MAC: Mines and Communities

Life after Ok Tedi - can it compensate for huge mining sacrifices?

Published by MAC on 2019-05-05
Source: Paradise magazine (2019-05-05)

One of the world's largest - and most destructive - mines is nearing closure.

It's taken years since BHP Billiton sold out of the project, ascribing this at least partially to the use of river (and sea) tailings' disposal [see: Ok Tedi mine a curse ].

Following BHP's controversial exit, a Papua New Guinea foundation [OTDF] was established, in an attempt to satisfy demands to "creat economic self-reliance" for some 158 village communities in the area.

In the following article, the manager of OTDF defends the scheme - as one would expect him to.

However, he admits that it depends on continued  income from mining, and remarks that: ‘Gold and copper does not grow on trees like...crops'. Once the the metals have been exhausted, or rendered unecomic to extract: 'It’s gone yet vanilla, cocoa, rice, eaglewood or rubber will continuously grow and produce a return to the farmer.’

Whether his sentiment will be reflected by the people is, as yet, an unanswered question.

Especially for those families and their dependents who have bourne enormous livelhood costs, in being forced to accede to the mine's exigencies over the past more than three decades.

[Comment by Nostromo Research]

 

Life in Papua New Guinea after Ok Tedi

By Kevin McQuillan

Paradise (Air Nuigini magazine)

May/June 2019

As the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine nears the end of its current mine life, the Ok Tedi Development Foundation has launched a five-year plan to create economic self-reliance for the people of Western Province.


The Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) was originally set up as a subsidiary of the 35-year-old Ok Tedi gold and copper mine, one of the world’s largest and a key contributor to the PNG economy.

Since 2010, OTDF has been an independent entity with a unique development partnership between mining, the people and the government, although it relies on the mine for its annual operating income of about PGK20 million.

Since taking over as Chief Executive officer in 2009, Ian Middleton has been working to create plans to ensure self-reliance for the 147,000 people living in 158 villages in the mine area, along the Ok Tedi, Strickland and Fly rivers, and the highway between Tabubil and Kiunga.

‘The key elements of the master plan for new and expanding industries are poultry, rice, rubber, Englewood, cocoa, black pepper, vanilla and annatto.’ [a food colouring].

‘Our vision is to create a positive legacy for our communities,’ he says.

Late last year, he announced a strategic partnership with Israeli company Innovative Agro Industries (IAI), to develop the WestAgro Master Plan, which he estimates will cost around K200 million for the first four years, 2019–2023, before the venture is financially self-sustaining.

OTDF, the Fly River Provincial Government (FRPG), the Mineral Resource Development Corporation (MRDC) and IAI are the key partners in the WestAgro Joint Venture Company.

The key elements of the master plan for new and expanding industries are poultry, rice, rubber, eaglewood, cocoa, black pepper, vanilla and annato.

Sustainable economic and social development

Delivery of the WestAgro master plan is our principal focus in addressing sustainable economic and social development,’ he says.

‘WestAgro is expected to change the economic and social fabric of this province, shifting from a gold dependency to a green self-sustainability and as an organisation we are all very proud to have developed a plan that can truly deliver this outcome.

‘So long as our partner communities have money in their pockets, it will go a long way towards addressing any housing, health or education needs.’

Middleton admits the foundation is reliant on the mine to support OTDF operations, but if WestAgro is successful, the eventual mine closure will have very little impact on the communities’ need for continuance of the foundation.

Three agro-industrial centres form the basis of the WestAgro master plan at Kiunga in the North Fly, Kaviananga in the Middle Fly and Suki in the South Fly.

This year, the foundation through its partner, IAI, will be establishing a vanilla nursery and agricultural industrial base in Kiunga.

”There has been a dramatic change in attitude amongst our partner communities, there is now a genuine realisation that they can’t forever rely on mining benefits.’

This base, at Samagos, will incorporate a commercial nucleus estate as well as support all technical farming requirements for family smallholders.

They will expand the current poultry and egg project to include broilers in Tabubil, establishing a slaughterhouse to process 500 tonnes of chilled and frozen broiler meat to be supplied into the province, and work with farmers to produce a locally farmed corn supply for the poultry feed.

Helping community farmers


We hope to kick start a PNG Incentive Fund financed 40-hectare rice project in Kaviananga in the Middle Fly,’ he says.

A Kaviananga landowner group has allocated 40 hectares of land for commercial trials from which protocols will be established to expand farming throughout the province. It is hoped that 1000 hectares of rice can be planted, grown and processed. This will meet all the rice-consumption  requirements in Western Province.

At the Suki agricultural industrial base in the South Fly, a cocoa nursery and 500-hectare plantation will be developed along with support for the inclusion of smallholders. Additionally, research and development for an eaglewood industry will be completed by year’s end.

Middleton is optimistic that community farmers will be keen to actively take part in growing these commodities.

‘IAI is by far the most technically capable agribusiness provider available in PNG and they were willing to put their money where their mouth is’

‘There has been a dramatic change in attitude amongst our partner communities, there is now a genuine realisation that they can’t forever rely on mining benefits.

‘Gold and copper does not grow on trees like these crops. Once it is harvested, it’s gone yet vanilla, cocoa, rice, eaglewood or rubber will continuously grow and produce a return to the farmer.’

Middleton says the involvement of IAI is critical to the success of the master plan.

‘They have already committed to being a funding partner, committing to 20 per cent of the project.’

‘They can also provide a holistic, on-ground support base with extensive market connections for every commodity we plan to implement across the province.’

Middleton has announced his retirement as chief executive officer of OTDF at year end but will continue to play a major role to implement the WestAgro master plan.

 

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