While in Arawa town I spoke with many locals about the issue of mining and the propaganda in western media implying that land owners from Panguna and surrounding stakeholders where giving green lights towards steps to reopen the defunct mine. The reality on the ground does not reflect that hype whatsoever. I only found red stoplights regarding foreign investment in the Panguna mine from village people, ex-combatants, ABG members and Panguna landowners alike.
One afternoon I met with a Panguna landowner; Joanne Dateransi the sister of the late Francis Ona, credited with leading the eco-revolution against the mine and reigniting the struggle for independence. I first met Joanne in Alice Springs in central Australia in 2010 while speaking at an Indigenous rights conference where her leadership, strength and determination stuck me. Upon our meeting in Arawa town I felt blessed to meet this influential woman again.
We talked about the issue of pro mining agendas being the strategic State/capitalist based propagandists as Joanne assured me her position and that of her village and surrounding land owning Wantoks and stakeholders remained opposed to these lies. Instead Joanne’s resolve was focused on economic gateways with the outside world involving fair trade for cash crops and trade links with foreigners supportive of an Independent Bougainville.
On the topic of cash crops and fair trade I mentioned, after doing some labour on a Copra plantation, that farmers where not getting a fair deal with PNG based traders. I suggested farmers of Cocoa and Copra, the two main cash crops in the area, form a Trade Union and Farmers Cooperatives to set the price of their product to align with the labour involved, the expenses of basic living and to assist in the long term economic development of the Sovereign Nation of the Bougainville Autonomous Region. Chocolate sold in Australia is increasingly labelled “Fair Trade” however from my observation on the ground in Bougainville where perhaps the best Cocoa in the world is grown a fair trade is not the case at all.
Farmers are being ripped off at 220 Kina (approx. $110 Aus dollar) per 63kg bag when their product is worth more like at least 630 Kina per 63kg in a ‘Fair Trade’ market. Furthermore to value add to the Cocoa and Copra industries a home grown coconut chocolate factory could open up a vast economic gateway full of potential and long term economic gain for the majority of peoples, whether cultural, religious or business people. It was further rearticulated by Joanne that these; Economic Gateways for ‘Fair Trade’ would ensure long term economic stability for Bougainville and put an end to short sighted mining interests once and for all.
By Daniel Jones for Mekamui news.