Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Tropical Rainforest Case Study: Papua New Guinea


Conservation: to manage the environment in such a way that it will be protected from change.

Exploitation: when the environment is used in such a way that it is destroyed and will be of no use to future generations.

Sustainable development: the development of an area using techniques and approaches that will help to protect the environment for the future.

Source: 'Tomorrow's Geography', Harcourt and Warren, Ed. Warn, Hodder & Stoughton


Location of the case study


Rainforest Exploitation

Papua New Guinea (PNG) possesses one of the planet's largest remaining tropical rainforest. At least seventy-five percent of its original forest cover is still standing, occupying vast, biologically rich tracts over 100,000 square miles in all. Its forests provide the habitat for about 200 species of mammals, 20,000 species of plants, 1,500 species of trees and 750 species of birds, half of which are endemic to the island. It has been estimated that between 5 and 7% of the known species in the world live in PNG. Rare plants and animals like the largest orchid, the largest butterfly, the longest lizard, the largest pigeon and the smallest parrot ever registered live in these forests.

The forests also constitute the home of the indigenous peoples, the Maisin. For the Maisin, forests provide everything from food and medicinal plants, to materials for houses, canoes and tools. Under the Papua New Guinea constitution, the Maisin are the legal owners of their traditional lands. But these forests and forest peoples are under threat due to large-scale logging activities and oil palm plantations. Oil palm plantations are not aimed at the production of edible oil for the local population and almost the entire production is export-oriented.

Resource Exploited Problems Created Groups For Groups Against
Timber extraction e.g. Kiunga-Aiambak road project  located in previously intact rainforests in Papua New Guineas remote Western Province.

Click for Greenpeace graphic

Click for attitudes of the indigenous population

Click for details of alleged government corruption

Soil erosion

Loss of biodiversity

Diseases spread amongst indigenous Maisin population through contact with the timber cutters

Increase in viral diseases and malaria, because of the ecological changes deforestation causes

Loss of game animals

Loss of clean water supply through sedimentation

PNG Government: who sold logging rights and helped finance the project

Transnationals and their shareholders: Malaysian company bought logging rights

Consumers in MEDCs who want cheap plywood and furniture

Indigenous population who obtain work with the logging company


Landowners: not consulted  and paid very little in compensation for the loss of their cocoa smallholdings.

Environmental groups: e.g. Greenpeace

Australian Government: Australia lies too close to Papua New Guinea to be isolated from its social problems

Indigenous population who object to the logging companies illegally taking over their land and the  cultural, social and financial problems that followed

Oil palm plantation at Aitape Sedimentation and Eutrophication caused through soil erosion (after forest clearance) and use of fertilisers would kill the nearby coral reef in Sissano Lagoon

Prawn and sea fishing industry destroyed in Sissano Lagoon through use of fertilisers and pesticides

PNG Government: offers tax incentives in the oil palm sector designed to encourage growth and boost production

Transnational oil palm companies and their shareholders

Plantation workers have jobs

Fertiliser and pesticide company have more sales

Indigenous people who claim legal rights to the land seized from them

Local fishermen who would lose their livelihoods

Tour companies and workers: the coral reef attracts tourists and divers

Tourists who prefer to see unspoilt coral reefs


Photo credits. Sue White, Richard Wooldridge, Adam Dickinson, Dennis Holmes
Sissano Lagoon: coral reef and fishing industry threatened by sedimentation after forest clearance
Photo credits. Sue White, Richard Wooldridge, Adam Dickinson, Dennis Holmes
Ease of access resulting from the incursion of a logging road has resulted in the complete loss of forest cover and subsequent soil erosion
Photo credits. Sue White, Richard Wooldridge, Adam Dickinson, Dennis Holmes
The effects of forest clearance on water quality

Sustainable Development and Forest Conservation

Funded by the Chevron Oil company and Greenpeace and agreed by the PNG government after being taken to court by the Maisin people. The PNG government has been under pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Australian Government to enforce environmentally-friendly changes in their development programme. Awareness patrols to remote areas by local environmental charity groups have been spreading the message of what exploitative logging will do to rural communities. The recent screening on PNG television station EMTV of the Rainforest Information Centre's documentary Mama Bilong Olgeta on the PNG logging industry was a great success.

"The Papua New Guinea government has decided to exclude Maisin customary lands, located in Collingwood Bay from plans for timber or large scale agricultural development. Greenpeace and others have been active in the area in developing small scale alternative community development schemes. Despite numerous community attempts to have their land removed from large scale industrial development consideration, a number of schemes were proposed. This action should give the community the room they need to regulate their own development potential in a sustainable, community owned manner."

PNG Government Press Conference statement  following the Maisin court case


Sustainable Development Techniques Employed

Click for graphic

  • Community-based sustainable forestry

  • Training in sustainable forestry

  • Fish farming

  • Butterfly farming

  • Eco-tourism

  • Managed conserved areas

  • Cottage industries: nut harvesting, tourist souvenir and tapa cloth production

  • Greenpeace active in developing Maisin cloth and art markets in the USA

  • Local log-processing industries are being established. Processed timber is worth much more on the world market

  • Small logging operations are encouraged, owned by many different companies, who all have certified sustainable management certificates

Problems Encountered

  • High levels of illiteracy and lack of skills create difficulties in dealing with tourists
  • Rivalries between different tribal clans makes team work difficult
  • Government difficulties in controlling the activities of the multinational logging companies

Coconut oil powers island's cars

For years, the people of the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea have been dependent on expensive fuel imported onto the island. Shortages have often caused many businesses in this part of Papua New Guinea to grind to a halt. High energy costs have not helped either.
Increasingly, locals are turning to a cheaper and far more sustainable alternative to diesel. Coconut oil is being produced at a growing number of backyard refineries. more

More information for this case study can be found in 'Tomorrow's Geography', Harcourt and Warren, Ed. Warn, Hodder & Stoughton

Further reading on the role of China in the destruction of the tropical forests of Southeast Asia including Papua New Guinea: Forests in Southeast Asia Fall to China

The Australian Orangutan Project is also maintaining updates to PNG Palm Oil Plantation Issues.