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Vitroplant resistance, Woodlark Island, Papua New Guinea

While protests in Woodlark Island, PNG, were able to stop a massive oil palm plantation in 2008, the future of the island remains uncertain.


Woodlark Island (or Muyua island) is a coral island of Papua New Guinea, approximately 150 miles (240 km) northeast of the southeasternmost point of the island of New Guinea. Muyua’s rough surface of raised coral pinnacles (rising to 365 metres) in the south) is covered by dense jungle growth. Many of the 6000 island’s inhabitants directly depend on forest and marine resources. In 2006, the Malaysian-based company Vitroplant Ltd. launched the project of transforming 70% of the island into an oil palm monoculture as well as of building a biodiesel plant in Alotau. Most of the project would be developed on governmental land and the rest as “village plantation”, i.e. on customary land. As a result, more than one hundred islanders and supporters traveled to the Milne Bay provincial government headquarters in Alotau, to demand a halt to the palm oil project and claim their land back. They feared marine pollution, deforestation, forced proletarianization, and the effects of an imported workforce. The project was finally scrapped after a fierce opposition. In a statement to the media, the Minister for Agriculture said, "...the government will respect the wishes of the local landowners and will not go ahead with a project that the landowners do not want..."

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Vitroplant resistance, Woodlark Island, Papua New Guinea
Country:Papua New Guinea
State or province:Milne Bay Province
Location of conflict:Woodlark Island
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Deforestation
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Specific commodities:Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

A 60,000-ha plantation managed by Vitroplant Ltd. The project included a $300 million plant in Alotau to convert palm oil into bio-diesel for international markets

Project area:60,000
Level of Investment:> 300.000.000 USD
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:6000
Start of the conflict:2007
End of the conflict:14/01/2008
Company names or state enterprises:Vitroplant from Malaysia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Eco-forestry Forum:
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide:
PNGexposed Blog. Exposing the truth about corruption
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
International scientists, concerned by biodiversity loss. At the time (2007) The EDGE Team received an urgent memo from concerned researchers working on Woodlark Island (Muyuw) in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. The government of Woodlark Island has recently granted permission to Vitroplant Limited to convert 60,000 hectares of the island into oil palm plantations. This is catastrophic news as the island itself is only 85,000 hectares in total. Leases for the oil palm project will cover almost the entire eastern half of Woodlark island, as well as large a proportion of the western half.
These disastrous developments would not only have devastating effects on the environment and forest eco-systems but could potentially have dire consequences for the endemic Woodlark Cuscus (Phalanger lullulae) as the eastern side of the island is the stronghold for Woodlark cuscus populations.[3]
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Project cancelled
Development of alternatives:Woodlark Islanders continue to press the government of Papua New Guinea for community land rights. In most of Papua New Guinea, land is held by local communities, but this is not the case with the bulk of Woodlark Island.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:This particular struggle against Vitroplant was a success, but locals and conservationists told Mongabay (2014) that this will not be the end of it. A company, Karridale Limited, landed machinery on the island with plans to log 17,600 hectares or 22% of the island.[1] More recently a foreign owned company, Kulawood Limited, has applied for a permit to clear 30,000 hectares of forest on Woodlark (Muyua) Island under the guise of an agriculture and tree planting project.[2]
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

"Planned logging of Woodlark Island for biofuels opposed by islanders and scientists", Mongabay (12 November 2007)
[click to view]

"Papua New Guinea: Woodlark’s islanders demand a halt to oil palm plantations", WRM Bulletin N°125 (December 2007)
[click to view]

"Loggers plan to clear 20 percent of tropical island paradise", Mongabay (28 April 2014) - a recent and worrying update on the situation.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Concern at commercial logging plans on Woodlark Island. October 26, 2014
[click to view]

[2]Woodlark Island Logging Scam Part 1: Ebony Woods. by Staff reporters. 19 Jun 2018
[click to view]

[3]Woodlark Cuscus habitat threatened

By Nadia Sitas on November 1, 2007
[click to view]

Other documents

[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:J.-F. Gerber
Last update10/08/2018
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