Cover photo: PNG Biomass team with Markham Valley landowners at Ganef that agreed after six years of awareness, discussions, and negotiations to a lease agreement for land for the power plant site.
A gathering of landowners under a mango tree in the Markham Valley last week was the culmination of six years’ engagement with PNG Biomass. After years of outreach, awareness, discussions, and negotiations local landowners came together to finalise the agreements for leasing land to the PNG Biomass project for the establishment of tree farms. It was a historic moment for the project – which first embarked on its quest to find the right land and location for a biomass project in PNG almost ten years ago.
In 2009 the first steps were taken toward establishing a biomass power project in PNG when Aligned Energy and Oil Search joined hands to explore the feasibility of such a renewable energy project in PNG. Over the course of two years a country-wide study and exploration was conducted to identify areas suitable to support tree farms that can provide sufficient fuel for a 30-Megawatt biomass power plant.
By 2011 the feasibility study had identified the Markham Valley as an ideal location for the establishment of large-scale tree farms. The first engagement with landowners to raise the idea of establishing over 15,000 hectares of tree farms was in October 2011. A small team from PNG Biomass sat down with landowners at Bampu to explain the project and tentatively explored land access options.
During this first meeting the landowners present expressed great interest in the project and drew a map to explain the local land situation. Jim Kelly’s chalkboard map drawing of their customary land has become a fundamental piece of project history and is a framed feature on the walls of the project’s office.
Over the course of more than six years, from late 2011 to mid-2018, a process of ongoing close engagement from the project’s lands team created a space for landowners to gradually decide whether they would want to lease land to the project and come to an agreement.
Those landowners expressing preliminary interest in leasing land to PNG Biomass received support to better understand and implement the country’s latest land policy reforms. This included support to establish Incorporated Land Groups, a process still ongoing for most clans in the area, and assistance with surveying and registering land areas.
Today, over 22,000 hectares have been committed in preliminary agreements to the project, pending final negotiations over the lease terms. Some 6,000 ha have been surveyed and are in the process of being officially registered, while over 1,500 ha have already been registered and are ready to be signed into land leases. With last weeks agreement by landowners on the lease terms and conditions, the project will soon be able to officially lease 7,500 ha which is half of the amount of land it requires. More land from preliminary commitments is being identified for suitability and will soon also be surveyed, registered, and leased to the project.
Without the patience, commitment and support from the landowners in the Markham Valley over the last six years there would have been be no PNG Biomass project. With land being the most crucial resource in PNG, PNG Biomass is proud to have taken as much time as required to ensure that landowners are comfortable with the project, understand its impacts, and have achieved agreement within their families and clans on the terms to lease their land to PNG Biomass to grow trees and generate renewable biomass energy.