Finding Common Ground: relational concepts of land tenure and economy in the oil palm frontier of Papua New Guinea
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In the oil palm frontier regions of West New Britain and Oro provinces, Papua New Guinea, customary land tenure arrangements are changing in response to the growing demand for land for agricultural development. This paper examines one aspect of these changes, namely the gifting and selling of customary land for oil palm development to people who have no customary birthrights to the land. By analysing how access rights are maintained over the relatively long cultivation cycle of oil palm (approximately 25 years), and in the context of the rapidly changing socio-economic and demographic environments of the oil palm frontiers, the paper demonstrates that while land transactions seemingly entail the commodification of land, land rights and security of land tenure remain embedded in social relationships. For customary landowners, the moral basis of land rights is contingent on ‘outsiders’ maintaining particular kinds of social and economic relationships with their customary landowning ‘hosts’. In exploring how these social relationships are constituted through the performance of particular kinds of exchange relationships, the paper provides insights into relational concepts of land rights and how these are able to persist in Papua New Guinea's oil palm frontier regions where resource struggles are often intense and where large migrant populations are seeking land for agricultural development.
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