This guest blog has been authored by Lester Seri of Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea. He is one of many local residents fiercely resisting KLK's attempted landgrab of the community's forests.
My name is Lester Seri, and I am a Maisin landowner in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea. I come from the Wofun Clan, belonging to the Wo Ari Kawo tribe, and I have been mandated by the Wo Ari Kawo Elders to speak on behalf of them on Tribal land matters.
My people - the Maisin people - along with our neighboring communities in Collingwood Bay have been fighting to protect our customary lands from illegal land grabs for logging and palm oil development for nearly three decades. In 2002 we won a four year court battle against the government for illegally leasing our land for logging and palm oil projects without the consent of the customary landowners. Yet, in 2012 this SAME land area was leased again to suspect middlemen landowner companies and ultimately sold to Malaysian palm oil company Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK). When I and several other landowners heard that our lands had been leased without our consent again, we took our case to court once more.
In May of this year, the National Court of Papua New Guinea declared the two leases claimed by KLK illegal again and ordered them to be cancelled. While this court victory was important, KLK has not yet left Collingwood Bay and our struggle continues.
KLK was forced to give up two leases on customary lands through the court case, but the company still claims a third lease in Collingwood Bay called Lot 5. In recent communications, KLK has stated that it has no intentions to leave Lot 5, despite the fact that it is within Maisin customary lands and holds primary forest and small patches of ‘kunai grass’ that our people use annually for game hunting.
As a member of the RSPO and through its own voluntary commitments, KLK has also pledged not to clear primary forests, High Conservation Value Forests, or High Carbon Stock forests, so there is absolutely no way KLK can develop palm oil on Lot 5. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason for them still to be here, yet they are.
Our people have been fighting companies like KLK for too long, and we are fed up with their attempts to undermine our local economies and culture and rob us of our rich natural resources. Our paramount chiefs have said no to these forms of development, and they have said no to palm oil development in Collingwood Bay.
The forests and cultures of the Collingwood Bay people are at stake if KLK proceeds. We urgently need your voice to send this message to KLK loud and clear: No palm oil development and no KLK in Collingwood Bay!
Lester Seri is a Maisin landowner in Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea from the Wofun Clan, belonging to the Wo Ari Kawo tribe. He is a Coordinator for Oro Communities Environmental Advocacy Network (OCEAN) Inc., which campaigns against illegal land, logging and oil palm issues and was a Plaintiff in Collingwood Bay communities’ customary land court case. Lester is a graduate of the University of Papua New Guinea and served as a Public Servant with the Department of Environment and Conservation for 17 years. He then became the Executive Director of Conservation Melanesia Inc., an environmental NGO, and also served as a Board member on several organizations such as Melanesian Environment Foundation (MEF) Inc., Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF), Environmental Law Centre (ELC) Inc., Conservation Forum (CF) Inc.