THERE are many opportunities in a country that is developing and many entrepreneurs are attracted to the honeypot – good and bad.
Most times, the onus is on the government to screen interested investors – checking legal compliance, financial security, documented risks, historical records, decent management and administration systems and the rest.
But as we venture into the realm of sustainable management practices, there can be ignorance, confusion and negativity amongst undeveloped communities in rural areas.
After all it’s a big task to take into account issues like food security, climate change, greenhouse gas emission, deforestation and the other challenging aspects of development.
In Papua New Guinea, certification standards have developed and matured over time stemming from unsustainable practices that have contributed to environment degradation and affected the ecosystems and local communities that down the generations have relied upon the land for their well-being.
In a country of more than 800 languages, thousands of tribes and clans, and diverse cultures and traditions, developers face a daunting task in dealing with beliefs, attitudes and practices that often present some real challenges and risks.
Each community in PNG has different aspirations. Some aspire to live simply, relying on their land to feed them. Others aspire to some form of modern development.
Defining development in communities can be challenging because of these vastly differing expectations.
While some communities prefer to live in sago thatched houses or kunai huts, others opt to have houses built of sawn timber with corrugated iron roofs.
Lack of financial security, deteriorating roads, irregular shipping and poor coordination and management from provincial offices mean that communities are mostly left to fend for themselves.
In my work in the agriculture industry, I have met people who are opposed to certification standards. They raise their voices in opposition to what they believe are foreign ideologies that don't serve or promote their aspirations.
Every FPIC (Free Prior Informed Consent) meeting is strenuously challenged. Leaders demand thorough explanation, sometimes going through every piece of principle and criteria documentation all the while raising concerns about issues that affect their villages.
They believe that development without certification standards is sustainable and can be achieved without extensive damage to natural resources.
Products that meet certification standards fetch premium prices in the global market. Consumers in developed countries are well informed and know what products to buy. ‘Green’ is the keyword. There is a huge following for fair trade markets.
PNG coffee is on the global market under fair trade certification. PNG Timber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, PNG cocoa is certified. Palm oil produced by NBPOL and Hargy is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
RSPO is a not for profit association that has transformed the oil palm industry since 2004 in developing and implementing its eight principles and criteria under which the two PNG oil palm companies are certified and audited annually by certification bodies approved by the RSPO.
Certification standards and systems are the way forward for local farmers and producers of cash crops who want to access overseas markets. So how can we engage better with communities to buy into certification in large scale development in the agriculture sector?
Some certification standards are so strict there is likely to be less production in the short term. And this poses some hard questions.
Are there alternative ways for communities to register their interest in development strategies if they lack certification standards?
Over the eons, we've thrived on our land and with our agriculture as the basis of our lives. Can we maintain that amidst nonrenewable industry explorations taking the country by storm?
If we are to adopt sustainable development of commercial crops, then what is the best mechanism to use?
And what can the national government do to assist communities develop niche markets using the certification system as the networking and marketing tool?