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After two weeks of closure as disgruntled Kokoda Track villagers in the Central Province complained about poor benefits, they agreed to reopen it late last Thursday.
But there is also a condition which was agreed to-they desire review of the Kokoda Track within three months.
Central Province Governor Robert Agarobe was the key negotiator in arriving at this and he was at the reopening of the track at Depo, just before Sogeri National High School.
“Now that we have opened the trek we can turn that into a better product,” Agarobe said.
Prior to that Agarobe did visits to the inland mountainous areas of Kagil, Naduri, Efogi and Manari.
These are Koiari inland villages where Kokoda Track adventurers pass through as they hike the infamous historical war track to Isurava in Oro.
The fuzzy fuzzy angels did their humanitarian life saving acts 75 years ago and the Kokoda Track itself became a popular ecotourism and multimillion kina product 23 years ago.
Villagers along the track argued they have not seen tangible and maximum benefits reaching their villages and impacting on the socio economic lives.
Despite millions of kina being pumped in through various organisational names like Kokoda Track Authority, Kokoda Initiative, Kokoda Track Foundation and the involvement of government entities like Conservation Environmental Protection Authority (CEPA), the villagers remain as poor “porters” earning little ferrying goods for trekkers, they argued.
They told governor Agarobe they wanted better deals and benefits.
Agarobe though has challenged the people to be smart and innovative in creating products that tourists would use as they pass through their villages.
And in his governorship he will ensure this materializes.
“The only thing we’ve gained from the trek is being carriers and we’ve done that many years ago,” he said.
“I have assured my people from now on they’ll always be good consultation with everyone that’s involved.
“And they’ve agreed on that and are willing now to work with me as the governor and see how best we can empower everyone along the trek so that we can improve the living standards of the people along the trek,” Agarobe said.
“As the governor I have settled in for the last six months and I have plans for the province.
“Our plan is to stimulate the economy in the province and the trek being one of our very good existing products, we’d like to promote it.
“The last thing we want to do is damage it,” Agarobe said.
He said there would now be three months of consultation and review between all stakeholders and he wanted his people to be involved and speak their hearts.
After brokering peace and lifting the track ban, Agarobe said it was unfortunate and unnecessary but what transpired was a result of ineffective communication between stakeholders.
“A lot of them are unaware, ignorant and ill-informed about everything that goes around them. And that’s where the frustration is,” he said.
“They are frustrated because we aren’t trickling information right down to them.
He said tourists from Australia and other countries are invited and welcome to walk the Kokoda Track again.