Forest Resources

The boat trip from Kia village through the narrow passages between the mainland and Barora Ite Island eventually spills onto expanses of coral, sometimes too shallow to pass inshore. From the open sea, coconut groves line the ever changing water line, from mangroves to sandy beach and back to mangroves again.

First HarvestCompared to the north coast of Santa Isabel, this stretch on the way to the Allardyce tract is relatively free of log camps. Obscured by a small island, the camp at Ruruma is visible by the logs stacked at the water’s edge. But there is little activity. In March 2008 - barely a month after they had started their logging operations - Ruruma Development Company (RDC) and its logging partner Mega Enterprises were told to cease all logging in an adjacent area owned by the Isabel provincial government.


Alan NepiaWhen Telinga Media visited Ruruma last October, RDC director John Kera had gone to Honiara. His on-site managers, Alan Nepia and James Kera were more willing to talk about agriculture than timber and their suspended operations.

We traveled by outboard up the narrow, swampy Ruruma River which reached near darkness under the low-hanging canopies weighed down by heavy but intermittent rain. On reaching the rice project, Alan and James seemed proud of what they had created in their inland clearing with the help of their Malaysian partner. RDC had permission to build a road from the log camp to the rice clearing but apparently Mega’s chainsaws strayed from RDC land into an adjoining lot belonging to the provincial government and sub-contracted to a rival timber company Glengrow. 

In April 2008 court orders froze the proceeds from exported logs from this adjacent area as well as any further felling, harvesting and exporting of its logs.

James KeraLogging by Mega Enterprises provides capital for rice cultivation. About 90% of royalties are re-invested in the project: “This is our first harvest. We are ready to mill the rice at any time,” says Alan Nepia. RDC employs twenty locals on contract over a 15 ha field which it hopes to increase to 200 ha.

Alan wants to see Allardyce become “a bigger place” and welcomes re-settlement of those with ties to the area from overcrowded Kia.

“The land is very suitable for agricultural projects, forestry projects; so that’s no problem,” he says. “The area is very big and more projects will be established here if people return back here.”

With re-settlement and a larger population, he believes return of government-controlled land should be automatic. James is more forthright: “I do believe the Province should return it back to the original landowners.”

Neither Alan nor James support the Province’s current land use policy (logging without development with landholder involvement): “They want to make business out of our land,” James concludes.

“The province should establish some agreement, maybe 50-50, with original landowners so original landowners can establish some project or go into economic development,” Alan adds.

winnowingThis doesn’t seem too far from the vision of James’s cousins, with whom the Kera brothers are in dispute over customary ownership of the unreturned land. But clearly the brothers’ desire to do business with foreign loggers and establish land-based ventures sets them apart from their cousins living in the more conservative Kia village with its emphasis on church and voluntary communal work under the direction of the chief.

Having established such ventures on their own registered land, they are better positioned to negotiate the return of lost ancestral land from the provincial government. But while this land’s original ownership remains contested, its hand-back is likely to be put off. In the meantime, the Province continues to generate royalties from its own timber ventures while RDC’s first rice harvest could be its last if its plans are further disrupted by the protracted court battle with the provincial government.

 

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