Wewak | Project Sepik | 11 June 2021
East Sepik Provincial Governor promotes Agriculture as a Better Alternative over Frieda Copper and Gold Mine
Governor Allan Bird recently attended the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration Follow Up workshop in Korogu village, which brought together community, spiritual and clan leaders of 49 villages on the Sepik River. The Governor was accompanied by his wife Joanne and daughter Michelle. They were welcomed by a singsing group from Korogu.
The President of the Gawi Local-Level-Government and the East Sepik Provincial Mining Minister, Mr Leo Singut, was also part of the official team that attended to officiate at the workshop’s closing ceremony.
Governor Bird was overwhelmed by the significance of the event. He acknowledged Project Sepik and the leaders for the invitation to officiate at the event.
In his remarks, Governor Bird acknowledged Mr Singut and the team of experts that were tasked to oversee and review the Frieda Mine Environmental Impact statement (EIS) in 2020.
The acknowledgement also included the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) for the decision on the Frieda Mine EIS. Based on review of the EIS, the PEC unanimously voted to reject the EIS. The decision by the provincial assembly to vote against any form of mining was the first of its kind in PNG.
Governor Bird was proud of the outcome of the findings into the EIS and his provincial assembly for representing the people well in their decision.
The review of the EIS by Mr Singut and his team of experts was submitted to the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) in 2020.
The decision to reject the EIS was strengthened by ten independent and international expert reports on the EIS that was sent to CEPA by Project Sepik in March 2020. The expert reports found the EIS to be defective and unfit for purpose.
CEPA has yet to respond to the people of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Project Sepik and the East Sepik Provincial Government on its decision of the EIS.
The Governor and the provincial assembly’s decision and stance on the Frieda Gold and Copper mine remains unchanged. Governor Bird issued a strong statement that the Frieda Mine will not get off the ground as long as he is Governor.
This statement received loud cheers and claps from the people who had gathered. He stressed the importance of protecting the natural environment and the Sepik river when engaging in development activities saying ‘Yumi mas putim banis raunim Sepik wara so nogat bagarap bai kam antap long em’.
Governor Bird stated in his opposition to Frieda mine that ‘the East Sepik Province must show the National government that we can grow our economy on agriculture and bring about sustainable economic development’.
Governor Bird expressed that he understands and believes in the economic value of agriculture. This was brought about by his vast years of experience in the agriculture industry. ‘My only focus has been on agriculture, not mining’, he said. Governor Bird and his administration have been working to unlock the agricultural potential of East Sepik. To achieve this, he negotiated the European Union (EU) Grant of K 340 million for agriculture and fisheries in 2019. The EU grant funded programs like The Support to Rural Entrepreneurship, Investment and Trade in PNG Program (STREIT) to boost agricultural activities in ESP.
The East Sepik Provincial Government has been working in collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) to roll out the Streit PNG in assisting growers, farmers and fisherwomen and fishermen. Governor Bird has visited rural areas in the province to show support to the growers and see their level of engagement in the agriculture sector. He said he wanted more people involved in the sector to improve their livelihood. The Streit PNG program has proven to be a success, with more people engaged in agriculture and increased sales and exports volumes.
The Governor also encouraged local landowners to register their lands and acquire land titles. Having titles and knowing land boundaries will lower any potential land conflicts among the tribes and provide opportunities for them to develop their land sustainably.
Furthermore, he asked the people of the Sepik river not to depend solely on fish trading as their only source of income, instead work together with the Streit PNG and venture into agriculture to sustain themselves.
After the officiation, Governor Bird was invited into the Korogu n’gego (Haus Tambaran/spirit haus/haus of Governance/haus of assembly) to engage informally with all the leaders before departing. The leaders were grateful that Governor Bird made time to participate in the workshop. They were happy that he shared their vision and views on the safety of the river and the threat posed by the Frieda Mine.
The leaders of the 49 villages, 52 n’gegos and 416 clans thanked Governor Bird and his provincial assembly for standing with the people in supporting their call to reject the EIS Mine Development Proposal. The leaders also pledged their support to Governor Bird and his government, saying, ‘Like Late GC Sir Michael Somare, you will never be replaced until you retire’.
Project Sepik Coordinator Emmanuel Peni said he was happy that the Governor accepted the invitation of the people through Project Sepik. The Governor’s presence among his people meant a lot. Emmanuel said “We celebrate the decisions of the Governor and his provincial assembly. We are also happy to know that he is with the people to ensure that the safety of Avisak remains the priority”.
* Disclaimer: This was a Covid safe event where a protocol was followed diligently to ensure no one’s health was compromised. The Project Sepik team put a lot of effort and thinking into getting Covid protocols in place and liaised with relevant local and international organisations prior to the program. The team received technical support across various levels, including the local authorities. No one experienced any symptoms of covid during the event or in the weeks after