I am a second generation of the Sepiks who travelled from their mama ground to develop the oil palm industry that is generating millions of kina for the national government revenue and the companies in Bialla WNB.
The smallholder farmers like me and others are not fully benefiting from (many development options to improve our welfare have been forgone), except the fortnightly fresh fruit bunch payment we receive.
Given the increased members of the family unit, the income is not enough to pay for food. Food supply has declined because the oil palm tree, when matured, uses up the soil nutrition, making the soil infertile. Eventually, farmers end up in the situation where food crops will not grow any more, thus, creating a food security problem to feed the increasing family unit.
So the money from oil palm fruit sale is used to pay for processed food such as rice and tinned fish. Given the ever increasing price of goods, a K1,000.00 spread amongst the family members to sustain their living is not enough, given the endless human needs and wants.
Many of the traditional food crops such as yam, mami, taro, banana, etc brought from the Sepik land to cultivate at the blocks has perished - oil palm kilim dai. Due to the decline in the garden food, the next best option was to rely on production of starch from wild sago palms (in Sepik ol papa na tumbuna normally plant sago but in West, the birds do the planting).
The starch is good as from the Sepik sago palm. The problem is the continuous harvesting has resulted in palms not maturing enough to provide the right amount and quality of starch.
In the village (Sepik), people normally harvest sago palms that have flowers and seeds - that is the right tree which can give maximum starch yield. In West New Britain, to feed the increasing population, sago palms are harvested at early growth stages.
So will this situation be repeated in the Sepik plains if gardening land is destroyed by oil palm? If so, we must not repeat what we are facing now at the smallholder blocks in WNBP. The project must ensure there is adequate land for food production.
Moving away from food security, lets talk about the issue of social security nets such as water supply, housing, and road.
The oil pam project has not encouraged farmers to build permanent houses in Bialla (except those in Kimbe, where the houses have lived their life span and need replacing, or build more to accommodate other matured family members).
The Water supply should have been connected to alleviate access to quality water. There is a problem because the oil palm trees have dried up the springs and underground water sources. This problem exists but nogat luksave.
The roads have deteriorated because no monthly maintenance is being done. Who will be responsible for maintaining the feeder roads into farmer’s fields and villagers in the Sepik when the project starts?
In WNBP, the takeover by OPIC from DAL/DPI has seen things going backwards (poor extension services apart from road maintenance). The local MPs for Talasea Open has not taken care of road maintenance.
So in the Sepik, will the MPs for Maprik, Dreks, WG, and YS continue to maintain roads using the DSIP or will the developer be expected to do it?
Hargy and NBPOL are using the tax credit scheme for maintaining the main highway (limited); not the feeder roads.
Further, will the project developer explore other options or values of oil palm (apart from the oil) such as palm kernel, waste bunch used as fertilizer, waste oil used to generate power/electricity, fronts (brum).
These options can provide a better and increased farmer income. It’s not happening in WNBP.
Also the indigenous people of WNBP are still living a life that is half traditional and half modern even though they as trupla papa graun should be enjoying maximum benefits.
Just visit areas next to the plantations of NBPOL and Hargy and you can understand what I am saying.
Are the Land Owners living in permanent houses with a water supply, light, TV, and most importantly in a much organized urban plan? I say nogat.
So the Sepik project should take note of and give better development benefits to our Land Owners. Finally, if you are to rely on fresh fruit bunches to making a living, an increased agricultural production/yield is necessary to counter price fluctuation and maintain a steady level of farm unit income.
This can be achieved through continuous extension work and inputs such as fertilizer.
Fertilizer is harmful to water source when it rains. Poor extension work in WNBP is not helping to increase yield from oil palm fields. So we go back to where life was, low income and poor household welfare.
Many of us know our land boundaries back home in Sepik; and are coming home to ensure things done must be done properly so that the benefit is felt by all' and not a single minority.