On the economic value of customary land

1 Apr 2006

Tim Anderson. In discussing the economic value of customary land in Papua New Guinea, we must recognise the ongoing polemic over land use. Much of this debate is driven by special interest groups seeking access to customary land. Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, have been mostly well served by their system of custodianship. Land has been the basis for social cohesion, food security, cultural reproduction and ecological management. This is a view supported by the PNG constitution and reflected, in many ways, by the international discussion of the ‘multifunctionalty’ of small farming (Mazoyer 2001).

The practical question, however, is whether small-scale landowners are able to pursue the best income-generating opportunities while holding onto the various social and subsistence advantages provided by their customary lands? This paper suggests that they can.

I therefore present a model, and some data from pilot surveys in the Eastern Highlands and Madang provinces, of an opportunity cost valuation of customary land. Finally, I compare the distinct approaches to income-generating opportunities for customary landowners.