BOUGAINVILLE IS SAID TO BE the largest and richest island of the Solomon archipelago.
In the dream days, oral history claims that traditional trade goods from as far as Malaita Island ended up in Bougainville.
In fact, this is still a mutual practice today for the people divided between two countries. There are always traders from all over the southern Solomon in many Bougainvillean markets.
This is one indicator that, in economic terms, Bougainville has the potential—without a large scale mining project—to be an economic power house to its citizens and its sister islands.
In Bougainville’s economic history, the year 1989 should be noted as the year that the island economy that was driving the state of Papua New Guinea came to a standstill due to the armed secessionist conflict.
This crisis was the outcome of the systematic denial of Bougainville freedom of decision-making; rather Bougainville was a slave to aliens that exploited her and gave back nothing tangible in economic terms.
To Bougainville and its people, subsistence economic activity was the mainstay through the pre-colonial days until today. Bougainvilleans live by tilling their customary land, growing food crops and domesticating animals for food in the ongoing art of survival.
However, for the sole benefit of PNG, colonialism introduced mining into the Bougainville psyche. This made many Bougainvilleans believe that a massive export-oriented resource extraction industry was the only way for economic progress.
Leaders in the ABG, and even external advisors, want to see the reopening of the Panguna mine as an impact project to kick-start the Bougainville economy.
But what most Bougainvilleans should learn is the massive scale of resource extraction industries in PNG that provide no physical evidence of positive change to the society and the people.
Everywhere one travels in PNG there is urban decay, pothole infested public roads and streets, fearful squatter settlements, massive unemployment, crime and an Asian takeover of cottage businesses.
But to Papua New Guineans this is positive development despite the fact that the economic growth rate is outstripped by population growth.
Bougainville’s future economic success must solely depend on an agricultural base. This is well documented in W W Rostow’s 1960’s book, The 5 Stages of Economic Growth, that emphasises the significance of an agricultural base to kick-start economic growth and development in developing countries.
The Bougainville government and people should invest in any cash crop the land of Bougainville can support. Two such crops that have long economic impacts in Bougainville are cocoa and copra.
In the 2008 research paper by Ian Scales and Raoul Craemer, Market Chain Development in Peace Building, it was noted that Bougainville was the major producer of cocoa for the PNG economy.
The paper noted that production ceased in 1990 with the spread of the crisis. But from 1997, as peace began gaining momentum, cocoa production rose significantly. By 2006 this growth had reached its average pre-crisis mark of 15,000 tonnes per year.
But to Bougainville’s disadvantage this is recorded as East New Britain cocoa since all buyers of Bougainville cocoa are Rabaul based.
Among the most rascals of Bougainville cocoa and copra are non-Bougainville companies such as Outspan, Garamut and Agmark. They have local Bougainvillean agents who buy cocoa or copra under licence.
There will be significant revenue for Bougainville if Bougainvilleans can establish local companies for the direct export of their resources to international markets instead of feeding PNG’s East New Britain province and others.
Bougainville’s small scale alluvial gold mining industry is also not benefiting Bougainville but generating income for PNG.
According to Martyn Namorong’s 2011 article, Bougainville’s weak government unable to stop looting, an estimated K300 million worth of gold is leaving Bougainville illicitly.
This figure could be supported by a 2010 story by Satish Chand, Bougainville bouncing back, that noted a local assayer as smelting 1.5 to 2 kilograms of gold per week. This converts to up to US$86,000 valued worth of production a week.
These natural resources are not generating socio-economic change for Bougainvilleans because Bougainvilleans are not working to take full entrepreneurial ownership of their labour and resources.
With full control of these few major resources, Bougainville could develop other still idle agricultural resources that are struggling.
All these problems are the fruit of our leaders playing Bougainville politics in Papua New Guinea shoes despite the fact that the island lost 20,000 people under PNG politics.
Bougainville does not really need a massive impact project to kick-start development. All Bougainville needs is responsible management skills and a visionary political leadership.