Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world yet one of the least explored. This article provides readers with an introduction to this island country, and summarises the findings of a Chinese company’s research endeavours to in a bid to develop 780,000 ha of land for large-scale agricultural and forestry utilisation.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an Oceanian island country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, to the north of Australia and east of Indonesia’s Irian Jaya Province. Made up of the eastern half of New Guinea; the Bismarck Archipelago; Bougainville Island; Buka Island; as well as hundreds of small offshore islands and atolls, PNG has a total surface area of approximately 462,840 km2 . Its capital and largest city, Port Moresby, sits on the southwestern coast of the island of New Guinea.
According to 2020 data, PNG has a population of around 8,947,000, of which approximately 13% live in urbanised areas. Around 98% of the population is Melanesian, while the rest are Micronesian, Polynesian, Chinese and Western. According to Ethnologue, PNG has 839 living indigenous languages, and the official languages include English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.
PNG is the world’s third largest island country, and is culturally and geographically one of the least explored. With such a vast number of natural resources, researchers believe that there are many species of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered. The country has an abundance of mineral resources such as copper, gold, chromium, nickel, submarine natural gas and oil, as well as forest resources.
According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, PNG is among the top ten countries in the world with the highest percentage of forest area compared to total land area, with almost 35.86 million hectares (76%).1
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Apart from mountain climate in areas with an altitude above 1,000 m, PNG experiences a tropical rainforest climate, and is hot and humid all year round. The dry season runs from May to October, with August onwards being the peak fire season, and the rainy season runs from November to April. Daily temperatures remain mostly the same throughout the year, hovering between a maximum of 23 degrees Celsius and minimum of 30 degrees Celsius. The daily maximum and minimum temperatures rarely exceed 35 and 20 degrees Celsius, respectively, and the average annual rainfall is around 2,500mm.
ECONOMY AND INFRASTRUCTURE
PNG has a dual-economy model that is typical of developing countries. The mining of natural resources leads the capital-intensive and export-oriented economy, while selfsufficiency of a majority of the population keeps the internal economy running. The PNG government has been actively introducing new policies to promote economic development, and according to World Bank data, their gross domestic product climbed to an all-time high of US$24.829 billion in 2019.2 However, the country’s economic and social development still lags behind many of its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, with 56.6% of their population living in multidimensional poverty.3 With a 2019 Human Development Index value of 0.555, PNG ranks 155 out of 189 on the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Report.4
Due to poor infrastructure, land transportation is largely undeveloped both in rural and urban areas, and the main transportation methods are by air and water. Surrounded by water from three directions and with approximately 5,152 kilometres of coastline, PNG is well connected by sea to other regions and countries such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, China and Taiwan.
In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative – a massive infrastructure and development programme aimed at strengthening economic relations between China and its neighbouring countries. Thanks to increased political and economic cooperation between PNG and China, trade between the two has grown and flourished over the past decades. Convenient access to each another via sea transport routes, coupled with PNG’s rapid economic development, was a warm invitation for Chinese enterprises looking to venture where natural resources are available in abundance. In July 2016, Peter O’Neill, then prime minister of PNG, paid an official visit to China, during which both countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in many areas such as trade, agriculture, tourism, civil aviation and forestry, among others, under China’s Belt and Road Initiative and PNG’s Development Strategic Plan 2010-2030.5
The two countries seem to complement each other in terms of forest resources management and utilisation. According to figures in China’s 9th National Forestry Survey (2014–2018), China’s forested area spans just 22.96%.6 With the implementation of the national forest protection programme, timber production dropped drastically and is not expected to rise. China relies heavily on timber imports and is the world’s largest importer of wood products. With PNG’s abundance of natural resources, and China having a wealth of experience in managing, monitoring and conserving forest resources, it is fitting that both countries work together to leverage on their strengths.
In 2016, Shenzhen VivaFounder Investment Holdings Limited (hereon referred to as Shenzhen VivaFounder) and PNG’s Tangoy Holdings Limited signed an agreement to sustainably develop 780,000 ha of forestland in West Sepik Province for large-scale agricultural and forestry utilisation. Under a joint venture company Tangoy VivaFounder Holdings Limited, the project involved four main sectors:7
1. Forest resource management, including logging and board processing
2. Forest resource development, including the harvesting and processing of several medicinal materials and spices (eg, sandalwood, dendrobium, vanilla beans, etc)
3. Construction of plantations and industrial parks
4. Construction of relevant infrastructure, including roads, bridges, ports, storage and power, etc
The Academy of Forest Inventory and Planning of China’s State Forestry Administration was appointed to conduct an investigation on PNG’s forest resources, develop a master plan for the development and utilisation of forest resources and agriculture, as well as a feasibility study report on logging and wood processing.
Using both remote sensing interpretation and regionalisation, as well as on-site field investigations, data on tree species composition, distribution, commercial use, growing stock volume, and logging and utilisation license status of forest land within the project area was collected.
Project and investigation area
Situated in West Sepik Province – the northwesternmost province of PNG – the project area is a seven-hour journey by both car and boat from the province’s capital, Vanimo. Upon arrival, getting around via land is difficult due to the numerous swamps and rivers, and lack of developed roads. To the north and west of the project area lies the Sepik River basin, where water transport is relatively advanced and is the main method of getting around.
Villagers in the mountains still live primitively in tribes, and industrial and agricultural production is scarce. Locals rely on spices, wood and aquatic products as main sources of income, but most still live below the international poverty line.
The investigation area (3.88°S – 4.61°S, 141.00°E – 141.79°E) named District 1 spanned 259,556 ha within the project area.
Using the latest medium- and high-resolution remote sensing images, elevation data and forest resource distribution maps obtained from the PNG Forestry Authority, land area in the investigation area was classified into a vector database according to vegetation, terrain and river distribution. Using object-oriented classification software, the images obtained via remote sensing were interpreted by colour, texture, land covering and terrain type.
A stratified sampling technique was then created and sample strips were identified, and research teams ventured into the forest to record important information such as tree species, diameter at breast height (DBH), tree height and timber production rate to determine the canopy density and average tree height.
Using the data collected, researchers were able to determine the estimated stock volume for each forest area and type (Table 1).
Researchers found 139 tree species within the project site, nine of which collectively accounted for 38.86% of the total stock volume. Kwila (intsia bijuga) had the highest stock volume of 11.97%, followed by Taun (pometia pinnata) with 9.63% and Terminalia (terminalia chebula) with 3.05%. The total stock volume of trees with a DBH of over 50 cm was 25.96 million m3, or 44.46% of the total.
Bearing in mind buffer zones set up by the PNG government to protect soil and water erosion from logging near rivers, the research team found that the total forest area ready to be harvested within the project site was 200,900 ha (77.42%), with a total stock volume of 46.8121 million m3 (80.17%). A majority (85,200 ha or 42.42%) of harvestable trees were located in the low-altitude forest on uplands.
IN A NUTSHELL
Although the investigation area covered was just the tip of the iceberg compared to the entire PNG, these findings have provided an indication on the prospects of timber supply within the country, and how countries can share information, resources and technology for mutual benefit and education.
Information on the research efforts commissioned by Shenzhen VivaFounder was extracted from the Forest Resources Investigation Report for the China-PNG Comprehensive Agricultural and Forestry Development and Construction Project, published by the Academy of Forestry Inventory and Planning of China’s State Forestry Administration in November 2016.
1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2020. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020: Main report, Rome, <https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9825en>.
2. The World Bank 2020, Papua New Guinea, Gross Domestic Product.
3. Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) 2020, Global MPI Country Briefing 2020: Papua New Guinea (East Asia and the Pacific).
4. United Nations Development Programme 2020, Briefing note for countries on the 2020 Human Development Report: Papua New Guinea.
5. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China 2016, Joint Press Release Between the People’s Republic of China and The Independent State of Papua New Guinea.
6. China Statistical Yearbook 2019, Forest Resources by Region, National Bureau of Statistics of China.
7. Shenzhen VivaFounder Investment Holdings Limited, Company Profile, < http://www.vivafounder.com/about.html>.
This article can be found in Panels & Furniture Asia January/February 2021 issue.