Faulkner University

High Technology and Original Peoples: The Case of Deforestation In Papua New Guinea and Canada

Colin DeAth and Gregory Michelenko

In these two case studies from Papua New Guinea and Canada we see a convergence of interests between governments and multinational corporations to promote profitable development programs that disrupt local subsistence economies while providing little compensation. In both cases development of forest resources has resulted in enormous environmental degradation, which has endangered previously viable local subsistence pursuits. Both governments clearly were in a position to profit from their support of the corporations in opposition to the demands of local people for a more reasonable share of the profits and for protection of their subsistence resources. The authors point out that in cases such as this, government policy must explicitly acknowledge that indigenous communities are engaged in "dual economies." If the government is concerned with citizen welfare, it may be just as necessary for it to support local subsistence economies as to facilitate penetration by the market economy. In Alaska government development planners have indeed calculated the cash equivalent value of bush products to demonstrate the economic importance of hunting and fishing to native communities.

Professor DeAth, now at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, is a native of Turua, New Zealand. He holds degrees from universities in his country and in the United States as well as the Certificate of the Australian School of Pacific Administration, Sydney. Dr. Michalenko, his co-author, studied biology at the University of Saskatchewan and now teaches environmental studies at the University of Waterloo. He has been involved in studies of pulp mills in both Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Technology, Corporations, and Original Peoples Technologies in industrialized countries can be characterized by the following features. First, they have become highly centralized in terms of bureaucratic control; second, they rely generally on a narrow spectrum of energy sources; third, organizations responsible for controlling technology are large and complex, and relatively inflexible especially in terms of setting new goals; fourth, until quite recently such organizations assumed that resources were infinite and that growth and induced consumption by its clientele were unimpeachable goals.

The spread of western technologies has been facilitated by a number of factors. More and more scientists spend their working lives making more and more sophisticated 'things', especially for the military. Through worldwide communication systems, the knowledge of the potential of new technologies becomes known rapidly by corporations. There is growing congruent thinking between transnational firms and national governments in terms of the supposed utility of various technologies. Emphasis in gauging the relevance of a given technology to a particular situation has usually been on whether there is a technological "fit", rather than a social or ecological fit. There have not been dramatic advances in the social sciences equivalent to those in other sciences and their related technologies; this has led to centrally inspired technocratic fixes in lieu of sound social planning and follow-through. A fatalistic kind of technological determinism has been adopted, implying that the evolutionary trajectories of certain technologies once set in motion are irreversible-until, of course, there is a catastrophe. And, important for our purposes here, the impact of technologies and their associated political institutions have not been adequately publicized.

In the heart-lands of Western-type industrialization (whether in Europe, Japan, North America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), there is some appreciation of what effects complex or "high technology has on ecological and social systems. Even there, however, technological can be gradual enough for its' participants not to realize what is happening to them and their natural environment. This anomaly is also attributable in part to a distortion in feedback. Because it is in the interests of governments and corporations to promote consumption, the illusion of improvement, growth and profits, it is very difficult for subject populations caught up in specialization, professionalism, machine-like routines, consumerism and "commodification to assess the direction in which change is moving.

The deterministic theories and assumptions of engineers, and physical and natural scientists generally, do not encourage ordinary citizens to participate in decision-making-the belief becomes widespread that the experts 'know' what is right and appropriate in terms of resource exploitation and the efficient use of human beings.

Original peoples, such as those in northern Canada and in Papua and New Guinea, tend, in the face of the solvent power of Western money, science and technology, to be very vulnerable to corporate dynamism. In the following sections the results are examined of the playing out of this dynamism by a Japanese corporation, sanctioned by what was formerly the Australian colonial government in Papua New Guinea, and a British trans-national assisted by Canadian governments.

The Trans-Gogol The Trans-Gogol is a tropical river valley about 60 kilometres from the town of Madang in Madang Province. This province is on the north coast of Papua New Guinea.

Although the authors' first study focused on the Gogol Timber Rights Purchase (TRP) area (52,265 hectares (ha)), the Jant (Japan and New Guinea Timbers) had interests in three other adjacent 'TRPs'

The vegetation is tropical rain forest and somewhat different from that found in Indonesia and elsewhere in South-east Asia. Compared with our knowledge of temperate forests, not a great deal is known about the ecological system. Foresters themselves, because of the role of natural disasters, cannot even agree on whether the forest has ever reached 'climax status'. Because of this knowledge deficit, and because there has never been massive clear-felling elsewhere in lowland forest areas in Papua New Guinea, it is not known what the impact on this complex life-system will be. Although the Man and the Biosphere Programme research in this area is well-intentioned, it has many gaps, particularly in the area of ethno-biological studies. Too, not enough is known about the role of the forest in stabilizing the valley that regularly floods but also goes through droughts, and its influence on the micro-climate. Another area that is of extreme importance is the effect on regeneration of extensive commercial tree-cutting compared with that of the scattered cuttings of subsistence farmers who have been in the area for an unknown number of generations. Human settlements there may go back 50,000 years, although the current linguistic diversity could indicate that some groups are fairly recent arrivals.

The Company and Its Position Jant is a subsidiary of Honshu Paper. The latter began negotiations with the Australian Government in the late 1960s. At that time, the Australian Government was a United Nations trustee for the Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG). After complex negotiations resulting in the incorporation of a TPNG/Australian/New Zealand saw log company, cutting operations began in 1973. (The subcontractor had been cutting saw logs for some time before this date.) Several agreements were involved in setting up the operation, namely between the local residents (who owned the land and the trees) and the government (which purchased the rights to cut them) and between the company and the government. The company agreed to pay royalties for cutting and entry rights. These agreements had a number of flaws.

It is doubtful whether the people understood what was about to happen to their land, their life-style, and their incorporation in (and exclusion from) an imposed cash economy. The agreements were vague about costs and benefits except for the initial purchase price for the trees.

The company's commitment to reforestation was not clearly spelled out; neither were rigid obligations to diversify agriculturally or industrially included in the agreements. Strict monitoring of company operations, particularly in the areas of staff localization, was not included in the agreement. Social, technological and ecological impact studies were not a prerequisite to setting up the operation.

Impact of the Operations

In Madang town In Madang town itself, where a chip mill and the saw log facility are situated, probably only about half of the jobs promised materialized. All but two or three top executive positions are held by Japanese executives that live in comfortable housing areas. Most sub-contracting for goods and services is given to non-Papua New Guinean firms. The town, which is in economic decline, has not been revitalized by the foreign firm's presence. The area around Madang-especially in Binnen harbour where Jant and Wewak Timber are located-is very beautiful and an ecologically sensitive area because of its estuarine and coral ecological systems. There was little consultation on the siting of these facilities, with the result that the town is saddled with an eyesore as well as an effluent-producing facility. Waste products include smoke, ash, sawdust and bark, and chemically polluted excess water.

The quarters for mill workers, not far from the mill and in the low-cost housing areas, leave much to be desired. A third of all workers come from outside of Madang Province. Employee turnover is very high. Employment for local women does not exist. There have been complaints about industrial safety and housing conditions, as well as a number of wildcat strikes. Jant has not paid any corporate tax since its operations commenced. It builds up considerable debts in Japan, and these must be serviced. It is doubtful whether the expertise exists in Papua New Guinea to monitor Jant's transfer costing and accounting practices and to ascertain whether these are ethical in terms of the welfare of a new nation. Jant suggests that its operations are not as profitable as envisaged, partly because of a depressed global pulp market. Much of its equipment, especially its bulldozers and log-hauling trucks, has become aged and unsafe. Because of overloading, the latter vehicles do much damage to the local road system (which is partially government maintained).

The Japanese, because of high staff turnover and their own ethnocentrism, have great difficulty in getting to know their own people. They are generally preoccupied with technical efficiency at the mill and in maintaining production targets. They consider that the welfare of their company is coterminous with the welfare of their employees and that the profitability of the company is always a prior consideration in dealing with workers about pay and working conditions. The philosophy of co-prosperity made very explicit before the Second World War, is alive and well within the firm, i.e. a profitable company automatically means an increase in the welfare of its employees and those involved in supplying resources to the corporation. When there are problems between the employers and local nationals, there is a strong tendency to leave the government the responsibility for their solutions. This has not been hard to do as there is still a strong paternalistic tradition within government, a heritage from the colonial Australians. Problems such as the size of royalty payments tend to take years to resolve.

Within Madang town, the size of the Office of Forestry's operations has grown considerably. A rough estimate for the Gogol TRP shows that between January 1974 and June 1977 the government received Kl,398,968 in revenue and spent Kl,962,000 in the operation (in March 1978, Kl = US $1.37). Nearly all of this could be classified as a subsidy for Jant's operations. Within the Office of Forestry however, there is some ambiguity in how the local foresters should function, i.e. whether they should be: (a) revenue producers; (b) local royalty paymasters; (c) protectors of the environment; (d) company policemen; (e) facilitators of company activities (especially in times of crisis); or (f) social planners acting on behalf of TRP residents.

From past operations, it becomes obvious that, despite the existence of an interdepartmental working group, the Office of Forestry does place emphasis on (a), (b), and (e). This is probably due to the training of the foresters and to the inevitably close contact that occurs between Jant and the Office of Forestry. Jant, with its entertainment and political contacts, can be a much more powerful lobby than can disorganized subsistence farmers who know little about the ways of transnational firms. Much infrastructural assistance by the government is given to the company through the provision of roads, electricity, harbour facilities, land and forest surveys, research and planning. Yet the company complains about its assessments for some of these items. (No comprehensive analysis has been done on the value of these services.) Local people receive some spin-off benefits but these, in the past, have tended to have an incidental effect rather than lead to a marked improvement in the standard of living in Madang town, whose population is 19,000.

The rural impact At the commencement of the project there was much discussion on agricultural development-of the development of a small town and of employment prospects for Trans-Gogol inhabitants-and on both deforestation and reforestation. But little benefit has resulted from these proposals. Reforestation did not commence, and then on a very limited scale, until 1978. Local people quickly became disillusioned with labouring for Jant at K25 per week (less than half the urban wage). Currently only about one-sixth of Jant's labour force is recruited in the timber areas. No comprehensive agricultural development occurred, and the small town of Arar is still only a town planner's sketch.

The people's grievances include the following:

  • The size of royalty payments (they get less than 50t [half a K] per m3. Dressed timber in Madang town costs them K198 per m.3 The export value of 1 m3 of wood chips is K16.7, and Jant and Wewak Timber sell logs to one another for K11 per m3).
  • Payment for road-building gravel; the people receive nothing for the gravel, but elsewhere companies must pay a royalty of 5t per m3.
  • Indifference of the government, researchers and others to the needs of villagers. Villagers say that visits by government officers may have become perfunctory and some social services are worse than they were previously.
  • Gardening and game. Cut-over areas, because of bad logging practices, are unsuitable for gardening. Game, despite token reserve areas, has declined considerably. Many species of game used for food no longer exist.
  • The watertable in many areas along levees and roads has been heightened, leading to the death of vegetation and the existence of ponds where mosquito populations can increase. Malaria, consequently, has increased in the area. Some of the malaria is chloroquin-resistant, and some of the mosquito vectors are now resistant to DDT.
  • The style of Japanese operations: Japanese supervisors tend to believe they are omniscient and, at the beginning of the project, made many mistakes in siting roads and bridges and in their actual construction. Few had any tropical-forest experience and fewer still knew any thing about local societies, tropical ecological systems and reforestation. Their operations during the wet season were wasteful, and initial use of labour profligate. Local folk complain that the Japanese never listen to them and that there are no real employment prospects. The company has been remiss in setting up meaningful training programmes that could lead to complete localization of their operations. In the five years of the company's operation, villagers have never risen higher than foreman.
  • The company does not tell them enough about its logging plans. Within the Trans-Gogol, the government embarked on a very expensive survey of clan boundaries primarily so that it could acquire land for reforestation and possibly pay royalties on a more equitable basis. But payments for leasing land that will be used for reforestation will be low, and there is a strong possibility that the landowners will again be disillusioned when they realize what valuation is put on their land and labour inputs.

Some other negative effects A forest station has been established at Baku in the Trans-Gogol, not primarily to benefit the villagers but rather the company's operations. It is situated adjacent to Jant's base camp. The local police station also is sited there.

Many kilometres of roads have been constructed in the logging areas, but after one wet season many of these are washed out or have slumped. Poorly built logging bridges also collapse or may be washed out. Thus, after the company finishes its logging (except where there is reforestation), the roads rapidly become dysfunctional; and the people are in as bad a shape for marketing their crops as they were before the logging. They do not have the means to maintain roads, and the new provincial government has other priorities.

The company initially estimated that it would take twenty to twenty-five years to log its four TRPs. This has now been reduced to eleven years. The firm is seeking extensive concessions in areas nearer the Ramu River, which will mean very long, expensive hauls as well as expensive road maintenance. This will also increase the possibility of a road being linked to the highland roads where people are short of land. The Trans-Gogol and other Madang people are very apprehensive about the impact of such migrants. They have bad memories of land losses earlier to German and Australian occupants.

In many development scenarios it is assumed that technology and built features such as roads will lead to the well-being of all concerned. In the Trans-Gogol it is doubtful whether village people will benefit from Japanese controlled high technology. It is also doubtful whether the town of Madang and its regional hinterland has benefited. The entire nation probably also has been a loser, even if only traditional economic criteria are used. Certainly the ecological system will never recover its integrity. In this instance roads and high technology have led to a net outflow of resources. Because of the myths associated with business and government operations, and because of a colonial past in which these kinds of extractive operations were the norm, it is doubtful whether a great deal has been learned about how to manage-let alone enhance-the functioning of interdependent technological, social and ecological subsystems. The integrity of each of these subsystems, particularly the indigenous social subsystem which has taken thousands of years to refine to a point where it is self-sufficient in terms of food and material culture, has been breached.

The people in the Trans-Gogol, once their forest disappears and their land becomes unsuitable for food staples and game, will be forced into a dependency relationship with the larger system. Even prior to the coming of the foreign timbering firm, the local people did not have great admiration for the exploitative behaviour of outsiders. They managed, at least during the period 1871-1973, despite insistent demands for cash-crop surpluses and their labour, to keep their most valued resources (land and forest) intact. Now, however the future is problematical.

My Faulkner
Nichols Library
Academic Calendar
Faulkner Events
WebMail - Eagle Alert - Library - Give Online - Faculty & Staff Directory - Employment - Faculty Web Sites
Ask Us - Map & Directions | 5345 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery, AL 36109 334.272.5820 or 800.879.9816
©2012 all right reserved.