Thumbnail Image

Livelihood dynamics on the Lihir Islands, Papua New Guinea

Liu, Mathias S.
Fields of Research
This thesis is based on an empirical study of livelihoods conducted on the Lihir Group of Islands in the New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. The Lihir group is part of the Tabar-Lihir-Tanga-Feni chain of volcanic island groups which lie parallel to New Ireland Province. The islands of Niolam, Mahur, Mali and Masahat make up the group. The purpose of this study was to investigate the dynamics of the livelihood systems on this group of islands where historical interventions and a mining operation have caused socio-economic changes, and continue to influence the people’s livelihoods. To that end, appropriate livelihood strategies have to be formulated to mitigate the negative impacts of these interventions. The study was characterised as inductive within the constructivist-interpretive research paradigm underpinned by the qualitative approach. The philosophyical framework of inquiry was exploratory, naturalistic and contextual to Lihir. The overarching construct viewed the livelihood system on Lihir as a human system of interacting elements consisting of people applying their capabilities to use assets within a vulnerable context, so as to construct and sustain their livelihoods. The inductive nature of the grounded theory was used to categorise primary data for the purpose of analysis and understanding. In so doing, primary data was incorporated with secondary data to provide a narrative description of the dynamics of the Lihir livelihoods. As such, primary data and secondary data were not treated as separate bodies of data. The research strategy was a case study in which 66 respondents were interviewed with multiple units of analysis. Generalisation was increased by taking a holistic approach in the selection of the units of analysis covering a broad variety of roles and activities from 10 strategically located villages. The selection of units of analysis included institutions and business owners. Respondents were purposively selected from these villages and institutions to capture the dynamics of livelihoods in their natural setting. Respondents were interviewed either in 2007 or 2008. Additional information was obtained through observation and secondary data sources. The results show that Lihirians have witnessed positive economic transformations in their livelihoods, from a subsistence base driven by traditional culture, to a cash economy largely dependent on the gold mine operation. Access to and use of assets varied between institutions, households and individuals. Matrix analysis of the institutions revealed that authority, influence, and power play to varying degrees between the institutions. These have impacted on institutional linkages, which are in turn impacting on service delivery, thereby either inhibiting or enhancing livelihoods. Similarly, stratification of households has occurred as a result of differing access to livelihood assets by household members. Notably, the mine has become an economic engine room for the affluence of Lihirians who are direct beneficiaries of the economic outcome of the mine through wage employment, business contractors, and recipients of mining royalties and allowances. Further, the multiplier effects of these economic outcomes have greatly influenced households to inevitably derive income earning livelihood strategies in order to sustain their livelihoods in a dynamic socio-economic environment. Overall, Lihirians have been drawn into engagement with the capitalist system, initially through the colonial labour trade and more recently through a large-scale gold mine operation. It is evident that consumerism and capitalism have taken a strong hold on the Lihirian livelihoods. However, the risk of this process ending with the ‘resource curse’, articulated through the ‘Dutch disease’, becomes a major threat. In this regard, it is vital that non mining interventions are introduced to mitigate the impact of the mine’s cessation. To this end, community based commercial fishing, ecological tourism and commercial vanilla production are possible interventions that could be pursed. In addition, enhancing advanced education and investment of mining royalties and personal income external to the Lihir Islands are paramount.