Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Tropical Rainforest Exploitation Case Study: Papua New Guinea

Timber Exploitation
Kiunga-Aiambak road project


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. Almost the entire production of timber is export-oriented, with unprocessed logs exported to China for processing.

Resource Exploited Management issues involved Groups For Groups Against
Timber extraction e.g. Kiunga-Aiambak road project  located in previously intact rainforests in Papua New Guinea’s remote Western Province.

Click for Greenpeace graphic

Soil erosion on steep slopes

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


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


The independent PNG Forestry Review Team (appointed by the World Bank) released a damning audit of the project in October 2000. The results confirmed:

• The holder of the Timber Authority claims to be a landowner company but is actually 50% foreign owned.

• There is insufficient landowner consultation on the project.

• The logging contractor Concord Pacific Ltd continues to pay less royalty than the legally mandated rate.

• Landowners have been harassed and threatened with firearms by loggers and by police.


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


April 2003 Update
Dire predictions for Papua New Guinea's future

An Australian research team says Papua New Guinea is sinking into chaos and poverty.

An analysis released by the Centre for Independent Studies says life for PNG's five million people has barely improved since independence from Australia.

It says Australia has to re-engage to help confront Papua New Guinea's crisis.

One of the authors is the director of the Institute of National Affairs in Port Moresby, Mike Manning.

He says the leaders know their country is on the brink.

"They know that the roads are collapsing. They know their people are not being able to sell their produce. They know that our human development indicators are falling down."

However, Mr Manning says they find themselves powerless to take any sort of radical steps to fix it.

He points out that when nearly 25 percent of the budget goes to servicing debt there is little room to move in.

The Centre for Independent Studies report predicts that the country could degenerate into a patchwork of regions run by strongmen and criminals - a violent trend already evident in the Highlands

It says Australia cannot quarantine itself from the problems.


12/03/2003 09:52:53 | ABC Radio Australia News


Click for Greenpeace graphic 'Partners in Crime'

Click for attitudes of the local people affected

Click for details of the alleged government corruption that supports the Kiunga-Aiambak Project

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