Hello, my name is Rickson and welcome to my blog. The blog talks about Papua New Guinea's untouched Natural environment and how best we utilize, without harming or endangering them.
Please feel free to air your comments and views.....

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ecological Degradation

It is intriguing to see the changes in the environment when there is to some extend an external disturbance to their surrounding ecological community.
The centrality of the theory of evolutions and the concept of geological time to modern biological and ecological thinking means that in the present context of accelerated extraction of forests and reef resources, the degradation and loss of natural virgin forests and reef ecosystems, scientists are collectively alarmed by the concomitant threats of biodiversity loss and species extinction. Some form of ecological degradation cannot be reversed. Example, from a rich virgin forest to grassland or desert, and corals disappear replaced by macro-algae, mostly species of Sargassum become dominant.

From hundred percent Coral cover (above) to seaweeds overgrowth (below).

From thick primary forest (above)to grassland (below).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Beauty of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is actually a paradise. Home to millions of named and unnamed creatures that are abundant from the Low lands to the Highlands. From the pristine coral reefs to thick foggy forest. Truly Papua New Guinea is a world of its own.

Turbinaria sp. Bootless Bay.

One of many Natural fresh water (Ph. Gilton Alimaka in Kimbe)

sarcophyton sp. the soft coral species photo was taken by the author at Bootless Bay, Central Province. Bootless Bay offers the best dive sites in Papua New Guinea.

Orchid show at the National Parliment (Ph. Selma P.)

Leptoria Phrygia, common in PNG coral reefs

Monday, February 8, 2010


Below is a one the best article written by Colin Filer, which I find it very interesting. It gives an insight into the treats of Papua New Guinea's Biodiversity. Hope it is of interest to you also.


Colin Filer

August 1994
Published in N.Sekhran & S.Miller (eds), Papua New Guinea Country Study on Biodiversity, pp.187-199. Boroko: PNG Department of Environment and Conservation, Conservation Resource Centre.
In this chapter we consider the main threats which human activities pose for Papua New Guinea's biodiversity endowment, and we attempt to trace the origin of these threats to a specific combination of cultural, economic and political factors which are at work in contemporary PNG society.

1 Classification of Activities

A classification of human activities which threaten biodiversity values in Papua New Guinea needs to combine the distinction between different types of impact on the natural environment and the distinction between different types of economic or productive activity. -
From the impact point of view, we may begin with a distinction between terrestrial and aquatic impacts, and then sub-divide each of these categories by asking whether the impact consists of habitat degradation, environmental pollution, over-exploitation, or the introduction of alien organisms. -
From the economic point of view, we may begin with a parallel distinction between the activities of corporate and individual human agencies, and then sub-divide each of these categories by allocating each activity to one of the broad economic sectors recognised in official descriptions of the national economy. Papua New Guinea's National Report to UNCED (Unisearch 1992) provides most of the information required to establish this double classification, and some of the information required to determine the relative size of the threat posed by different types of activity. There is general agreement that the most significant threat currently posed to PNG's biodiversity values stems from the degradation of terrestrial habitats by total or partial removal of natural forest cover. This type of threat takes three main forms: -
Between 20,000 and 30,000 hectares of natural forest are cleared totally and permanently each year for a variety of economic purposes. The most important of these are: commercial agricultural operations, which account for about 10,000 hectares of clearance; industrial logging of 5-6,000 hectares by the only timber company (Jant) which currently holds a clear-fell permit logging; and the construction of economic infrastructure (including large-scale mining facilities), which may account for another 10,000 hectares. -
A much larger area of natural forest is being damaged in varying degrees by 'selective' but possibly 'unsustainable' logging of prime timber species. It is difficult to calculate the area affected each year, partly because of inadequate official supervision of the industry and partly because of arguments about the definition of 'sustainability', but current estimates are reaching up to 100,000 hectares. -
Local villagers in different parts of the country are extending their practice of shifting cultivation to portions of natural forest not previously cleared for this purpose, including those recently subject to 'selective logging' and those which have been 'opened up' by the construction of new roads. Even in areas of secondary vegetation, which have already been incorporated into the shifting cultivation regime, there are tendencies to reduce fallow periods or extend cultivation periods. One estimate is that 200,000 hectares are cleared for subsistence gardening each year, but it is not clear what proportion of this is primary forest or what proportion represents a process of intensified cultivation. The other main threats to national biodiversity values are not so easily subjected to a single standard of measurement, even if more data were available to indicate the extent of each one: -
Some aquatic habitats are being degraded by domestic or industrial waste products. The most notorious of these are the waste materials discharged by Ok Tedi Mining Ltd and, to a lesser extent, Porgera Joint Venture, which are polluting parts of the Fly-Strickland catchment. Industrial logging, agricultural processing, and urban sewage disposal are responsible for most instances of water pollution outside of the mining sector. -
Various marine species are threatened by the combination of dynamite fishing on coastal reef formations and damage caused to coastal mangroves which function as important fish breeding areas. It is hard to gauge the extent of these threats because most of the relevant activities are undertaken by local villagers or urban squatters, and it is not hard to understand why the most widely publicised cases of dynamite fishing are those which occur in the vicinity of major urban centres like Port Moresby and Rabaul. -
Rural villagers in most parts of the country are probably guilty of exploiting some species in ways which are unsustainable in their own right and have negative side-effects on other species within specific habitats. Some of these activities are confined to the subsistence sector while others are primarily oriented towards the global trade in rare species. Direct corporate involvement in this type of activity is concentrated in the fisheries sector, where prawns, trochus and beche-de-mer are the species most obviously at risk. -
Despite the relative stringency of national quarantine regulations, there are several well-known examples of the deliberate or accidental introduction of alien organisms which either attack and consume native species directly or else cause damage to their habitats. Cats, tilapia, starfish, and salvinia molesta are amongst them. However, little is known about the overall range and impact of such alien intrusions. If attention is concentrated on the distinction between 'modern' and 'traditional' sectors of the national economy, it is immediately evident that nearly all the activities listed above are normally conducted on land or in water which is still subject to customary ownership, even if it has been leased to the state for some specific economic purpose, and such activities are therefore undertaken with the consent or approval of the customary owners. This fact lends a peculiar flavour to the problem addressed in this part of the report. If the customary owners largely retain the power to say how their resources shall be used, it is necessary to ask why some or all of them are apparently unable to manage those resources in ways which accord with the noble goals and principles of the National Constitution. Popular answers to this question proceed along two main lines: -
those which assume that the relationship between customary landowners and their natural resources is a very close one, perhaps even a condition of mystical harmony, and thus conclude that the answer lies in some combination of external forces which have broken this form of association; and -
those which proceed from the observation that landowners want nothing more than 'development', and then argue that the intensity of this desire, and the frustration of its non-fulfilment, have caused a willingness to sacrifice anything which they control in order to achieve their goal. Answers which proceed along the first road then vary according to the way in which they allocate the blame between various external agents - e.g. the colonial administration, national politicians, or foreign logging contractors - while those which proceed along the second road vary according to their assessment of the options available to landowners in their pursuit of 'development'.

2 The Problem of Regional Diversity

Academics exhibit greater caution in their approach to the question of how customary landowners deal with their natural environment, because academics are more likely to recognise that no account of human impacts on PNG's biodiversity endowment can ignore the traditional cultural diversity which has developed in this same environment or the continuing extent of regional variation in the pattern of human activity. There are two main academic approaches to understanding these human forms of diversity: -
the geographical approach, which maps the spatial distribution of enduring features of the cultural or economic landscape; and -
the historical approach, which portrays a process of uneven spatial development through the period of colonialism and its aftermath. The contrast between these two approaches runs parallel to the contrast between the two general answers to the question why landowning communities fail to act as guardians of the nation's biodiversity endowment. The first approach tends to emphasise traditional and internal factors in its explanation of human activity, while the second tends to emphasise the external constraints of an evolving global or regional political economy. The first approach tends to locate the major threats to PNG's biodiversity endowment in the variable dynamics of village society, while the second tends to find them in the locally variable relationship between urban and rural sectors of the national economy. Many academics recognise the need to combine these two approaches. The normal starting point for any analysis of PNG's traditional cultural landscape is the Pacific Language Atlas (Wurm & Hattori 1981) which shows the spatial distribution of vernacular languages and indicates the degree of similarity between them. Anthropologists continue to argue about the extent to which this picture of linguistic diversity also serves to distinguish between traditional 'cultures' or 'culture areas', but people who speak languages of the same 'family' (as linguists define this term) normally do recognise the existence of cultural affinities and historical relationships which are associated with their own perception of this fact. If 'culture areas' are equated with 'language families' in this way, then PNG has approximately 180 of them, which is certainly a more manageable figure than the much quoted, and constantly increasing, number of individual languages. On the other hand, there is still a wide range of variation in the size of these areas, and an even wider range of variation in their local population. For example, languages of the Central and West-Central families are spoken by almost a million highlanders, while no less than ten different families of languages are spoken by the 25,000 traditional inhabitants of Nuku District in the West Sepik Province. Part of this variation may result from differential rates of population growth or the incidence of physical barriers to communication between neighbouring communities, but part of it may be due to the fact that there are some areas in which people place an unusually high value on the deliberate creation and reproduction of cultural difference. An alternative geographical approach to the question of cultural diversity, and the starting point for any analysis of the traditional and contemporary economic landscape of Papua New Guinea should now be the map of local agricultural systems which is being produced by a team of scholars based at the Australian National University (Allen et al 1993). This is the first time that a truly systematic attempt has been made to document those enduring variations in human activity which are most directly relevant to the future of the natural environment in rural areas. This work is providing an invaluable counterpoint to the earlier synthesis of linguistic research, firstly because it is likely to delineate a number of subsistence systems which is roughly comparable to the number of 'culture areas' distinguished by the language family criterion, and secondly because there is a partial, but by no means total, coincidence between the boundaries drawn on the two sets of maps. This contrast between linguistic and agricultural perspectives in the geographical approach to the problem of regional diversity is matched by the contrast between religious and political perspectives in the recent history of colonial and national development. In other words, the contrast between church and state as instruments in the transformation of rural society and cultural ecology runs parallel to the contrast between language and production as clues or keys to traditional forms of cultural diversity. On the one hand, it may be argued that regional variations in what rural villagers think and do with their natural environment have been conditioned by the length and quality of their experience of government control, especially the success or failure of agricultural experiments which government officials have forced or persuaded them to undertake in the name of 'development'. On the other hand, these variations also stem, at least in part, from the changing allegiance of individuals and communities to a bewildering array of 'cargo cults' and Christian denominations which have not only carved out their own local spheres of influence for variable periods of time, but which have also differed widely in their relative tolerance of 'traditional culture' and their relative devotion to millenarian fantasies. In light of these considerations, great care must always be exercised in the selection of local case studies to illustrate any general proposition about the relationship between customary landowners and their natural resources. There is no immediate prospect of defining a framework of social indicators within which a representative sample of communities or cultures could be selected for this purpose. However, the small army of anthropologists and other social scientists who have undertaken intensive studies of rural PNG communities have also had a natural tendency to disperse themselves between 'culture areas' or 'development zones', as they perceive them, and many of these scholars have written extensively about traditional forms of human interaction with the natural environment or about the relationship between 'tradition' and 'development' - though few have given equal attention to both these topics. From this body of work it is possible to construct a succession of relevant contrasts between individual cases, and then to ask which of the two is more typical of the country as a whole or of some smaller area within it.

3 Evidence of Pre-Colonial Ecology

Archaeological evidence from the Huon Peninsula (in Morobe Province) shows that human settlement of the main island of New Guinea dates back at least 40,000 years. The Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands seem to have been occupied for at least 30,000 years. The central highlands of New Guinea have probably been occupied for at least 20,000 years, and this is where prehistorians have found evidence of an agricultural tradition which dates back 9,000 years or more. Within the last 4,000 years, the aboriginal population has apparently been joined by an influx of Austronesian-speaking peoples who introduced a variety of new manufacturing techniques and some new species of domesticated plants and animals. In the 400 years preceding direct European contact in the 1930s, the social and economic life of the ancient agricultural communities in the central highlands has been considerably transformed by the introduction of the sweet potato, which was carried across the Pacific from America by the early Spanish colonists. The central highlands contain the most obvious evidence that traditional, pre-colonial forms of production were not always favourable to the conservation of biodiversity, for the broad highland valleys, once densely forested, contain most of PNG's four million hectares of man-made grasslands (Unisearch 1992:43). It is hardly surprising that prehistorians and anthropologists working in this part of the country have been the first to recognise that some features of traditional Melanesian society posed an actual or potential threat to the natural environment. In this particular case, there is little doubt that the introduction of the sweet potato facilitated a process of indigenous economic expansion which was still underway when Europeans first arrived in the highlands, yet the rapid diffusion of this crop is only one historical example of an apparent predisposition to agricultural innovation in highland communities, which has been described by some authors as a form of 'primitive capitalism' (see Finney 1973). It is now generally acknowledged that the institutions of competitive gift exchange so characteristic of this area required the production of a 'social surplus' which sometimes encouraged unsustainable forms of shifting cultivation and thus exaggerated the negative environmental impact of population growth (see Allen 1988, Allen & Crittenden 1987, Bowers 1968, Wood 1984). A distinction needs to be drawn here between those forms of production which presupposed some initial loss of biodiversity, mainly through permanent forest clearance, and those which were positively unsustainable, in the sense that they entailed a vicious circle of environmental degradation. Even after the introduction of the sweet potato, many highland communities clearly possessed a complex and sophisticated array of resource management techniques which were not only sustainable in their own right, but also seem to have included a positive recognition of biodiversity values through the maintenance of 'sacred sites' which might readily be compared to European botanical gardens. On the other hand, it is equally clear that some highland communities have long since passed beyond the geographical limits within which their traditional highland economy could be practiced without causing cumulative environmental degradation and ultimately threatening the survival of their human population. Outside of the central highlands, the remarkable variety of environmental conditions and cultural formations in Melanesia has precluded the construction of any general model of traditional human ecology. Most communities practiced some form of shifting cultivation within a fairly well-defined area of secondary vegetation, with a variable expanse of primary forest separating the gardening zones of neighbouring groups, but there were many exceptions and variations to this rule (see Allen et al 1993). There are substantial stretches of grassland (like the Sepik plains) which have resulted from the unsustainable economic activities of populations which have since departed, while others (like those of the Goilala District in Central province) are still occupied by groups which have only recently begun to encounter the ecological limits of their economic customs. On many small islands, in some coastal habitats, and along the lower reaches of the major rivers (notably the Sepik and the Fly) we find communities in which the practice of cultivation played a relatively minor role in the traditional system of subsistence, and in which some other speciality (like fishing or craft production) had been developed as part of a regional trading system. Even in those areas where cultivation has long been the dominant form of productive activity, other traditional activities (like hunting) may have contributed to the loss of biodiversity within those stretches of primary forest whose continued existence appears to prove that local people lived in harmony with their natural environment. Anthropologists continue to debate the circumstances and the sense in which this state of harmony or symbiosis formerly existed in Melanesia. Answers to this question should enable us to determine where and how the development of modern forms of conservation might be assisted by appeals to customary attitudes or practices. But even if we can come to terms with the wide variety of material circumstances in which these attitudes or practices were once adopted, we still face the intractable problem of deciding the relative significance of what people once thought (or what they now say they once thought) about their natural environment and what they actually did (or now do) to it. Several Western anthropologists have produced detailed ethnographic accounts of the way that local people traditionally perceive and evaluate different components of their natural environment (e.g. Hyndman 1979, Kocher Schmid 1992), but it is hard to say whether or how these perceptions and evaluations relate to the Western ethics and politics of nature conservation. Some anthropologists have argued that certain features of traditional social organisation, like the small size of corporate groups (Bulmer 1983) or the periodic slaughter of domesticated pig herds (Rappaport 1986), would have had the unintended effect of preserving scarce natural resources or restoring some form of ecological equilibrium, but it is hard to say whether or how such 'accidental' outcomes might now be used to justify specific conservation strategies in the minds of customary landowners. One of the main reasons for this kind of difficulty is the sense of ambivalence which Melanesians generally seem to have displayed towards the wild or undomesticated elements of their physical environment. The 'bush spirits' associated with significant natural species or unusual natural phenomena (known as masalai in Tok Pisin) were normally regarded as erratic, dangerous, and amoral creatures, worthy of fear but not respect. This complex of attitudes may help to explain how people who set great store by the observation of animal behaviour, from a combination of utilitarian and spiritual motives, can sometime exhibit what seems, to Western sensibilities at least, a wanton disregard for the well-being of these same animals, both as species and as individuals. It may also help to explain how villagers who fully understand the relationship between forest fallows and soil fertility are nevertheless prepared to sell their timber rights and permit the desecration of their 'sacred sites' for a relative pittance (see Allen 1988). Instead of inheriting a state of mystical harmony with their natural environment, landowners may well be accustomed to regard it, at least in certain contexts, as a source or form of evil power, especially if there is now a way to turn it into money and thus 'sacrifice' it to the spirit of 'development'.

4 Attitudes towards 'Development' and 'Conservation'

Whatever connection may once have existed between the thoughts and actions of Melanesians in respect of their natural environment, the fact remains that dead men tell no tales. Since Melanesians seem to have a special talent for inventing new 'traditions', it is now very difficult to say whether 'traditional' perceptions and evaluations of the natural environment were themselves affected or constrained by ancient variations in the cultural ecology of specific communities, or whether they have now come to reflect the locally uneven experience of colonialism and 'development'. The progressive alienation of rural communities from 'traditional values' may be regarded as a bad thing in its own right, but is only relevant to the business of nature conservation if the arts of traditional resource management have the capacity to mitigate new threats to biodiversity when they are recollected or revived. The question is not what the ancestors actually thought or did, but whether and how today's villagers can be persuaded to associate their own ideas of sustainable development with a sense of cultural autonomy or local pride. Some notable attempts were made to produce comparative studies of Papua New Guinean 'attitudes to development' in the period preceding Independence (e.g. Finney 1971, Moulik 1973), but these have not been pursued in the post-colonial period, partly because they were seen to be part of the old-fashioned 'modernisation paradigm', and partly because there are serious methodological difficulties in the measurement of people's attitudes to anything in rural village settings. It is therefore necessary to rely on the large but shapeless body of ethnographic and anecdotal evidence about particular social groups in order to assess the constant and variable features of what Papua New Guineans now think about the relationship between development and conservation. Despite the current promotion of various 'integrated conservation and development projects' in Papua New Guinea, there is little doubt that the vast majority of Papua New Guineans regard 'conservation' and 'development' as alternative pursuits and will normally express a preference for the latter over the former. If there is any significant variation between local communities on this score, it seems to be connected to the split between orthodox (mainly Catholic) and more radical forms of Christian belief. The more radical Christians, of whom there are now many varieties, are generally more active in their pursuit of 'development' than their more orthodox neighbours, whose pursuit of the same goal is apparently constrained by a variety of customs which they have not wholeheartedly rejected (see Albert 1989 for an example of this contrast in New Ireland Province). But conservatism is not to be confused with conservationism in a context where the customs tolerated by the orthodox are not invariably friendly to the natural environment. If religion does have some relevance to beliefs about 'development', a further complication arises from the continued existence of what is still called the 'cargo cult mentality', although such millenarian ideas are now normally dressed in the clothes of some recognised Christian denomination rather than the type of 'cargo cult' for which Melanesia became famous during the colonial period. Such millenarian beliefs have long flourished amongst those sections of the population which think they suffer from excessive political isolation or economic backwardness, but have recently come to reflect a more general sense of dissatisfaction with the pace and direction of national development. Such beliefs are obviously inconsistent with the principles of planning for sustainable development in any form. Once people's desire for 'development' is so thoroughly detached from what is feasible in practice, their impossible dreams may actually hinder those limited forms of material progress which are most likely to swing the balance of rural opinion towards an understanding of the need for nature conservation. On the other hand, the recent history of mineral exploration on Lihir Island (also in New Ireland Province) seems to show that small amounts of economic development induced by external forces can provide a fairly rapid, though perhaps temporary, antidote to millenarian fantasies. Such fantasies can themselves be seen as one form of response to those feelings of powerlessness and frustration which seem to be remarkably widespread amongst Papua New Guinean villagers, perhaps more so now than they ever were in the colonial period. The simple explanation for such feelings is that the rural population really is excluded from all the important decisions affecting their lives and really has experienced the stagnation of material living standards in the period since Independence. There surely is some truth to this. But part of the explanation may also be found in the psychological displacement of traditional attitudes towards the 'powers' of the natural environment, so that these are now reconstructed in a latter-day sense of ambivalence towards those corporate monsters, in both public and private sectors, who control and withhold the forbidden fruits of 'development' (see Gewertz & Errington 1991). In the Western conception of development, power is one of those variables or factors - like wealth, health or education - whose distribution between human agents is both the outcome and the explanation of their relative success, but Melanesian villagers may be accustomed to think of power as something which is fundamentally alien to human beings like themselves, as an intractable property of their natural or (now) their organisational environment. It may seem that customary landowners possess as much power as they need in order to control whatever process of development takes place on their land, but landowners themselves may deny their own capacity to engage in the rational management of their own natural resources until they reach that general condition of 'development' which may itself remain forever locked in the closed and hostile world of 'companies' and 'politics'. Although this complex of attitudes appears to be a pervasive and enduring feature of village life in many parts of Papua New Guinea, there are also reasons to believe that it is primarily a masculine phenomenon. This is because village women have been excluded from many of the activities and decisions which men regard as central to their own pursuit of 'development', in much the same way that men traditionally excluded women from the dangerous business of dealing with supernatural powers. While anthropologists continue to debate the question whether such exclusion was or is to be regarded as a form of patriarchal domination, less attention has been paid to the question whether village women now possess a gender-specific set of attitudes to 'development' which is more conducive to the practice of nature conservation, and whether they also have the capacity to put these ideas into practice without the active collaboration of their menfolk. Although the values of feminism and ecology are closely linked in current Western political discourse, there is no obvious reason why this connection should now be made in the rural villages of Papua New Guinea, especially when their inhabitants have become increasingly frustrated by their own failure to find the right 'road to development'. Such connections are more readily made by the growing 'middle class' of Papua New Guineans whose urban occupations have given them some freedom from the claustrophobia of village society and whose level of education has given them the capacity and the motivation to absorb Western political ideas. In this respect there may be nothing unusual about the social context in which this country is acquiring its own ethic of conservation. The difference is more likely to be found in the relationship between the moral and political values of Papua New Guinea's emergent middle class and those of a rural population which has so much nominal (if not real) control over the use the nation's natural resources but so little effective contact with state institutions responsible for planning the rational management of those resources. In practice, there are many middle class Papua New Guineans who retain strong links with the rural communities into which they were born and where they spent a substantial proportion of their childhood, and these individuals commonly do have an input into major decisions taken in their home communities, regardless of the position which they may happen to occupy in the formal sector of the economy. The 'educated elites' of New Hanover, in New Ireland Province, have played a prominent role on both sides of recent factional disputes about the merits of a local logging operation, and examples like this suggest that the voice of middle-class conservationism is beginning to make a genuine impact in those rural areas where educational standards have been relatively high for some time and schooling itself is seen to bestow some additional authority in the conduct of community affairs. On the other hand, middle-class Papua New Guineans have their own distinctive ways of denigrating the stupidity of their country cousins, including the use of pejorative terms like 'kanaka' or 'native village', even when they maintain an active and authoritative role in village affairs. Such attitudes are illustrated by the (probably apocryphal) story which circulated amongst the public servants of Milne Bay Province after a visiting team of environmentalists had told the people of Woodlark Island about the rarity of an endemic species of cuscus: the islanders are said to have concluded that they would now need to eradicate this creature completely because it had become the major obstacle to their 'development'. One point on which rural and urban Papua New Guineans are very likely to agree is also one of the main reasons why it is so hard to generalise about their attitudes to 'conservation' and 'development' - and that is their deep-rooted scepticism about the value of abstract ideas as guides to actual behaviour in concrete situations. All ideologies are 'merely talk' (tok tasol), and the absence of such talk has long been a puzzle to students of PNG's parliamentary democracy. Political behaviour is apparently based on the assumption that everyone (except perhaps oneself) is motivated entirely by some form of material self-interest, without reference to any general values or principles. This means that political issues which are initially framed by reference to such values (like the value of 'biodiversity') are constantly being transformed into forms of competition or mediation in which the individual protagonists have no consistent point of view beyond the strategies which they adopt to reach some temporary settlement. What this means, in practice, is that 'grassroots' disputes about the use of natural resources are not conducted like battles between small armies of 'developers' and 'conservationists', but rather like protracted accounts of people's material wants and needs.

5 Population Growth, Migration and Resettlement

Land is probably the most important single object of desire which figures in local debates about the environment, and this in turn means that disputes about the use of natural resources are liable to invoke a variety of ideas about the basic needs of rural households under various degrees of population pressure. In light of the financial resources which are currently being directed towards the resolution of Papua New Guinea's 'population problem', it may be thought that this constitutes the most significant and most easily recognisable threat to Papua New Guinea's biodiversity values. However, some experts would argue that this threat has been considerably overstated (see Hayes 1993). The current (1994) population of Papua New Guinea is estimated to be 4.1 million, with an average crude density of nine persons per square kilometre. Comparison of national census data from 1980 and 1990 indicates an annual population growth rate of 2.3 per cent. If this rate of growth persists, the population will double over the next thirty years, reaching a total of 8.2 million by 2024. Although much of the land surface of approximately 463,000 square kilometres is unsuitable for human settlement or cultivation, and there are some parts of the country in which the crude population density greatly exceeds the national average, population pressure can hardly be considered as an adequate explanation of current threats to the conservation of biodiversity throughout the country, since the local population consumes a very small proportion of the raw materials whose extraction currently poses the main threat to the natural environment. Most Melanesian communities lost a proportion of their population to the ravages of new diseases in the years following their first major experience of European intrusion. The extent of the decline and the period of recovery was normally reduced with each successive stage in the process of colonisation, as medical knowledge and practice began to catch up with the problems caused by this encounter. As a result, people in some coastal areas, where the decline was fairly marked and can still be recollected, have some reason to be sceptical about claims that they need to limit the growth of their population, whereas people in the central highlands, who were not brought under effective colonial administration until after the Second World War, are more likely to regard their current rates of population growth as part of an uninterrupted process of expansion which predates any specific historical event but which may yet have some natural or economic limit. As previously noted, the central highlands contain some of those areas in which the human population already exceeds the level at which it poses a continual threat to the reproduction of various natural resources. In these cases it can be argued that the dynamics of human ecology are part of a pre-colonial social legacy which is 'closely associated with individuals and groups attempting to maintain economic and political equality under conditions of unequal opportunity and resources' (Allen 1986). In lowland and coastal areas it is more plausible to argue that pockets of unsustainable population density result from the colonial destruction of various customary mechanisms for maintaining some state of ecological equilibrium. But whatever the origin of the problem, the solutions now available for the alleviation of such population pressure are clearly constrained by the politics and the institutions of modern society. In pre-colonial times the institutions of tribal warfare and spontaneous migration provided some sort of safety valve for any surplus population, even if (as Allen says) the safety valve was sometimes blocked by other institutions. The colonial regime removed this safety valve by fixing and policing the territorial boundaries between rural communities, but then created another by initiating a series of agricultural resettlement schemes which were partly intended to shift numbers of people from high-density to low-density areas (see Valentine 1979, Hulme 1984). In the period since Independence, there has been a rapid growth of parochial resistance to the idea of state-sponsored transfers of rural settlers across provincial boundaries, especially when this entails their movement from the less developed to the more developed provinces. It seems the government has not only lost the capacity to lease customary land for this purpose, but has even lost control over much of the land previously leased by the colonial regime. The function of the safety valve has thus been transferred to the process of urban migration, which was tightly controlled during the colonial period, and which some provincial authorities are now seeking to resist in their own way by the forced 'repatriation' of urban 'squatters' from other provinces. However, the scarcity of land in some rural areas is only on of the many factors which explain the overall growth of the urban population over the last three decades, and there is as yet no evidence that current moves to reverse this general trend will add to the existing problem of population in those particular areas.

6 New Technologies and New Consumption Patterns

In Boserup's well-known thesis on the stages of agricultural development, shifting cultivators are supposed to find another outlet for their excess population by inventing new techniques of cultivation which enable them to raise the productivity of their land by raising the total amount of labour which each worker expends on it. As we have seen, this argument can be used to explain the pre-colonial process of horticultural intensification in the central highlands, albeit with some allowance for the peculiarities of local social organisation as an independent variable, and there are some respects in which this process has continued down to the present day. But the process of agricultural innovation is only one compartment in the Pandora's box of industrial technologies which now afflict the Melanesian environment. From shotguns, dynamite and chainsaws to the humble safety match or plastic bag - there is a huge array of manufactured commodities whose use or abuse has serious environmental implications. Unfortunately, many anthropologists and other social scientists who have observed and analysed the process of 'development' in PNG have not paid much attention to the differential social and environmental impacts of specific instruments of work or objects of consumption, possibly because they have assumed that these are all explained by some general model of technological dependency. Anthropologists have concentrated most of their attention on the destruction or loss of traditional technologies, regardless of the social and environmental impact of their modern counterparts. Subsistence gardening and other forms of cultivation have not been markedly affected by this substitution because they have always been undertaken with a large amount of technical knowledge but a small number of rudimentary tools. It is mainly in the sphere of arts and crafts, ceremonial performance, and therapeutic practices that material products and technical skills have been seriously and simultaneously eroded. As a result, there has been a very substantial reduction in the range of natural resources which were formerly valued and consumed as the raw materials for these forms of work. This reduction must obviously be regarded as a major threat to the maintenance of biodiversity, and some of the anthropologists now gathering additional ethnographic information about the many large collections of Melanesian artifacts in Western museums have correspondingly begun to perceive their work as a way to develop local interest in nature conservation strategies. Salisbury (1962) has provided the classic ethnographic account of the way that technical innovation figures in the earliest stages of the colonial encounter, and his analysis does focus attention on the practice of shifting cultivation because it is mainly concerned with the way that a highland community adapted to that rapid substitution of steel tools for stone tools which seems to have occurred in all PNG communities within a few years of their first contact with Europeans. Salisbury showed how the scale of traditional feasting suddenly expanded as Siane men took advantage of their sudden productivity gain in the masculine work of clearing new gardens by devoting more of their time and effort to the masculine pursuit of fame and honour through the institution of competitive gift exchange. In one sense, this can be seen as a negative confirmation of Boserup's argument, since the Siane (like most other Melanesian communities) were not experiencing the sort of population pressure which would have motivated them to put more time and effort into food production. On the other hand, it now seems clear that the way in which the Siane expressed their preference for a state of 'subsistence affluence' was only the first phase of their adaptation to Western technology, and while it may still be the case that labour-saving technology enables some people to invest more time and effort in traditional forms of 'leisure', this does not mean that everyone continues to forgo the use of such technology to cause additional environmental damage in the name of 'development'. The social history of the shotgun provides an interesting illustration of the way that new technologies are first adapted for use within a traditional framework of economic activities, but subsequently 'liberated' from such constraints in ways which are likely to exaggerate their destructive impact on the natural environment. Towards the end of the colonial period, shotgun licences were issued to rural villagers at a rate (normally one per one hundred people) which was partly intended to preserve the local wildlife from excessive depletion. As a result, hunting often became the specialised occupation of the licence-holder at the same time as traditional hunting techniques (which had their own specialists) generally fell into abeyance. However, this new species of professional hunter (known in Tok Pisin as a sutboi) commonly practiced his craft under traditional forms of magical regulation which had the effect of limiting his catch and ensuring its equitable distribution amongst the other members of his community (see Mitchell 1973 for a Sepik example). Such men rarely, if ever, thought of using their weapons to threaten or wound other human beings, but in the period since Independence it is this form of abuse which has been taken as the main reason for government to impose further restrictions on the issue of shotgun licences. In some areas these restrictions have been reluctantly accepted while in others, most notably the central highlands, they have been extensively ignored. There are now substantial regional variations in the numbers and types of guns which villagers possess, as well as the uses to which they are put, but in most areas and for most purposes their use is no longer regulated by traditional beliefs. In areas where shotgun use has been reduced, the local wildlife may not suffer from the fact that people are now more carefree in their use of those which remain, but in areas where large numbers of imported or home-made weapons have been accumulated for criminal or military purposes, there is o reason to suppose that their owners would avoid their use as hunting weapons unless they saw this as a waste of valuable ammunition. In other cases, the threat posed by an alien technology may be limited, at least for a time, by the lack of indigenous expertise or determination to make full use of its destructive capacity. It is sometimes said, for example, that the great virtue of the portable or 'walkabout' sawmill lies precisely in the likelihood that it will break down and be left to rust before its operators can do too much damage with it. The other side of this particular coin is that some 'appropriate' or 'intermediate' technologies, which really do offer the prospect of environmentally friendly forms of rural development, may also fail for lack of fairly fundamental technical or mechanical skills. In the minds of many villagers, the acquisition and application of such skills does not appear to rate too highly by comparison with the attractions of sitting behind a desk in smart clothes and talking on the telephone, or better still, standing on a platform in very smart clothes and making speeches through a megaphone.

7 Social Differentiation and Political Authority

To judge by letters written to the local newspapers, there are many Papua New Guineans who believe that the process of economic and social stratification, combined with the corruption of the most wealthy and powerful members of their society, is not only a radical and deplorable departure from Melanesian custom, but also constitutes a distinctive threat to the natural environment. This threat is understood to derive from the way that certain 'leaders' have lined their own pockets, and thus funded their rise to power, with rents, fees or bribes collected from the lease of land or sale of natural resources to wicked foreigners. This understanding of the situation is certainly supported by many of the findings in Barnett's (1989) Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Aspects of the Forest Industry, and there is evidence that some forms of malpractice continue to flourish in this sector. On the other hand, the corrupt behaviour of certain individuals in some spheres of economic activity is only one, and not necessarily the most important, part of the problem posed by the current pattern of economic and political inequality in Papua New Guinea. There is no doubt that a class or stratum of wealthy and powerful Papua New Guineans has emerged quite rapidly since the Australian colonial administration first allowed 'natives' to become businessmen and politicians. Some of these individuals have used their wealth to purchase electoral support and political office, some have used their possession of political or bureaucratic office to advance their accumulation of personal wealth, and some have made most of their money by participating, one way or another, in the commercial exploitation of the country's natural resources. On the other hand, it would be hard to demonstrate that these three forms of behaviour, taken together, serve to define a single class of powerful national capitalists, let alone to demonstrate that they now function as the ruling class of Papua New Guinea. Practitioners of political economy may use disparities in the size and source of personal income to measure the extent and direction of class formation in this country, but the language of class still largely fails to describe the reasoning behind political behaviour and political debate (see May 1984, Turner 1990, Thompson & Macwilliam 1992). One obvious reason for this lack of class consciousness is that most Papua New Guineans, including the plurality of individual 'elites', do still belong to that single social class which is objectively defined by the ownership of customary land, whose members like to call themselves 'grassroots'. This has important implications for the politics of nature conservation. Very few Papua New Guineans are driven to degrade their natural environment by the kind of landlessness or land hunger which is encountered in many other developing countries. And if such damage or destruction still occurs, the motives and behaviour of the humble villager are just as questionable as the antics of a few bent 'leaders'. When a nation of gardeners becomes a nation of customary landlords, it is perhaps understandable that many people would begin to believe that the royal road to 'development' is found in the collection of natural resource rents from foreign operators, regardless of the actual incidence of such behaviour amongst the wealthier sections of the community. When individuals or communities really do come to depend on this form of income, one might suppose that they are rapidly locked into some unsustainable form of resource extraction, because the market in logging or mining licences produces a continual adjustment of prices which allows for continued economic access by the operators. However, Papua New Guinea markets are remarkable for the rigidity of their pricing mechanisms and the absence of any overt form of bargaining between buyers and sellers, and experience in the mining industry (especially the origins of the Bougainville crisis), suggests that local gatekeepers sometimes contribute to the conservation of their resources by raising the entry fees to the point which deters all potential customers, either because their expectations of 'development' begin to exceed what can feasibly be realised from some particular economic activity, or else because they are pricing themselves out of the market in order to achieve non-market objectives. Chief amongst these objectives is the maintenance or restoration of social and economic equality between individuals or communities. The local version of the 'tall poppy syndrome' explains much of the resentment and many of the accusations which are directed at those who demonstrate unusual success in the acquisition of wealth or power. It may be argued that the politics of envy is a major obstacle to social solidarity and economic progress, but it can also be argued that the same egalitarian ethos which traditionally caused some communities to degrade their land in an effort to keep up with their neighbours in the business of competitive gift exchange may now have the unintended effect of limiting the damage done by the industrial exploitation of natural resources as political conflict over the distribution rental incomes eventually renders the exploitation uneconomic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the deep sense of distrust which formerly separated the hundreds of autonomous Melanesian communities has not only persisted down to the present day, but has also become characteristic of relationships between individual leaders and many of their notional clients or constituents, and thus of the general relationship between the village and the state. Such widespread lack of trust militates against the conscious implementation of collective nature conservation strategies. It also tends to function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not difficult to construct an explanation of 'political corruption' which emphasises the traditional norm of reciprocity and the 'vulgar materialism' of traditional culture. But it is not clear what, if anything, distinguishes the resulting portrait of political patronage from that which is commonly painted in so many other parts of the world, and in that case its traditional cultural content is either redundant or serves only to excuse (rather than explain) what would otherwise be inexcusable. Unlike those countries in which networks of patronage, bribery and corruption are longstanding features of the political system, such excuses still seem to rankle with the majority of Papua New Guineans, and the current upsurge of Christian sectarianism might even be seen as part of their desperate search to establish some new form of moral community as a defence against the essential sinfulness of secular politics. Remembering the ancient mutual distrust of neighbouring communities, a distinction still needs to be drawn between the general alienation of the 'shoe-socks' from the rural population as a whole and their continuing attachment to their place of origin, where their authority, as we have seen, may be effectively exerted in defence of conservation values. Within the so-called 'wantok system', one should hardly be surprised if leaders show a preference for making economic gains at the expense of other groups, and the distinctive threat which is then posed for the maintenance of biodiversity is precisely the opportunity which a democratic political system and a bureaucratic system of administration provide for politicians and government officials to wage war on other people's resources in order to enhance their reputations in their own backyards. Those politicians and officials who manage to resist local expectations of favouritism may still find themselves obliged to adopt an attitude of arrogance or apathy when confronted by the fractious and claustrophobic nature of rural society. In this respect, their problems may be said to derive equally from their lack of familiarity with the impersonal organisational culture of the Western world and their own personal proximity to the villager's own understanding of the world. Their failures to engage landowners in the pursuit of worthy causes need not be the result of incompetence or corruption, but may simply reflect the difficulty of exerting any kind of effective leadership in a social environment which is riddled by fear, jealousy and suspicion.



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