PNG is an extremely diverse country with high levels of customary landownership . Land for development is very scarce in the country, as only 3.6% of PNG’s land belongs to the state, and the largest chunk (96.4%) being customary lands .
About 75% of PNG’s population are living in rural areas and most are dependent on their lands for subsistence farming. Continued land cultivation for farming has degraded the environment and most often contributed to soil erosion, landslides, and loss of soil fertility. Despite new farming technologies introduced by the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), most farmers still adopt old farming practices due to lack of awareness and extension services. Thus, agricultural production is still low and environmental degradation is commonplace .
Over the last two decades, land use has been changing considerably in the country as more land is cleared for agriculture, logging, infrastructure and mining, all of which, contributing to land degradation. In addition, due to the complexity of land tenure in the country, most urban centres have limited land to expand in spite of the increasing urban population which is causing illegal settlements in almost all urban centres .
According to PNG’s Report of the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Programme, for the LDN baseline year of 2015, 31.5% (14,548,726 hectares) of PNG’s land is degraded while 68.4% (31,555,484 hectares) is stable, out of PNG’s total land area of 46,104,211 hectares .
The main direct drivers of land degradation in PNG include forest clearance for logging and oil palm, poor agricultural practices, deforestation and removal of natural forests to facilitate intensive agriculture under the Special Agriculture Business Lease (SABL), and subsistence agriculture. Urbanization and settlement, unplanned development, and natural causes also contribute to land degradation. The indirect drivers of land degradation in PNG are land tenure, population pressure, poverty, and climate change .
The burgeoning PNG population demands increased land for settlement. Since 2016, the country has experienced huge urban drift in most major cities such as Port Moresby, Lae, Mount Hagen and Kokopo. As such, most urban centres are now faced with extreme pressures to provide additional services including health care, education and basic shelter due to the expansion of urban settlements .
Key policies and governance approach
Land in PNG is valued immensely by the customary inhabitants as well as by the Government. It is a significant resource, and its management is imperative given the development pathway that the GoPNG is pursuing, through Vision 2050 and the Development Strategic Plan (DSP). The Government intends to increase the land available for development from a baseline of 5% to 20% by 2030. This will require articulated discussions with the customary landowners .
Rapid population increase and economic development through the current trend of unsustainable utilisation of resources prompted the Government to develop an overarching policy framework to guide the planned allocation, development, management and best use of land and land resources .
The formulation of the Land Use Policy is an approach taken to meet the treaty obligations under the UNCCD Agenda 21. The Land Use Policy highlights the importance of land use planning for sustainable development. The policy is also a home-grown reform program introduced by the government to free up customary land for development purposes. While the convention on combating desertification explicitly mentions land management as a key instrument to achieve its objectives, land use planning has the potential to contribute meaningfully to achieving the objectives of the convention. Additionally, land use planning can contribute to climate change mitigation by identifying areas of forest protection or afforestation as well as to adaptation to climate change by identifying risk areas or new suitable areas for agricultural productions. Land use planning can also protect biodiversity through zoning of protected areas .
Other relevant policies and legislative instruments in PNG include the National Urbanisation Policy 2010-2030, Land Registration (Amendment) Act 2009, Agriculture Smart Policy, National Food Security Policy 2016 – 2026, and the National Sustainable Land Use Policy, among others , .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
In PNG, there is a need to increase human and financial resources, and improve capacity building and institutional strengthening to develop a framework for sustainable land management that incorporates the principles of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and the SDGs .
Insufficient collaboration between public sector agencies, the private sector and communities often results from misunderstandings on responsibilities of key stakeholders with regards to land management. Hence for LDN intervention, there will need to be awareness-raising activities in the country so that everyone understands the task that is at hand. Additionally, to achieve LDN in the country, capacity building in key government agencies is needed, as well as strengthened capacity building for environmental protection .
In moving forward to achieve sustainable economic development, there is a need for customary land to have proper bankable title and be readily available in the formal market. A bankable title is one which is considered secure by the financial sector and therefore, can be used to extend credit to the holder of the title, thereby, encouraging investment and economic activities. However, accessing customary land with proper bankable title has been challenging due to issues associated with administration of customary land, structures and arrangements of governance on customary land, and the system of resolving disputes on customary land .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Since 2007, the Government through the Department of Lands and Physical Planning adopted the strategy for unlocking productive land for economic or commercial purposes under the Integrated Land Group. This helps to identify and address future land use disputes and the effective means of dispensing royalty and compensation payments for landowners. Under the Integrated Land Group initiative, the Government has now started two large-scale agricultural projects in collaboration with private companies, namely the Innovative Agro and the NKW Group of Companies to bolster agriculture and livestock production to meet local and global demand .
- Accelerated land titling and security of tenure for customary landowners.
- Systematic urban planning policies or strategic environmental assessments (SEA) can contribute to better housing and commercial development.
- Provide education and training to legislators, regulators, and policy implementers at all levels of government, from communities up to national level, concerning their specific mandates, how to consistently coordinate across government, and how to implement and enforce existing laws and policies.
- The National REDD+ Strategy 2017 – 2027 provides an opportunity for attracting additional funding to cater for land use planning in PNG.
- Improve monitoring and reporting of environmental issues and trends.
- Support human capital development - educational and research programs in universities aimed at developing capacity to transition to sustainable development modes of growth.
- Conduct a compulsory National Agriculture Census every ten years together with the National Population Census to enable proper land use and improved waste management through sustainable development and practices.
- Integrate LDN and other SDGs into the national development framework.
- Promote and implement the Protected Area Policy, National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP), National REDD+ Strategy 2017 – 2027.
- Promote good/sound land use planning, management, and practices.
- Promote the idea of integrated catchment/watershed land use planning and management.
- Mobilization of internal, external, and innovative sources of financing.
- Public awareness raising to financial institutions and the private sector on LDN for their involvement.
 Government of Papua New Guinea (2006). UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON COMBATING DESERTIFICATION NATIONAL REPORTFOR THE FIFTH SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE FOR THE REVIEW OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CONVENTION.