The examination of land tenure and income security among oil palm land-poor migrant farmers of West New Britain – Student Series – #2 Emmanuel Germis

In this series we will be posing a number of questions to our past students about their research projects.

Emmanuel Germis is a socioeconomic researcher with Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association (OPRA), West New Britain (WNB). He commenced his Masters by Research in 2016 at Curtin University. His research investigates the migration to agricultural frontier zones, and how migrants negotiate and maintain access to customary land to ensure livelihood security over time.

Emmanuel completed his Masters in 2019. The title of his dissertation is The Examination of Land Tenure and Income Security among Oil Palm Land-Poor Migrant Farmers of West New Britain.

1) What were the main findings of your thesis?

Firstly, there has been a big shift towards the formalisation of land transactions from informal to formal transactions, however, land transactions remain embedded in custom. Secondly, the maintenance of social relationships between migrants and customary landowners remain crucial for migrants seeking to replant their senile oil palm after 25 years. Thirdly, migrants use diverse strategies and pathways to acquire land from customary landowners. Finally, land values have increased considerably over the last three decades.

2) How are people gaining access to land for oil palm in WNB?

Migrants use several strategies including:

  • Utilising pre-existing social relationships with customary landowners
  • Approaching customary landowners directly to purchase land
  • Some customary landowners advertise that they have land for ‘sale’
  • Intermarriage
  • Purchasing land from existing migrants with or without landowner consent.

3) What are the benefits and challenges with these informal/ semi-formal access arrangements?

Benefits

  • Flexible tenure arrangements
  • Simple to arrange because documentation limited
  • Less time and cost involved
  • Cheap prices relative to the income that can be earned from oil palm
  • Land acquisition based on good social relationships, trust and respect

Challenges

  • Minimal documentation of land transactions – therefore less secure tenure
  • Large land areas acquired cheaply by migrants are sometimes sub-divided by customary landowners with portions resold to other migrants at much higher prices
  • Migrants acquiring land without pre-established or established relationships have more insecure tenure than those with good social relationships with customary landowners

4) Why is your thesis research important?

The research is important as it contributes to a better understanding of the formalisation of land transactions in the smallholder oil palm industry. Furthermore, it provides important data which aids the customary land reform program in PNG.

5) Are there policy implications of your research? If so, what are they?

Yes, the research findings and recommendations can be used by the national government to draft policies related to customary land matters in PNG.

6) Please list any research organisations that your work has been associated with.

The study expanded on previous research on migration and land tenure in the oil palm growing areas of WNB and was funded as part of an  ACIAR research project on Food Security among oil palm and cocoa smallholders, that was led by Curtin University and in collaboration with the PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute, PNG University of Technology, as well as my own organisation, PNG Oil Palm Research Association.

References

Germis, E. (2019). The Examination of Land Tenure and Income Security Among Oil Palm Land-Poor Migrant Farmers of West New Britain (Masters’ thesis). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11937/76110

Koczberski, G., Numbasa, G., Germis, E., & Curry, G.N. (2017). Informal land markets in Papua New Guinea. In: S. McDonnell, M. Allen, and C. Filer (eds), Kastom, Property and Ideology. Land transformations in Melanesia. 145–168. ANU Press, Canberra.

Koczberski, G., Curry, G.N., Bue, V., Germis, E., Nake, S., & Tilden, G. M. (2018). Diffusing Risk and Building Resilience through Innovation: Reciprocal Exchange Relationships, Livelihood Vulnerability and Food Security amongst Smallholder Farmers in Papua New GuineaHuman Ecology, 46, 801-814. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-018-0032-9

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Germis, Gina Koczberski

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