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Land ownership in Papua New Guinea

A brief summary of customary land ownership in East New Britain Province

In Papua New Guinea, some 97% of land is held under customary land tenure, which in effect means that it is not owned by the state or under freehold title.

This has not stopped unscrupulous logging and the export of logs for woodchip, or aquiring of land for mining and palm oil plantations in many parts of the country.

For now, however, travel by aircraft quickly confirms the fact that indeed most of the land-mass still exists under virgin forest.

The Tolai people of the Gazelle peninsula on the island of New Britain have a matrilineal system of inheritance. Children become part of their mother’s clan and, nominally at least, ownership of land passes from mother to daughter.  Upon marriage, many husbands move into the wife’s village and are instrumental in the development and harvesting on cash crops such copra, cocoa, coffee and balsa wood.

For many women their economic activities are restricted to growing of vegetable and selling them in the local markets.  The tropical cash crops above involve a lot of physical work that most women cannot sustain themselves in addition to the traditional tasks of child rearing, growing food and house-keeping.

All of Niugini Organics’ products are manufactured and packed on site. Then shipped out and sold directly to wholesalers and retailers in the importing countries. The supply chain is very short and Niugini Organics can therefore afford to pay a very attractive price to local growers for their coconuts.

The work is not arduous and takes most suppliers two to three days per month. Most tell us that the return is far better than the other traditional cash crops and many are now concentrating on supplying coconuts. 

A result of this is that more than half of our coconut suppliers are now women. They tell us that for the first time they are able to utilise their land resource themselves. For some of these women it is the first time that they have been able to earn their own income off the land that they have always owned.


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