Any development comes at a cost, but what are the consequences of development at any cost? “Canning Paradise” tells a story which finds resonance in much of the developing world today. In the name of implementing economic progress pushed by neo-liberal agendas, nations are prescribed a unique pathway for development. A unique pathway where words such as “economic growth” or “national interest” are mixed with promises for a better life, better education, better future for populations and this equation needs to be vigorously debated. This narrative also comes with the underlying assumption that progress can solely be achieved through favourable economic reforms and deregulations that benefit a few; and that the people impacted by the transitional shift towards industrialization (and large scale exploitation of their resources) need to turn a blind eye to the human, cultural and environmental sacrifices they have been burdened by.
Papua New Guinea is one of the last places on earth where people still have access to land, and is probably one of the last places yet to discover the full impact of globalisation. This young nation, that only obtained independence from Australia in 1975, is recognised as one of the most bio and culturally diverse places on earth with more than 800 languages and countless endemic species. People have remarkably been able to sustain another way of life, the Melanesian way – far from the western ideals of consumerism.
The project started with a simple Youtube clip that I watched while still studying at university. I was overwhelmed after watching this video, not just because of the countless impacts caused by the huge Pacific Marine Industrial Zone project, the destruction of traditional fishing grounds, food security problems, displacement of entire villages, industrial sites where hundreds of tuna trawlers would unload their catches right next to marine protected areas, sex-trade for fish, alienation of land without the consent of their original owners, sweatshop factories with poor labour regulations, but because it raised a much more important question: can development actually bring about poverty?
The answer to this question is indeed complex and the aim of this documentary was not so much to point fingers at particular characters or institutions but to be able to show the limits of a narrative, which on the ground only brings violence, division and confusion within previously peaceable communities. “Canning Paradise” aims to facilitate a much-needed debate regarding that model of development so that local populations can break “the resource curse”.
Is development founded on capitalism suitable for Papua New Guinea? Instead of being encouraged to take control of their own resources, be it oil, gold, timber or tuna – they are told their resources need to travel half way around the globe to find their market. Instead of following a development model where culture, land and traditions could be the cornerstones for regional development, they are told the answer lies in special economic zones, sweatshop labour and exploitation by foreign multinationals. Instead of bending backwards to feed the world, can Papua New Guineans write their own future?