In our region, customary land (land that is communally owned and shared by tribes or clans) plays an enormously important role in livelihood, social security and economic development.
Around 95 per cent of land in PNG is still reported to be held under customary control and plays a vital role in sustaining the lives and livelihoods of the majority of the population. For this reason, the Constitution stipulates customary land cannot be bought or sold by private interests.
For decades, however, successive PNG governments, spurred on by intellectuals and ‘development experts’ at institutions such as the World Bank, have viewed customary land as a vast untapped resource. They have sought to alienate customary land for natural resource extraction or because of the belief that it will improve agricultural productivity, even though the evidence from PNG and elsewhere clearly shows that it will not.
With a new push by the government of PNG to convert 20 per cent of PNG’s customary land into private tender, the issue has never been more important. We are working with our partners Act Now PNG to maintain the retention of customary land rights in PNG, support the smallholder agricultural sector, and prevent unnecessary exploitation of the nation’s mineral and forest resources by outside interests.