Pacific Media Watch

14 October 2014

PNG: Billionaire financiers erode food sovereignty, says new report

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A palm oil plantation in PNG. Image: PNG Loop

BARCELONA, Spain (Grain / Pacific Media Watch): The expansion of palm oil production in Papua New Guinea is threatening the rights of communities to access land for growing food, a new report says.

A 110,000 hectare plantation in PNG's Nungwaia in the East Sepik Province used to be a a forest management area belonging to around 230 local clans or "integrated land groups", before being converted to a Special Agriculture and Business Lease in a shady deal, says the report.

"Feeding the One Percent - an IT billionaire’s foray into agribusiness", was produced by the non-profit organisation, Grain, and paints "a disturbing picture of today’s farmland financiers" - especially Chinnakannan Sivasankaran's Siva Group.

"Since 2008, the Siva Group has acquired stakes in around a million hectares of land in the Americas, Africa and Asia, primarily for oil palm plantations. His investments are channeled through a web of shell companies based in offshore tax havens such as Singapore and the British Virgin Islands, and companies specialising in acquiring lands from poor rural communities, particularly in Africa", the report says.

The Siva Group has a subsidiary company, Geoff Palm Ltd, which in turn owns the Australian company SPZ Enterprises Pty Ltd (SPZ), which has a sub-lease for the land in Nungwaia, Papua New Guinea.

The company managed to get its hands on the land after a lease was granted to a company called the Nungwaia-Bongos Rainforest Alliance that is owned by local member of parliament Tonay Aimo and a few other influential local people, the Grain report says.

"As soon as it had acquired the lease, Aimo's company granted a 99 year sub-lease to SPZ Enterprise Limited, an Australian company owned by Australian Chinese businessmen Peter Song and Jijun Zhang, neither of whom have any prior experience in agriculture. A month later, SPZ was taken over by Sivasankaran's Geoff Palm for an unknown sum" says the report:

The people of Nungwaia are furious about this flurry of deal making. They say that they were not properly consulted and that consent was only given by a few people who do not represent the whole community.

Most have not even seen the relevant documents and do not know who signed them on their behalf. And yet, in its communications with the community, Geoff Palm representatives have told them that if they stand in the way of the project, the community will have to reimburse the company for the millions of dollars that it has already invested.

The Siva company has other land holdings of over 458 000 hectares where it is growing palm oil in Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.

Last month, PNG Loop reported that an East Sepik province commentator has called the PNG deal "one of the worst land development schemes ever".PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill praised his country's palm oil industry in a meeting last week with the head of the European Union Delegation in Papua New Guinea, Ambassador Martin Dihm. Image: PNG Loop

Tony Power said the scheme "should be scrapped and all titles cancelled and returned to the rightful landowners".

However, PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said yesterday that PNG's export of palm oil products to Europe was "particularly beneficial" for the country, PNG Loop reported.

In July this year, communities in PNG's East New Britain province reportedly had their houses burnt down by palm oil developers from another company, who also had Special Agriculture Business Leases, but decided to develop land outside their boundaries. Cemetries and native coastal land were also bulldozed, with the police protecting the palm oil developers, PNG Loop reported.

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