Urgent: Papua New Guinea Tribes Under Threat from Conflict Palm Oil

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The people of Collingwood Bay. Photo: Erik Wakker

The people of Collingwood Bay. Photo: Erik Wakker

The Indigenous communities of Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea are engaged in a high stakes battle to defend their land and culture from the threat of Conflict Palm Oil expansion and they have a quick and easy request for help right now.

Much of RAN’s forest team is currently in Medan, Sumatra for the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and we are honored to be hosting Adelbert Gangai and Lester Seri, community leaders who have traveled from their home in Papua New Guinea to represent their people in urging the RSPO to protect their ancestral lands.

This small community is fighting a palm oil giant. Photo: Erik Wakker

This small community is fighting a palm oil giant. Photo: Erik Wakker

Early this year, the Indigenous communities of the fertile and unspoiled Collingwood Bay region learned that notorious palm oil company – and RSPO member – Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) was claiming ownership of three large land development licenses within their customary territory. Community representatives quickly filed a formal complaint with the RSPO last April, but while other complaints filed more recently have progressed through the complaint process, the Collingwood Bay case has been essentially ignored by the RSPO.

Please send a message asking the RSPO to immediately take steps to resolve this urgent case.

In just the last week, KLK has been discovered moving ahead with development by bringing oil palm seedlings for planting onto Collingwood Bay lands, making immediate resolution of this case of the utmost urgency.

KLK has brought seedilngs here for planting, despite opposition from the people who call Collingwood Bay home.

KLK has brought seedilngs here for planting, despite opposition from the people who call Collingwood Bay home.  Photo: Erik Wakker

KLK’s latest development proposal is every kind of wrong. It is the ugly face of Conflict Palm Oil and it would create an entirely predictable and preventable disaster for the people and wildlife of Papua New Guinea.

The land in question covers over 100,000 acres of primary forest, community gardens, traditional hunting grounds, and broadly scattered coastal and riverside villages. It is community-owned land that is the home and source of livelihood for nine tribes speaking six languages representing 326 clans.

This land dispute pits a deeply rooted traditional community with a subsistence-based economy against a major foreign company infamous for its intransigence and human rights violations. You may remember KLK as the company that RAN exposed using slave labor on its plantations in Borneo as far back as 2010 and child labor on plantations in Sumatra in July of this year. Even among its peers in the shadowy world of Conflict Palm Oil producers, KLK is among the worst of the worst offenders.

Under the Papua New Guinea constitution, it is illegal for customary lands to be bought or sold without a lengthy review process that requires the explicit consent of all community members. In 2010, all nine chiefs issued a strong statement that irrevocably stated their disapproval of any plans to introduce the palm oil industry in their area.

The people of Collingwood Bay rely on this crucial ecosystem.

The people of Collingwood Bay rely on this crucial ecosystem. Photo: Erik Wakker

These communities have a long history of defending their territory from would-be corporate land grabbers. In fact, as a result of their efforts, the National Court of Papua New Guinea ruled in 2002 that the leases for the exact parcels KLK now claims to own were illegitimate and illegal. KLK says the newly issued licenses are now legal, but community consent has not been acquired and the circumstances they were issued under are highly suspicious and are currently under review by the courts again.

The Collingwood Bay dispute is a critical and high profile test of the legitimacy of the RSPO’s complaint resolution process. The RSPO exists in large part to help resolve conflicts of just this sort between companies and communities. Unfortunately, in practice this RSPO process has proven to be largely a failure and this case exemplifies the problem.

Your voice matters—the RSPO hides behind claims of sustainability. Tell the RSPO that land grabs aren’t sustainable or acceptable.

RAN and our allies are watching this case closely as it has been over half a year since the RSPO received the Collingwood Bay communities’ formal complaint. Allowing industrial palm oil development by an RSPO member company to destroy primary forest within customary Indigenous territory against the consent of its ancestral owners would go against everything the RSPO is supposed to stand for and would bring into question for many what purpose the organization serves.

Pristine forest. Photo: Erik Wakker

Pristine forest. Photo: Erik Wakker

To gain credibility in the eyes of the market and in communities impacted by palm oil development, it is crucial that the RSPO implement its existing standards and follow through with enforcement against member companies when breaches such as this case are brought to light.

Please take a moment to express your solidarity with the tribes of Collingwood Bay and ask the RSPO to resolve their complaint against KLK immediately.


Area of concern. Photo: Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Area of concern. Photo: Barcelona Field Studies Centre

34 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Allison Shiozaki says:

    KLK & RSPO: You must adhere and respect the legal protection of this land which belongs to and is stewarded by the people indigenous on the land. The global community does not accept land grabbing — it is unacceptable and counter to commitment to sustainable practices — and the world is paying attention.

  2. Faye Griffiths says:

    Please don´t do this. Please leave these beautiful lands alone for ALL of our sake. We cannot keep taking from the Earth as we are doing.You don´t need the money and you don´t need to do this. Watch the news from the Philipines today, and ask yourself if you still think what you´re doing is acceptable. Please. Enough.

  3. Faye Griffiths says:

    Look at what has just happened in the Philipines. We cannot keep doing this to the world. Whatever profit you will get from taking these lands is not worth the fact that it will mean you are contributing to murder, essentially. Enough now. Walk away from it.

  4. Please have the compassion to let these tribes love in peace and not destroy their traditions and way of life. This sort of invasion, planting and attempting to land grab is completely based on greed and is not acceptable. As a Native American woman I am horrified that this is even a possibility in the year 2013. Stop now, leave this land and these tribes alone, you have no right to be there – do the right thing, stop now.
    In the end, you answer to the Creator, not me.
    Dr. Starr

  5. Steve Souza says:

    Please stop destructive Palm Oil growth. It is bad for your country and bad for mine!

  6. Autry Guill says:

    The palm oil industry is inherently destructive and unsustainable . The motives for palm oil production are for profit over ancestral lands . This trend must be reversed . I stand against Conflict Palm Oil and their destructive practices . Their claim for legality must be thoroughly examined against ancestral ownership of the land that predates ANY acquired legality by their lawyers . The entire planet hangs in the balance , a wrong decision will have long term dire consequences for us all . Please consider this issue carefully . The indigenous peoples of Collingwood Bay should always hold the grandfather clause and I stand in solidarity with their best interests in mind . Their voice matters most not profit motives . Profit motives are destroying this planet one piece at a time . The cumulative effect is disastrous for all of us .

  7. Pauline Koppel says:

    This is ridiculous. Please stop and protect the environment, not destroy it. Once it is gone it is gone forever.

  8. Kitty McIlroy says:

    RSPO, resolve the complaint against KLK immediately and stop the land grab in Papua New Guinea!

  9. Peggy says:

    Enough ruining the plant!! Stop stop stop!!

  10. Karen Hattman says:

    No one needs more snack food. How dare you grab land from the indigenous people and trash the land killing off the creatures who live in the forest.
    RSPO stop them now!

  11. Karen Hattman says:


  12. Pamela Hryskiw says:

    Please–just stop already… enough destruction of life; be it human or animal, and enough destruction of the planet.

  13. Jennifer Guinn says:

    Why do you want to take away yet another irreplaceable culture for greed? Leave these people the heck alone! STOP unsustainable farming! You are ruining our planet!

  14. Fiona Graham says:

    come on guys, we cant do anymore of this pain in the world, on the world!!! No!!! stop the destruction !!!

  15. Veronicanavigato says:

    This must stop!

  16. Jackie Cartwright says:

    This planet is not ours to destroy…we are only borrowing it from our children. It is our duty to protect and nurture the earth for their future or there will be none. Please stop this destruction now! Human greed leaving devastation in it’s wake! ‘Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we realise we cannot eat money.’~ Cree Indian Proverb

  17. Gavin thorburn says:

    Quite simply if this continues the lungs of the planet will be destroyed and no money will bring them back.beauty is more important than filling your bank balance for aimless greed

  18. Maria Curtis says:

    Yes.. Enough is enough we no longer want your palm oil we got on just fine without it before. You should go to prison for what you do… You’ve destroy wildlife destroyed trees destroy homes destroy the Forrest. Is there anything you’ve not destroyed for greed?!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Mary Saunders says:

    Ecocide has consequences. We are watching.

  20. KLK has no idea of the extraordinary resistance that the Collingwood Bay people can put up to protect our land.
    We can command the support of our brothers and sisters across oceans both near and far! We kicked out Sumotimo/Mitshubisi who tried to clear fell 600,000ha of our tribal forests to supply its paper mills. Than came Ukaduka with their coconut sap proposal who went out the door on their nose! The Highest land court in PNG ruled in our favor against Dee Gold a subsidiary of RH. Shame on them they wound up the 50 cents company to avoid paying the land owners US$300k in damages. Than came Victory Plantations and Cashew Nuts International who left without a fight.
    Whilst we are in the process of thrushing Ang Agro in court, guess what the cat drags in? KLK!

    KLK, three of your representatives met me in person in Medan, Indonesia and recorded my people’s message in crystal clear English, NO OIL PALM shall be planted on our tribal lands!

    Pack your stuff and leave!

  21. Tom Diwai Vigus says:

    Where have these oil palm seedlings come from? If they are ever planted they will never be harvested under RSPO Certification. They must be destroyed and the loggers removed……….we shall overcome…
    Tom Diwai

  22. ManuKey says:

    @ Adelbert Gangai : Good to hear, it’s so rare to see intelligent peoples like this, THEY MUST KICK OUT THESE BASTARDS!

  23. Rosemary Sargeant says:

    We lived in PNG for 6 years – a naturally beautiful country which does not deserve to have its way of life destroyed by the unending greed of banks like HSBC and companies like KLK.

  24. Silas Nubibi says:

    @Adebert Gangai: We need to develop our land for the benefit of our people. Portion 113 is in full support for oil palm development. This development will bring services to our people who have been neglected for far too long. In developing oil palm we are also very mindful of environmental issues.
    I am speaking on behalf of Sibo Maisin.

    To the opponents of KLK (oil palm)…..do you have any alternative plans of development for my people?????

  25. Samson Joke says:

    I am the chairman for Sibo management the land owner company for Portion 113. My people need progress to lift their living standard. To do this we have to release our land. We need schools for our children, health care for our mothers & children. Oil Palm development by KLK will give us these services.

    Those who are opposing this development have no idea of the hardships that we face. I suggest you stay out of our plans & let us get on with our lives.

  26. Silas Nubibi says:

    for generations

    We have suffered enough. Development is the only hope we have for our people. No basis education,health care,employment and proper road access in our village. How many pregnant women had died due to poor health care available and also no transportation to seek for better facilities. Only by this development we hope for better future. Enough of us living in dreams,we want a reality. We want our place to be like Popondetta,Alotau, etc.
    So the NGO’s please stay out and we can decide our own future.

  27. Trevor Oira says:

    The whites and the people from developed countries stop commenting that we should live forever without development. You, also will be like us living in the jungle if no development has taken place in your country.

    Why don’t you people come and live with us and experience the hardship our people are going through, especially people in Maisin,Collingwood.

    Stop commenting without realizing what you are talking about. Your children are all well fed,educated and well civilized and living in a modern era. Don’t you think we and our future generation also deserve to have similar opportunity.

  28. Trevor Oira says:

    The people from developed countries ought to stop commenting about what we want to do with our resources. If oil palm will improve our standard of living than it must be supported. if we want oil palm development than what gives you the right to oppose it.

  29. J. Chan says:

    No response to Samson Joke, Silas Nubibi and Trevor Oira?

    You in the western world are talking while eating 600 grams unsustainable steaks and drinking red wine while the indigenous people in such areas are battling hunger, illiteracy, diseases and suffering from high infant mortality rates and deaths of mothers at childbirth. If they can get only 10% of the comfort and health benefits you enjoy….. The whites have raped and plundered their colonies and the eastern world in the past and have become developed and affluent societies as a result but are nowstopping these poor people from getting basic health needs and development to improve their lot. It is so easy to be armchair critics, sitting in the warmth of your fireplace, reading misinform articles by people with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.If you care so much about these people, go over there to help them. Give back some of the riches you plundered in the form of aid. Send doctors, teachers, agriculturalists, engineers, etc to bring development to them. Otherwise shut, mind your own business as what the above gentlemen want and choke on your steaks!

  30. @ J Chan, What a cheap short! You seem not to realise you just gave yourself away. The only way anyone can use words from a newspaper adver is by being the source of the article.
    You think anybody especially me to believe that Silas Nubibi to write such a piece?
    Silas Nubibi is my cousin. He has never made it past 6th Grade not that there aren’t schools. He is just the idiot he is and has never shown any interest in western education.

    Between the three, (Silas Nubibi, Samson Joke and Trevor Oira) just don’t not have the English language proficency to comment even to write a oneliner.
    They have not even the slightest idea about where to go or what to do with internet technology.
    @ J Chan why don’t you give me your profile and full name and contact details so I can give you links to find out a little more about some of the “white expatriates” who are supporting me in preventing your concept of development.
    They do not deserve your racist remarks. Some of them have lived, ate and drank with me in the Collingwood Bay villages. And I might just ask, where were you when they were there. Some of them continue to facilitate change offering their own resources. Change you will never understand. You are a victim of your own concept of change, that is impose on illiterate people such as Silas Nubibi and destroy his way of life.
    You talk of lack of services, poverty and crying for development. What is your measure.
    I am from the Collingwood Bay, I went to school in that village school and you don’t even match my intellegence.
    People from Collingwood Bay a more intellegent than you think. We are lawyers, Doctors, Engineers,Pilots and every other profession you can think of. Why do you think we will lead our people down the path to destruction when there are better options. Options that they can choose from rather than allow you to destroy our people to satisfy your greed.
    For your information J Chan, I have been around, I have been to every continent. Tell me if you have come across one single destitute begger in the Collingwood and I will give you statistics of where I have come across people in the literal sense of the word “poor”
    My people are not poor, my people do not despair, my people do not wish to be like your people. The only people in Collingwood By who may fit your discription is Samson Joke, who has screwed you off big bucks you will never recover.
    Let me conclude by asking this… Do you realise who you’re up against? To ge an idea go to any search engine and type in Collingwood Bay or my name and inform your small mind.

  31. Adelbert Gangai says:

    Silas Nubibi: To the opponents of KLK (oil palm)…..do you have any alternative plans of development for my people?????

    A: There millions of other options you just need to get off your lazy arse! There a sustainable options, I just interviewed a landowner in one of the most remotest places in this country last week… his net earnings is over K100k annually from his portable sawmill. Collingwood Bay holds immense eco-tourism potential worth millions to be tapped into at no cost to the environment and our way of life.

    There is huge potential for marine products such as scallops, oysters, crabs, prawns and ofcourse fish.

    The whole forest is full of ratan, what about cane chairs and tables or even furniture made of mangroves or rare hard woods.

    Samson Joke: We need schools for our children, health care for our mothers & children. Oil Palm development by KLK will give us these services.

    A: Where else in the world has KLK dilivered thes services? Facts are quite the contrary. Do we have proof that KLK has provided these services? You just need to visit one of their plantations to see how they treat their workers. KLK does not care about the health or welfare of anybody… their business is to make a profit for their shareholders, period!

    J Chan: The whites have raped and plundered their colonies and the eastern world in the past and have become developed and affluent societies as a result but are nowstopping “these poor people” from getting basic health needs and development to improve their lot. It is so easy to be armchair critics, sitting in the warmth of your fireplace, reading misinform articles by people with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

    A: If you know anything about the people of Collingwood bay Samson Joke, Silas Nubibi and Trevor Oira who you are vouching for will strangle you to death. One adjective you NEVER EVER use for the Collingwood Bay people is “POOR” So what do you know about the human and physical geography of the area? Some of these “white” people you riddiculed have planted coconuts and bettlenuts in Portion 113 and have a claim. They never consider us as poor people. By whose standards are you measuring us. We have a community health program supported by some of the people you have ridiculed, they give us drugs and support our health volunteers. They ensure our schools are open and people like myself excel.
    I dont quite get your point.

  32. Adelbert Gangai says:

    @ J Chan, Below is a letter from one Gilbert Joke to RSPO. Note the theme of the letter and similarities in how sentences constructed in these letter compare to your comments. Either it is a coincidence that you and Gilbert have parallel thinking or you are the author. The latter is more obvious as Gilbert does not have quite have a command of the English language. Surprise! Surprise! The same words appear in a full page paid advert in two dailys… worth over K5k. You call these people “poor” and they can afford it… my guess you wrote your own agenda and paid for it.

    @ J Chan, please enjoy your own story (below)
    Dear Mr.Ravin,
    I’m writing to you representing my chief (John C Taniova) and other leaders from Portion 113. We have been taken for a ride by Alderbert Gangai &Lester Seri. They are liars and don’t represent us.They don’t have any right over Portion 113. Why are they saying that they are representing us ? They are representing themselves and enriching themselves in the pretence of safeguarding our interest. If they are real concern about the communities then, they should come down to the village and speak to us, landowners.

    We’ve been deprieved of development and our people are still suffering. Only through this development, our people can look forward for better future. We all the landowners from Portion 113, Sinapa, Airara, Marua,Konyasi and Sinipara villages have given our full support and consent for this development.

    All of false information and lies are being spread in the internet blogs. However, when we from the village commented on their blogs, it is immediately being removed. So, why are they blocking our views and the truth ! They created the blog for all the views supporting them and reaping money from them.

    We have no other means, except to highlight to you because we came to know that they are using you to block the KLK from developing our areas. The people from developed countries will be living like us if no development has taken place in their country. How long do they want us to live in poverty ? No proper education for our children, poor health facilities which also out of our reach, no employment and missing many other opportunities.

    The people who are opposing this project are all living in a luxury and comfortable life in cities but pretend to represent us. Ask them to come down and stay with us with their families for few days then they will know the truth. .KLK is not a logging company as assumed by some people. They specialize in agriculture development and are a well established and big company and we do not wish to miss this opportunity to change our lives. We do not wish to live in our dreams but want reality.

    Attached are the chief leaders who are the paramount decision makers in our communities. Not the NGOs’ and the rest. The chiefs have given their consent willingly and wholeheartedly for their people’s future.
    I’d like to invite you on behalf of my chief to come to Portion 113 and to see for yourself why we need this development. We are poor but we are willing to collect money to met your travel cost so that you can come and witness the truth yourself. Seeing is believing!

  33. Adelbert Gangai says:

    @ J Chan Instead of assuming the needs of our people why dont you show us you gives examples of social services KLK is sponsoring and maintaining in other parts of the world other than its usual stories of human rights abuse, illegal burning, land grabbing and disregard for legal and customary laws of countries it operates in. Oh and convince me that KLK is transparent in its dealings, KLK does not bribe landowners to give consent under undue influence, KLK does not take policemen to intimidate village people to agree to KLK… post your email address so I can send you a voice recording of a policeman who was with KLK representatives recently in Collingwood Bay coercing villagers to give consent.

    If not you should shut up and help KLK pack up and get off our land! Or I am quite willing to kick your arse to Timbunktu!

  34. Carol Ramnarine says:

    February 6, 2014

    Dear Herseys;

    I appreciate that you are being responsive to the harvesting of palm oil and the endangerment of animal life, plus the destruction of the rain forest.

    Please advise me about the effects of sustainable palm oil on human beings.

    It is my understanding that palm oils holds an unnatural negative health risk for people. If this is incorrect plesse direct me to scientific research validating pslm oil being safe.

    Thus, if you do care about primates please consider the homo sapiens as well.

    Thank you
    Carol Ramnarine

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