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Sustainable living from logged forests in Papua New Guinea

Issue: Environment

Country: Papua New Guinea

Villagers living near logged forests are learning to manage the remaining trees sustainably and earn an ongoing income.

Sustainable futures

Men measure the girth of a tree in Papua New Guinea.

Men measure the girth of a tree in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Julian Fox

Forests in Papua New Guinea

Around two-thirds of Papua New Guinea’s 600 islands are covered in forest. A vast array of plant and animal life, including many endangered species of trees and other plants, mammals, reptiles and birdlife that are found only in Papua New Guinea live in its forests. Around 95% of Papua New Guinea’s forest lands are owned and managed by customary landowners (tribal clan groups). Villagers live traditional lives with strong connections to the land. Forests provide them with wood and other materials for homes, food and medicines.

Papua New Guinea’s forests are also a valuable source of export income. Over the past 30 years 25–30% of Papua New Guinea’s forests were logged, mainly by international logging companies. Illegal or unregulated logging was common before the Papua New Guinea Forest Authority developed guidelines for sustainable production, logging and reforestation to achieve sustainable forest management.


Using heavy machinery to select mature trees, international companies have logged forests for high value kwila, rosewood, walnut, black bean and red cedar. The condition of the remaining ‘cut-over’ forests varies, depending on how much timber was extracted and the quality of the logging. The trees remaining could include those too small to harvest, as well as lesser-known species.

Enticed by improved access to other places because of the roads and bridges that would be built to transport logs, many communities sold logging rights for small payments. In some cases logging companies also built schools and health centres for villagers but these facilities were often badly maintained after the logging was completed. Logging companies were not legally bound to reforest the logged area and villagers have had to make use of what remained.

Taking advantage of cut-over forests

With an increasingly large area of cut-over forest there has been pressure to find ways for communities to make better use of the remaining forests. For the past four years the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has been working with the Papua New Guinea Government, the Papua New Guinea Forest Research Institute and communities in the north central provinces of Madang and Morobe to identify effective forest-management strategies and income-generating enterprises.

A project team from the University of Melbourne has surveyed the region’s forests to identify tree species and their growth rates. This will help develop sustainable forest-management and harvesting strategies. Data has been collected from satellite and radar images and measurements have been taken from sample plots. The information gained from the forest surveys will also be useful for mapping carbon stocks in Papua New Guinea forests, which can inform strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from logging and forest degradation in the future.

Future outcomes and empowering villages

Strong international demand for sustainably harvested and fair-trade timber has been identified as a particularly good opportunity for Papua New Guinea communities to generate income. Wood for local construction and furniture manufacture and mushroom harvesting also provide income opportunities.

In Yagi village, near Madang, landowners are milling their timber for export, after receiving Forest Stewardship Council certification. Australian businesses have offered a 20–40% premium for sustainably harvested, fair-trade-certified timber from Papua New Guinea forests.

In Papua New Guinea, sawn timber is transported from the forest by sea. Plans for sustainable forest management may be used by villagers to develop a business plan to attract investment in the industry and improve village infrastructure, such as roads.

By empowering villagers to recognise the resources and values in their forests and to manage their own forests sustainably, profits from timber products and the sale of other forest commodities go directly to the communities who produced them. Communities are no longer caught in the short-term export logging dilemma for income, but receive ongoing income from sales of forest products and the future of their forests is in their own hands.

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In Papua New Guinea, sawn timber is transported from the forest by sea.
Photo by Julian Fox
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In Papua New Guinea, sawn timber is transported from the forest by sea. Photo by Julian Fox
Men measure the girth of a tree in Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Julian Fox
Print | Save
Men measure the girth of a tree in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Julian Fox