Posts Tagged ‘self-sufficiency’

Benny Kapior:

We did not want the oil palm to come and take our land for oil palm. We want to do things our own way on our own land. We also want to take care of our land, the environment.

West New Britain has become an oil palm province. Now the landowners of West New Britain aren’t in a good position, they are being marginalised. The landowners lose their land and people from outside the province come in to get jobs with New Britain Palm Oil. And they are not in control of big companies. If we let the government or a foreign company come in and use our land, we have no control over our land, they can throw us off our land.

The company came here and told us they had lots of development plans for us, they told us they would help change our lives for the better, that sort of thing. They raised people’s expectations by promising development. But we are planting cocoa.

We plant cocoa and dry the beans here, and we sell it at the market in Madang. So we keep control of our land and of our lives. The social life of Urigina is much better than other communities who have given up their land and resources to big companies.

We plant other crops for our own consumption and we plant the cocoa as a cash-crop, to make an income. How much we make depends on the world market: if the price is good we can make around 400 kina per bag (each bag is around 60kg), or as low as 200 kina when prices are down, as they are currently.

We hope to use the income to improve the living standard of our community, but we’re limited by the low world market prices at the moment.  But we’re very happy with our decision because it allows us to develop our community on our terms.

Plenty of other communities are being tempted by these promises of development from big companies, and our message to them is: we must hold onto our land and resources, so that we can continue to control our future, and develop in a way that best fits us.

Grace Bernard:

The women of this community have been very strong about standing against oil palm. We’ve been part of the decision-making process. We know when they come inside they will stop us from working in our gardens and we won’t be able to make a living using our own resources. How will we survive if they destroy our rivers and our forest? So the mothers have strongly said no to oil palm.

We didn’t want to let oil palm into our community, so we stand against it and generate income through planting crops – apart from cocoa, we’re planting peanuts, and they’re a big money-maker. So in this way we can care for our land and keep control over it, and use it to sustain our families. We don’t want an outsider to come and destroy our land.

By giving this example to our children, showing them that by caring for our environment it takes care of us, we are teaching them to value the land. We also practice sustainable agriculture: we don’t use pesticides or chemicals, and we practice shifting cultivation, leaving areas of soil to become fertile again.

We are thinking of our children and our children’s children. They will need this land, and we are entitled to pass it on to them. They have the right to continue to own this land. So we don’t want a company to come and destroy their future.

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BOUGAINVILLE Copper Ltd (BCL) said in early May the people of Bougainville’s future depended on the reopening of the Panguna mine. At BCL’s annual general meeting in Port Moresby last month, chairman Peter Taylor said:

“There is widespread agreement today that Bougainville’s economic future needs mining if it is to be able to fund services for the people from its own resources, as well as address future opportunities for economic and social development.”

But Bougainvilleans do have a choice for their economic future not solely based on mining. We know this because, during the war, Bougainvilleans found they were very capable of supporting themselves outside of mining: outside the cash economy altogether.

The wonderful book, As Mothers of the Land[1] – detailing the incredible and decisive role played by women throughout the war and subsequent peace process – provides an overview of this successful adaptation to self-sufficiency during the blockade.

Josephine Tankunani Sirivi, for example, describes how people returned to traditional gardening knowledge and the barter system. “Now we no longer had cash, paid work or any access to processed food, yet we were able to produce enough to feed our people and to share with others,” she says.

Rather than society succumbing to anarchy and starvation, “it was a time of sharing and caring wholeheartedly for one another.”

It was also a time of innovation: learning how to use coconut oil for cars and power; designing hydro-electric power from mountain streams; setting up a short-wave radio station (Radio Free Bougainville); producing rice, oil and soap; using cocoa to produce bleach; and re-learning the use of various herbs and vines, tree bark, roots and leaves for medicine.

Perhaps most impressively, these (primarily women-led) initiatives created an outstanding health and education infrastructure entirely through community organisation and without wages, let alone millions of dollars of foreign aid. Marilyn Taleo Havini describes this revolution:

“Women’s groups began by forming family, church and non-denominational fellowships to feed orphans and widows, to teach, nurse, pass on recipes, seeds and agrarian skills such as permaculture, and to conduct technical and secretarial training.

“By 1996, several of these community initiatives had come together under (the) name Bougainville Community Based Integrated Humanitarian Program (BOCBIHP). Behind the blockade, by the time the peace process began in 1997, they had established 12 health centre bases that supplied 23 aid posts and 47 village health clinics. The nursing school in the jungle graduated trainees and health workers including 36 village midwives, 36 village aides and 23 aid post orderlies.

“BOCBIHP fielded 80 qualified schoolteachers and 113 volunteer grade-10 graduates as their assistants. They opened 71 community schools with an overall enrollment of 4,726 pupils. They also opened a secretarial school and a bible college.”

Sirivi sees the self-sufficiency movement as having enabled many people to survive the war. In addition, “new communal respect for traditional knowledge and jungle skills added to the pride of being Bougainvillean.”

If these outcomes were possible under the extreme conditions of the war, what amazing efforts could be achieved today, in a time of peace?

Mining has left a deep stain on Bougainville, and mining alone won’t remove it. Regardless of whether Panguna is reopened or not, Bougainvilleans can benefit – like all Papua New Guineans, and all Pacific Islanders – by organising themselves to control their own communities, as described above.

Not being reliant on mining, these communities can survive and thrive when they control their own development.

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Watch a movie about the Bougainville ‘eco-revolution’ during the crisis, ‘The Coconut Revolution’, here.


[1] Tankunani Sirivi, J. and Taleo Havini, M. (eds.)2004, …As Mothers of the Land: The Birth of the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom. Canberra: Pandanus Books