – continues to perpetuate engrained notions that are far from reality. Those notions are reinforced by our families. We teach our children to study for an academic qualification in order to get a job and to support ourselves. Many of us have not – and probably never will – come to the realistion that the education system prepares us to work for a production system instead of taking control of the means of production.

Every year, the government talks about the high rate of unemployment. “There aren’t enough jobs out there for young people coming out of university,” they say. It is because we are educated to believe in the illusion that our young people will somehow be absorbed into a ‘job market’. It doesn’t teach us that we can create jobs for ourselves.

Nor does it teach us to have pride in working on the land to make a living. Hence a young man or woman is considered a ‘success’ if she leaves home to work for a commercial company. No matter that they work much harder and make much less money (see this video if you don’t believe it) – they are considered more successful than that buai seller (that buai entrepreneur) by the road, who’s making twice as much, and is able to stay close to his community and his values.

Have we really sat down to think about who it was that designed our education system? Do we realise that this system was designed by people from another culture who don’t own land? Sure, it taught us to read and write and speak a foreign language that we use to converse with other people around the world. But does the education system teach us who we are? Does it teach us our strengths as a people? Does the education system teach us the value of land (i.e land, sea, air, bush etc) in the context that we own resources and are in a position of power?

Why do we listen to those who tell us that the ‘wantok system’ can’t be integrated into business? Why do you think a Chinese businessman will buy from one of his own? Isn’t that the ‘wantok system’? When will we take stock of our many strengths and realise that along with land, that we own, the traditional structures that we use to pay for bride price and funerals can also be used to pool financial resources needed to start businesses? When will we realise that we can create, on OUR own land, environments where everybody from children to adults have an income without having to work for someone else?

* PNG Constitution National Goal 1, ‘Integral Human Development’: WE ACCORDINGLY CALL FOR education to be based on mutual respect and dialogue, and to promote awareness of our human potential and motivation to achieve our National Goals through self-reliant effort.

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ is Scott Waide’s outstanding new documentary which, over 18 inspiring minutes, proves there is another way for Papua New Guinea. A way that doesn’t involve corruption, urban ghettoes, dispossession of land and loss of PNG’s incredibly diverse cultures.

Watch video here:  http://youtu.be/4Qk9X_rOOjI

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ tells the story of Saussi, a rural community which rejected offers to lease its land for oil palm. Instead it has used control over its land’s natural resources to become incredibly self-sufficient. Today, Saussi is far wealthier than any community we know of that has allowed extractive ‘development’ onto their land.

PNG is unique in that most of the people still own their land (86% – formerly 97%, before the current land-grab by foreign corporations began). But communities everywhere are coming under massive pressure from mining, logging, fisheries, oil palm and other companies to lease their land, in some cases for generations. Not realising the wealth inherent in their own land, or not having the power to maintain control over it, communities are being evicted from their land by companies at a rapid rate. As they do, traditional societies are breaking down and PNG is becoming awash with crime and hopelessness.

Saussi proves its doesn’t have to be that way. PNG and other Pacific countries can choose to become rich through holding onto their land, or poor by selling out their future to foreign corporations. It is a choice that involves all of us. Landowners need to realise the value of what they own, the middle class needs to support their rural brothers and sisters’ way of life, and the government needs to create an enabling environment to help people maintain control over their land.

‘Em Graun Bilong Mipla’ needs to be shared by anyone who believes there is another path – a better path – for PNG and the Pacific.

http://youtu.be/4Qk9X_rOOjI