From our own correspondent

Posted by admin — 9 May 2006 at 8:00am - Comments

Greenpeace volunteer Reza Hossain

Deep in the forests of Papua New Guinea, part of the Paradise Forests that stretch across South East Asia, Greenpeace has established a Global Forest Rescue Station. It's purpose: to help the clans and tribes of the region to mark out their lands which are theirs by law but are at risk from the unscrupulous activities of logging companies.

Many of those working at the Station are volunteers from all over the world, including Reza Hossain, a doctor from Blackburn, who is spending several weeks mucking in with everything from demarcation to cooking. Read about his experiences in a forest that is disappearing faster than any other on Earth.

Under house arrest

Lots of people warned us about the security situation here in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, as it's supposed to be dangerous with carjackings, robberies and shootings. For that reason, we were only allowed to go anywhere with the Greenpeace driver.

So in effect, we "island hopped" in our pick-up truck between areas of safety like the Greenpeace compound and other places designed for rich people (and therefore have guards) like some supermarkets and hotels. I imagine if I had been there for longer, those restrictions on freedom of movement would make it all feel like house arrest.

But as soon as I met all the guys at the compound like Curtis, Cally and Amber from Australia, Maricke from Holland, and Val from the Shetland Islands, I knew I was going to get along very well with them. You know you are going to share a lot of common beliefs and Greenpeace activists are usually just nice people too. Within a few minutes of meeting, it felt like we were all part of the Greenpeace family and that we had been friends for some time. I love this feeling of belonging.

After all, we're here for the same reason. Sixty per cent of the forest landscape in Papua New Guinea has been destroyed, mainly without the full and informed consent of the customary land owners. The illegal logging is carried out by large logging companies and now they threaten the remaining 40 per cent so the customary land owners have had to act fast before their land is completely swallowed up.

Greenpeace has brought myself and other volunteers to Papua New Guinea to help mark out the boundaries of ownership for the clans in the forest. This will stake out the land to which they have legal rights to and keep out illegal and destructive loggers. We're also helping to start eco-forestry projects so local people can develop their communities in a sustainable way.

The clans don't need much persuading that selling their land to the logging companies is a bad idea. There are plenty of stories about the companies asking tribe and clan elders to sign a piece of paper without explaining the true significance of the documents, and only paying a small amount of money in return for valuable tracts of land.

Another example was when a company was given permission to build a small road through part of the forest, and also to log 40m each side of the road to stop trees falling across the path of the road. Instead of adhering to the agreement, the logging company logged up to 20km each side of the road.

Eco-forestry, on the other hand, is a different matter. One of the mantras of the local eco-forestry trainers here is, "Timber can leave, but the forest must stay." Eco-forestry allows the landowners to achieve this by harvesting and trading timber from their parts of the forest without the wholesale destruction that comes with the logging companies. Trees can be selectively felled and, with a loan to buy a small-scale sawmill, they can cut the timber locally and remove it from the forest without damaging other trees in the way that large-scale logging does.

An important aspect of persuading the local village people that eco-forestry is better than selling their land rights to logging companies is to reassure them that they will actually make more money in the long term than by just selling their rights to logging company for a small lump sum.

By selecting high-value timber such as rosewood, which has a price tag of US$700 per kilo on the international market, or eaglewood, which sells at about US$300 per kilo, the landowners can generate a long-term renewable income for themselves without the interference of middle men.

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