Melanesian land alliance formed

Green Left Weekly

Papua new Guinea: Melanesian land alliance formed

Tim Anderson

16 August 2009

In June, several Melanesian community groups met
in Madang, Papua New Guinea, to create a land
defence group. The Melanesian Indigenous Land
Defence Alliance (MILDA) will coordinate efforts
in the region to help traditional families
maintain control over their own land.

The alliance was initiated by PNGs Bismarck Ramu
Group (BRG) and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre
(VCC). It was joined by representatives from
several other PNG and Solomon Islands groups. The
alliance was launched at the end of a three day workshop.

This alliance is open to individuals and groups
from the seven Melanesian countries (Timor Leste,
West Papua, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon
Islands, Vanuatu, Kanaky and Fiji) that seek to
defend indigenous land. AID/Watch, the Australian
watchdog on aid, is an affiliate member.

The Australian government aid body, AusAID, has
allocated millions of dollars to make land work
and assist small landowners in Melanesia get better value from their

However, AusAID favours commercialisation of land
and MILDA views the agency, along with the World
Bank, as collaborating with the companies that
have their eyes on customary land.

Customary landowners ­ the great majority of
peoples in Melanesia ­ have been struggling for
many years with mining and logging companies, aid
agencies and elements within their own
governments that want to seize control of their lands.

Some claim these families will be better off if
they lease, mortgage or sell their lands. The
evidence is the opposite. No amount of money
properly compensates these families for the loss
of their valuable ancestral land. Their children
and grandchildren are left destitute.

Similar processes are occurring in Australia’s
Northern Territory, where Aboriginal people
secured strong land rights recognition after the
struggles of the 1960s and 70s. In recent years,
Aboriginal people have been forced to lease land
as a condition for receiving social services.

Melanesian countries have the highest level of
legally recognised indigenous land in the world,
but these lands are under constant threat.
Foreign operators and indigenous collaborators
have been finding ways around the Melanesian
constitutions, which generally protect customary
land, and ban or strictly limit foreign ownership.

Vanuatu’s main island of Efate has become the
cutting edge of this threat. Australian real
estate agents have used corrupt elements to sell
dubious leasehold title to much of the
foreshore. The Vanuatu capital, Vila, is now
surrounded by private property and keep out
signs ­ something foreign to rural Melanesia.

This undermines traditional livelihoods by
denying coastal families access to garden land
and fishing sites. The rents are typically captured by just a few

Vanuatu MP and VCC director Ralph Regenvanu said
the traditional economy is the main economy of
Vanuatu, forming a basis for the livelihoods of
more than 80% of the population.

Yet it is neglected. Policy priorities, in the
neoliberal fashion, serve the interests of the
cash economy and foreign investors.

It is the traditional sector that has maintained
food security for the bulk of the population,
despite rapidly growing populations and the recent food and financial

Many poor countries, whose traditional land
systems were more disrupted by colonisation, have faced widespread

Some clans have successfully resisted the
corporate land grab. The Upper Ramu communities
at Sausi, PNG, have rejected a large oil palm
plantation proposal and developed successful village investment

BRG activist Yat Paol pointed to their commercial
success in mobilising their own resources in
collective cocoa fermentaries, fish farms and
rice production. Women in the Sausi community
have been able to buy trucks for their social activities.

MILDA is a long-term project. Like a dog after a
bone, the opportunists and their backers will
maintain their pressure on Melanesian land.

This new alliance aims to consolidate the resistance.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue
#807 18 August 2009.


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