Marry Conservation To Tourism To Increase Conservation Research

This essay is in response to an article titled: Conservation Research Is Not Happening Where It Is Needed Most.  The conclusion in the article published in PLOS Biology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal  was reached after an analysis of 7,593 peer-reviewed papers.

Papua New Guinea was at the bottom when compared with 5 other high biodiversity countries. PNG contributed only 0.2% (n=7,593) in publication to the world knowledge on biodiversity. None of the publication was by an in-country institution.  In contrast, Costa Rica, another high biodiversity country contributed 0.5% to world biodiversity knowledge, 14 papers from Costa Rica was led by in-country institution. Furthermore, Costa Rica has 4 experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) while PNG has zero representation.

The authors cite many reasons for the lack and offers solutions.  All the solutions are relevant to PNG and when implemented may make a difference.

The paper, however dedicates only one sentence to the role of governments in conservation research. Governments, however are the biggest stakeholder influencing conservation research. And for PNG, the lack of political will by governmants to prioritize conservation can easily be one of the main reasons for the dismal results.

PNG is a developing country and is struggling to attain development. Money needed for development is locked in her natural resources. Currently, priority is in harvesting the natural resources to raise revenue for development.

Conservation is seen as anti-development. Conservation uses money but does not make money consequently conservation is not a priority. These sentiments are not expressed but is reflected in a lot of decisions taken by the government.

A classic example is preservation of Kokoda Track versus dumping of toxic waste into the Basamuk Bay.  Efforts have gone into protecting the Kokoda water catchment. While at the Basamuk Bay, despite community protests, the government allowed the Chinese Nickle-Cobalt Miner to dump toxic waste into the bay. What makes Kokoda special for preservation over Basamuk?

The common denominator in both project is money. Both are paying – the Australians are paying to protect while the miners are paying to dump their mining waste.

Another example in which money comes before conservation is when mining and logging rights are granted to the extractive industry in the areas designated for conservation.

Because it is not a priority, no serious money is budgeted for conservation in PNG.  Conservation groups raise their own funds but have to balance their conservation agenda with the socio-economic and developmental needs of the people they work with.

Because it is not a priority, there is an absence of developmental pathways for human resources for conservation either at the university or in government institutions.  All the skills needed to function as a conservationist is left to individuals to pick up while on the job.  There is also a lack of incentive to utilise local conservation practitioners who have attained advanced degrees.

The Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) is the designated authority to implement conservation in PNG. But it also has a contradicting role – the office collects fees and grants permit to developers to discharge waste into the environment.  As seen in the Kokoda versus Basamuk case, money making projects will win all the time.

Making money is a priority in PNG while conservation as it is today is a black hole that consumes money and gives nothing back.

The only way to make conservation a winner in this environment is to frame it as a money making venture for development.

How can we do that? Divorce conservation from CEPA and marry it to tourism to form Conservation and Tourism.

Already there is an incentive to make money with the proposed merger. People now have an incentive to look after their resources. It will be easy to make people understand the need for sustainable management because their income in the long run will depend on it.

This new merger will increase conservation manpower because research information will become a selling point for tourism.  This may improve training for local conservation research and the inevitable outcome will be more publications.

What is good for conservation is good for tourism is good for people. To protect this new development venture, the government will build infrastructure where it is needed. Steps will also be taken to strengthen environment protection policies and laws.

Conservation and tourism spreads money to local people and promotes development. Tourism does not only involve international tourists only. locals can become tourists as well. Local tourism is a viable industry in PNG and needs to be promoted aggressively and researched further.

Tourism and Conservation may be the trigger that will set off a  domino effect of positive changes in conservation and sustainable development. An inevitable end product will be an increase in  conservation research on biodiversity in this country.

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Local Volunteers as Development Partners

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These feet are made for walking

He walks the entire coastline, along the picturesque beaches when the tide is out. And when the tide is in, he takes  the long detour through thorny swamps, over cliffs and over sharp gravel beds.  From one coastline to another. From one side of the bay to the other – one step at the time.

Sometimes the road takes him up the river, over high mountains, down steep valleys and though wind swept grasslands into cold dark forests.

Meet him – middle-aged, average height,  tough, wiry and bronze from being chiseled by sun, rain, wind and salt;  limbs – lean and tough, disciplined to walk from sunup to sundown. Not a trace of body fat – a body that has accepted that humans eat to live not live to indulge the stomach.  Soles of the feel toughened up in layers that can withstand sharp gravel and even coals of fire.

Who is he? He is a man on a mission – a crusader. His message: nutrition. Sago grubs, green frog, wild yam and other lost food of the ancestors.

His mission: rekindling confidence in the ways of the fathers that had sustained generations prior to colonisation. Putting confidence into mothers, showing them the difference between eating sago grubs versus a can of tinned fish from Taiwan that costs money, which she may not have.

Why does he do what he do? I asked and he replied that he believes that what he is doing is his calling. If he does not document the secrets of the fathers, who else will? If he does not teach his people to survive, who else will?

No, he is not a shaman. He has a diploma in catering. He has had the taste of the high life, working for city hotels to well stocked mining camps. At the pinnacle of his career, he was even a head chef.

But then he started noticing the trend. Taro yield has decreased both in size and quality.  There seem to be a positive correlation between taro yield and the stature of young people. Even the energy levels and creativity and leadership capacity seems to be at an all-time low.

The river valley was being turned to rice fields, killing all seed bank consequently turning it into a river highway when it flooded. The river was getting killed – no more prawns and no more fish but algae greening the warm waters of the river during dry seasons.

Despite that, the people where still too far away from opportunities to earn money to buy food. His people were destined to suffer malnutrition.

Something had to be done. So he retired from cooking for money and put his life into service for his people – teaching mothers about nutrition using local food sources.

His  total budget is zero. All his expenses paid for with information that he carries in his head. For his pay, he appreciates a smile, a cup of hot sweet tea, food for his stomach and a place to lay his head for the night.

There are so many just like him. Walking bare feet, with a well-worn jacket and raincoat that also keeps cold away at night. A trusty torch, a bag full of buai and a heart that beats for the people.  Reaching one person at the time. Walking all the steps.

He may not win the men of valour award but he is the champion. He is a hero. Even with the taste of the high life of town still mellowing in his memory, he chose to return to the village and is destined to die in the village. Another statistic in the government books. Despite that, the likes of him are conduits of hope for building self-esteem and confidence among the rural masses.

Volunteers such as him are the unsung heroes who are working without recognition. There are so many of them, all in the ministry of dispensing hope. Pastors, health workers, nutritionists, conservationists, elementary school teachers, peace officers and the list will go on.

These people are the hope for educating rural PNG. People like him bring direction to the confusion of a people caught between the past and the present – a people lost in transition between cultures.

These volunteers are not looking for recognition. These volunteers approach what they do as a calling, a purpose for being born into this country for this day and time. They are the real patriots, a shining beacon of example to many who expect pay to do the minimum required to serve this great country.

In the hand of a wise government, local volunteers represent a workforce that can accomplish a lot of government plans in the rural and remote places in PNG. At the moment, these group of people act on their own, with their own resources and at their own time.

They struggle, but they continue because they believe it is their calling. Blessed are the feet of those, who bring good news and hope.

Re-wire the Brain: New Conservation Direction

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A singsing group from the Zia Tribe of the Waria Valley, Morobe South Coast.

Whittling it down to the bare bones of it all, conservation has been about satisfying human values: protecting and or restoring ecosystem services for the benefit of humans, preserving a super market for human needs, protecting aesthetic values for human pleasure, securing nature for posterity value – especially in pharmacology for the benefit of humans, and protecting the inherent value of nature as deemed important by humans.

When conservation efforts is human centered, the underlying philosophy is that of a custodian.  Human beings make themselves lord over nature, the rule maker – they take on the responsibility for protecting nature by making the rules to safeguard  nature and to reverse the negative impacts caused by members of their species.

The ideology of custodianship is absent in a lot of indigenous groups.  For example, people in traditional Melanesia consider themselves part of nature. The relationship is one of awe and respect and fear because of the intricate relationship and interdependence that exists between humans and nature.

Conservation proponents from the West who brought conservation to Melanesia brought in the custodian ideology.  Melanesians were thoughtlessly taken out of nature and crowned as lord over nature.   Their fear of the spirits and the unknown was revealed as petty and expelled as myth.

Knowledge and technology which was supposed to protect nature instead liberated voracious consumers.  The fear of the unknown and the fear of spirits expunged from his existence, the semi traditional man has run amok  in the forest, lighting fire and cutting trees and  over-harvesting  wildlife.

Western project proponents wrongly assumed that  forest owners shared their  values for conservation.  In reality, the forest owner have never wasted sleep on issues of climate change and extinction. Any change in nature was taken in stride as nature being nature.

The West also brought with it the concept of development.  A concept that contradicts their idea of conservation. Development is measured by  an accumulation of material wealth and money, while conservation promotes frugality.  When judged through western eyes , the forest people were pitied as a poor people.

Desiring  ’development’ but being so far from development opportunities,  the forest owners readily embraced conservation as a development option. The conservation proponents misread the enthusiasm of forest owners and pledged goods and services in exchange for a piece of the bush.  In the long run, the good intentions become a liability when conservation proponents become  engrossed in community development issues that had nothing to do with conservation.

The custodian mentality will not begin to sink in until forest owners achieve self-actualization as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Self-actualization will come about only when these forest people are satisfied with their station in life. Only then can they appreciate the custodian philosophy of looking after nature.

The irony of the preceding paragraph is that, indigenous people had achieved some level of self-actualization in their own societies. People had reached a point where all their basic needs were taken care of that they had time for activities outside of survival. Evidence is in the complexity of  customs and cultural rites and adornment.

Despite that, indigenous people are judged against the introduced culture of materialism and individualism, this causes them to lose confidence and trust in the system that worked for their forefathers and which has been passed down through generations.  They lose confidence in their innate knowledge of their environment.

With misplaced priorities, people shun the real keepers of knowledge – the elders, and put their faith in high school graduates who can speak English.

For progress, there is a need for indigenous communities to re-kindle pride for culture. A re-wiring of the mind that helps them realize that development is relative and that they are not as destitute as they are made to feel and they can keep their culture and live in a village and also enjoy the benefits of Western inventions such as medicine and countless technology.

The onus is now on indigenous people to reconcile their indigenous way of life with ideas from the outside.  A balance must be found between the two because conservation has become the last lifeline for indigenous people in maintaining and sustaining a livelihood in the face of rapid loss of culture, climate change, rapid population growth and loss of water sources and cultural lands.

 

 

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