#Bougainville #PNG News: Environmental disaster is waiting to happen in Bougainville port

“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

Bougainville News

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“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

The environmental contamination and pollution from the leakages is already evident. It will destroy one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. It will affect the Kieta harbour shoreline, the shores…

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Climate Change, Water Wars Warning!

Countries may fight international wars over oil, but local wars can be started over drinking water because life needs water to survive.

Rausim OBE Long PNG

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Population growth is good

Tanya Zeriga_Synod_Thur14 (26)

Survival is a number game. The bigger the number, the greater the rate of survival. On the other hand, extinction happens when numbers get so low that recruitment via birth or migration is suppressed.   In the primitive sense, human beings are part of the system and the same rules  apply.

With over 75% of PNGeans still living in rural areas while maintaining a livelihood from the land – having bigger families increases the adaptive capacity of those families to impacts of climate change. The bigger the family, the more people who can diversify their efforts in supporting the family especially in terms of looking for food as well as any other assistance.

Having more people in the family is advantageous when it comes to family projects like building house and canoes to withstand the impacts of climate change.

More people means the family can easily defend their land and even resources from others since these resources are becoming scarce.

The chances of a family member getting a job in town is also increased in big families and the other family members benefit from cash remittance.

For rural communities, being able to adapt to climate change seems to be with families with bigger numbers. Smaller families trying to survive in a rural economy will struggle because they have to put in extra effort to achieve an outcome similar to the family with many children.

Escalate the same thinking to the nation – the more people there are , the increased manpower of building a nation. Because more people equals a big market, a big market equals more opportunities, more opportunities equals growth.

The bigger the population, the bigger and diverse the talent pool. The bigger the population, the bigger and better the gene pool.

To proudly take our place among the other nations of the world, we need to have more people. We cannot put our growth, our safety and our sovereignty in somebody elses hands. Surely we will not wait for consultants to build our nation, just because we have a very tiny population.

Some tribes in PNG have less than 1,000 members. These tribes are at risk of going extinct if their population growth is suppressed.

The main reason cited against growing a family is a lack of resources to cater for many mouths. A lack of resources may lead big families to poverty. Where poverty is defined as having less than $3 in your pocket at the end of a day.

At today’s exchange rate, being poor in PNG means, having less than K9 in your pocket.

As per the definition of poverty, over 80% of PNG who grow and hunt for their own food, live below the poverty line. If they grow their own food, why do they need the K9 for?  Rightfully, this definition applies to people who depend on a supermarket for all their food.

A better definition for poverty in PNG is hunger. When you work the land, you have food to eat. When you don’t work, you will go to sleep hungry. Having a bigger family to work the land is security against hunger.

In the name of world peace and the brotherhood of men, ideas and cultures are borrowed, stolen, adapted and even imposed onto other cultures. Instead of just accepting every new idea, we have to weigh new ideas against our existing “kastam”. We had a reason for doing things we did. We did not just exist.  Some “kastam” we can cut off, but others we may be cutting off at our own detriment. The key message is, think before we accept foreign ideologies that may be detrimental to the growth of our societies.

 

 

 

 

Adversity is the mother of invention

climate pacific

I go online to check how my Pacific leader are representing me at the COP 21 and I am disappointed. Our leaders are playing the victim.

We are drowning, someone save us, cries Samoa. We will be under water soon , says Kiribati. No tears of self-pity from PNG, but a big demand: the people responsible for climate change must pay.  We  did not do it, whoever caused this climate change, own up and pay. We need the money to save 80% of rural based population.

The only positive call for action comes from  the Marshall Islands. Let us take some action, their leader says.

Those of us in the Pacific are acting like victims. Indeed we are victims  by virtue of by being in the forefront of this global climate change. We are feeling the brunt of the warming atmosphere. But therein  also is our opportunity to be victors.

Being in the front means we have first hand experience of this phenomenon  – we experience it at our doorstep and know it back to front and inside out. This  knowledge can be turned on its head to become an opportunity for positive change.

This adage rings true for the pacific at this time “adversity is the mother of invention”. The mother of invention has now settled here in the pacific. This is the time for the tropics to use this adversity to innovate and contribute meaningful inventions and interventions of adapting to this global phenomenon. 

But what are we doing? We wring our hands and look at America and others  from the temperate countries to come and fix our tropical problems.  That is very silly. Indeed they can supply the scientific knowledge, but adapting this knowledge to our situation is up to us.

Instead of playing the victim and shifting blame, the Pacific must take the stance  Marshall Island has taken – we must stand together and take charge of the spotlight and come up with the solutions that the world needs to adapt to climate change. We must make a start because the earth is not going to get cooler anytime soon. Here and now is the opportunity for the Pacific to become the leaders in climate change adaptation.

Once we show leadership, resources will flow. The world is morally obligated to put their money and resources to where it is needed and all we need to do is quit playing the victim and show more  leadership.

The difference between a victim and a victor is not in the size of economy rather it is a matter of perspective. The organ for changing perspectives is between the ears. Change your mind and change your life, is probably one of the most used adage in the pacific, but do we believe this at the level of national governments? We have our answer from the COP21.

Anything is possible, we just need to frame our challenge differently, we need to approach challenges as opportunities for improvement. Only then can we realize the opportunities that come dressed as adversity.

 

 

Starvation is not the death threat, dis-ease is.

IMG_0065 copyAccording to statistics collected after the 1997 El Nino in Papua New Guinea and reported by Bang et al (2003), a total of 1.2 million people suffered from severe food shortages. The two regions most severely impacted were the Highlands with 169,000 and the Southern region with 62,000 people with almost no food available locally.

Water supply was reduced to critical levels throughout the country. Ponds, wells, creeks and smaller rivers dried up, but larger rivers continued to flow, although at much reduced levels. In many places, available water sources became contaminated, sometimes because wild and domestic animals used the same water source as humans and partly because on islands and coastal areas seawater infiltrated normally fresh water supplies.

Loss of life was recorded within the drought period. Most of these deaths were in rural areas than urban areas and affected more children and the elderly  ((Igua 2000), Lemmonier (2000)).

 Lemmonier (2000), an anthropologist working with the Ankave-Anga in the remote mountains of Kerema  reported 80 deaths from the two years of drought. The deaths reduced the population of this remote mountain people by 20%.

According to the author, the mortality was due to diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery that attacked people whose body was already made weak by diminished caloric intake.

And in his observation,  “people who were accustomed to drinking directly from watercourses with pure water were forced to drink from pools of polluted water. This was probably responsible for the epidemic that decimated the people from Ankave- Anga, perhaps due to typhoid.” (Pierre 2000).

Similar sentiments were expressed in other post 1997 El Niño reports which were presented at a food security conference held in the year 2000 at the University of Technology, Lae.  A copy of the conference proceedings containing all the important lessons learnt can be accessed here.

From the experience, what can we do to help?

First and foremost is to look after human health. A diminished intake of calories and a reduction in the variety of food depletes the body of essential minerals and vitamins. This will cause the body to become weak and succumb to dis-ease.  Old people and young people, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system are especially vulnerable and must be protected.

A practical step will include a change in the daily routines. The vulnerable group must be protected from over exertion. Any hard work must be scheduled for the cooler parts of the day. Even the strong must innovate to avoid over exertion to preserve energy.  The hottest parts of the day must be used for other meaningful activities, for instance, the creative arts (e.g. making bilum or clothes or making beads and carvings) to sell for money.

All food must be cooked well before consumption. And attention must be given to maintaining a high level of personal hygiene.

Second is the protection of water sources. It is important to protect water sources and this includes protecting coconut palms for their nuts and juice.

Even if big rivers keep flowing, the flow would be reduced, and the water would be warmer thereby encouraging algal bloom. Algae in waterway can contaminate drinking water as well as cause skin diseases. Furthermore, in the absence of a good hygiene or good information on hygiene, it is easy for humans to contaminate water sources leading to a spread of disease.

Water wells in lowland may dry up or get an intrusion of salt water rendering it, undrinkable.

Water sources must be protected, even if that means erecting strict rules around water sources. Any human waste must be put into a toilet to avoid contamination of water sources. Animals must be watered away from the human drinking water source. Most importantly, all drinking water must be boiled.

Minimal water intake over long periods of hot days can result in dehydration. Death from dehydration happens sooner than death by starvation.  An essential first aid is the Oral Rehydration Sachets (ORS). The small one dose sachet contains minerals, salts and sugar that must be mixed with water and drank as a  first aid dehydration treatment. Any person can buy their own supply since ORS is very cheap and sold in all pharmacies.

In a drought, it is also advisable to remove any liabilities. This may include selling extra animals for money and use that cash to buy food and medicine.

Apart from the disease outbreaks. Law and order will be an issue. 1997 reports show an increased migration out from affected areas. Mostly from the badly affected high altitude areas down to the lower valley, towns and even distant cities.  Stealing to survive, both in the rural areas as well as in towns will increase (Kiza and Kin 2000).  People must be extra vigilant. When faced with a decision to defend loss of property from theft, the best option would be that which uses less energy.

During the last drought, there were hungry and thirsty people, but few died from starvation (Barter, 2000). Most deaths were from diseases. Therefore it is important to look after the health of people in this El Nino season.

El Nino is here, now what?

It has been 18 long years since the last major El Nino event in PNG. In months, 216 months has come and gone. In weeks, that is close to 900 weeks. Three different governments have come and gone, we are under the fourth. One gold mine has closed but the Liquefied Natural gas Project (LNG) has come about.

Between then and now, PNG has seen several flooding events, cyclones, volcanoes eruption, and a major landslide event.  Given such a long time, and the benefit of varied experiences, how have we prepared for this current threat?

The current El Niño event was predicted by numerous sources as early as 1997.

In 2015, the days started getting considerably cooler during the Pacific Games in July, predictably because this is also the beginning of a dry and cool season. Then in the early August 2015, the hot days and cooler nights saw consecutive days of frost in some high attitude areas.

Social media has been full of reports and images of rotting vegetation from the highland provinces and hinterlands of some coastal provinces. On the other hand, images  from other parts of the country show dry, hard baked soil and reduced water level.

It has been close to 28 days and yet but there seems to be a lack of coordination of relief activities by designated government authorities in addressing the current natural disaster.

Why is that so? Definitely this is not because of lack of a system.

There is a permanent National Disaster and Emergency Service (NDES) housed in the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs (DPLGA). The NDES is responsible for coordinating the emergency responses to disaster affected areas.

Above the NDES is the National Disaster Committee (NDC). The secretary of the DPLGA is the chair of a NDC which is made up of secretaries of select departments. The NDC then reports to the National Executive Council (NEC) which is headed by the Prime Minister.  All these is governed by an Act of the Parliament.

To be fair, the system only makes decision given information it receives from technical groups which includes the Weather Office, the National Disaster Office, and the office of climate Change.  However, information from relevant authorities on this issue has been very scarce.

Even information in the mainstream media is very rudimentary.

This lack of information may be a contributing factor to the lack of an action plan.   The only reports that give any lead to the type of action to be taken comes from Australian Academics who point out the importance of securing food for the unpredictable days ahead.

The slow response may also be because of lack of funds. But this is not a good excuse given the long time we had for preparation.

If it not a lack of money then, it is either lack of trust for the designated authorities to implement government plans. It was in the media that the office of the PM is taking a special interest and sending delegates from his office to inspect situations for relief.  If work cannot be delegated to the designated office, then why set them up in the first place?

Or most probably, the designated offices are incompetent and cannot serve their office.

The University of PNG has taken steps to educate practitioners in a Diploma Program called the Climate Hazard Assessment and Risk Management (CHARM).  Despite this effort to increase competence of workforce in this field, the fruits of this effort will have a lag time of 3-4 years.

Another cause of failure can be due to lack of follow through – so many ministers of the government give lip service to citizen programs but never follow through. An example from 2012 can be seen here. Such  leadership can only be corrected through the ballot in 2017.

While we bite our nails, and share images on social media, people will suffer and livelihoods disrupted.

But eventually people will rebuild because they are resilient. Papua New Guineans are already used to making do with very little available resources as many are so far from the government services. But that should not be the excuse for the government not to support people in times of trouble.

Instead of a very heavy top-down approach to helping citizens that is too cumbersome to implement, the government must put in place the infrastructure and disseminate information needed to facilitate an easier livelihood. Papua new Guineans are not lazy people, they will use available infrastructure and information to help themselves – in good times and bad times.

So, what now?  Don’t wait for the government.Look after your family and your extended family as we have always done. Look after your health and your water and pray the El Nino will be over soon.

Mangrove Planting for Climate Change

mangrove

 

Mangrove as a tool in addressing climate change gained prominence after the East Asia Tsunami in 2004. The tsunami generated in the Indian Ocean, ravaged coastal communities facing the Indian Ocean taking many lives and damaging infrastructure worth a lot of money.

Anecdotal evidence show that villages situated behind mangroves stands, sustain less damage when compared to those communities without mangrove barriers.

In the absence of technological intervention, Climate Change Experts identify mangroves as the first protection for coastal villages facing coastal flooding and extreme high tide.  Mangrove projects can be easily implemented by communities. Mangrove planting and rehabilitation costs less than other technological interventions and has been shown to be effective in saving lives and property.

What makes mangroves special?

Like any other tree species, the mangroves take 10-15 years to mature before they can provide the desired effect. Mature stands of mangrove act like a porous fence that slows down wave energy by reducing the velocity of the waves into and out of communities resulting in less damage infrastructure and livelihood.

 

Mangrove planting or mangrove forest rehabilitation must be approached as a long term strategy with the goal of ensuing planted and or rehabilitated mangrove stands become mature stands in the future.

Current practice involves planting of plant mangrove seedling in areas already under threat from the rising sea level. Numerous mangrove replanting exercise have never attained the envisaged success – this is despite the common  knowledge that young mangroves at waterfront are vulnerable to wave action and are easily uprooted and killed by the sun and the salt.

Ideally a mangrove replanting exercise should duplicate a vegetation succession as happens in nature.

Vegetation succession at a beach normally starts from the forest edge and gradually grows seaward.

Firstly, pioneer species like vines and grasses grow first to help build a soil environment suited for succession to take place. Then the trees, starting with the terrestrial species at the forest edge. Once this has established then the back mangrove species is the next to germinate, followed by the middle mangrove species then finally, the front line mangrove species facing the foreshore.

Re-vegetation through succession enables the plants to gradually adapt to a salty growing substrate and increases their chances of survival.

The process of natural succession takes years, the same will apply to a successful mangrove planting project.

The communities that survived the East Asia Tsunami in 2004, did not plant their mangrove stands the year prior to the tsunami. The mangrove stands have existed and protected, probably not intentionally, but importantly , the mangrove stands provided the needed protection.

While waiting for the mangrove forest to grow , the most cost effective climate change activity is educating people about the impending crises and the options available for adapting to the change.  Local people do have solutions for their challenges. They must be involved in the quest for a solution.

For the donors who fund mangrove projects, they  must realize that the impact of mangrove planting can only be realized in the future. Therefore they must  look for other targets to measure how their funds in the short term  is successfully addressing the climate change challenge.

BOOK REVIEW: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Book coverBook Title: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change (2011) by  Tim R. McClannahan, Senior Conservation Zoologist with the Wildlife conservation Society and Joshua E. Cinner, Senior Research Fellow at the James Cook University.

The book is focused on the Western Indian Ocean Communities. These communities depend on fisheries and coral harvesting to sustain a livelihood. Some communities have over-harvested their coral reefs.  Climate change is causing waters in this part of the world to heat up affecting the source of their livelihood. This book analyses the state of their environment and the adaptive capacity of the people to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The book contains eleven (11) chapters. The first six chapters contain excellent background on impacts of climate change. Chapter 7 and 8 contain instruction on how to build an adaptive capacity model. Chapter 9 and 10 describes the social and ecological adaptation. Chapter 11 – talks about the future and how to confront the consequences of climate change.

This book is recommended for practitioners interested in helping communities adapt to the changing climate.

Chapters of Interest

The chapters of interest are chapter 7-10.

To identify the adaptive capacity of communities to climate change the authors measured the environmental and social attributes that predisposes communities to impacts of climate change.

Adaptive capacity is the flexibility with which communities can cope with changes. Adaptive capacity  of the people in the West Coast of Africa was measured by measuring the communities (i) flexibility to switch between livelihood strategies (ii) Social organization (iii) Learning – recognizing change and taking advantage of the change or adapting  (iv) Assets – the resources to draw on in times of change.

Data collection for this exercise involved extensive surveys. What is missing in the book is the survey to collect adaptive capacity data and the kind of information that was collected.   Environmental health was measured by surveying the health of the coral reef.

Data analysis was done using the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP).  AHP is one of the multiple criteria decision-making methods. AHP provides measures of judgment consistency by deriving priorities among criteria and alternatives and then simplifies preference ratings among decision criteria using pairwise comparisons.

The analyzed data was then mapped into a 4 quadrat planning graph. Depending on where the communities fell in the quadrat given their environmental health versus the adaptive capacity, the planners can then develop locally appropriate strategies to address the challenge of climate change.

graphThe heart of the book is this graph which identifies and explains what action communities should take to help them adjust to climate change depending on which quadrat the community falls in.

For instance, when both Adaptive Capacity and Environmental health of a community is high, the intervention is in quadrat C. The activities of the community must be toward transforming and managing the health of their environment, while the ability of the people to look after themselves must be preserved and enforced.

On the other hand, when both environment health and adaptive capacity is low, the prescribed intervention is in quadrat A. The environment needs relief immediately which means that it must be left alone to recover, while the adaptive capacity of the people must be built.

The more adaptive the community , the more flexibility they have to adjust to changes in the environment.

In the last chapter, the authors discuss the merits of the method. They encourage nested efforts in addressing adaptive capacity issues in communities. At the very top of the nested effort is the international community, followed by the government, then the sub-national government and at the core is the local scale where the project is happening.  This is to ensure accountability when it comes to implementation.

The authors however caution that adaptation measures can potentially create unintended and unforeseen consequences on other social and natural systems creating uncertainty about the outcomes of AC. In an attempt to build adaptive capacity, social equity must also be taken into consideration. Excluded communities can undermine efforts to build adaptive capacity in chosen communities.

This model is a one-off tool. Ideally this exercise must be repeated within 4/5 years to measure the changes that have taken place.   It is costly to run this exercise in the field because it requires stringent data collection. The data collected must be in a format that can be analyzed by the AHP.

Application to Papua New Guinea

The adaptive capacity model is a helpful planning tool because it identifies environmental health and human capacity as the two factors that can be used to measure community capability to respond to impacts of climate change.

The model identifies the ideal situation then analyses the current situation, then detects the deficiency in the system. Once that is done, it becomes easier to identify interventions.  The interventions can then be turned into project activities.

The challenge of using this model is proponents will need to work out a method for data collection, and then identify the kind of information that must be collected.

Logically this is a project that must be undertaken by the government through its designated authority dealing with Climate Change.

It may work at District level and above for several reasons.  First, districts are a planning unit in the PNG system and therefore, planning for adaptive capacity can happen at that level. Second, districts have a budget and this may be the way to get the commitment by the governments to systematically address the interventions identified.  Third, the provincial government and the National Government are the levels of government that can ensure that such plans are implemented. This fits in with the nested level of implementation. Such projects require investment of money and infrastructure – all of which are the responsibility of all the levels of government.

The danger however, is this exercise may become just one more planning exercise. If there is no follow-through, this may become a waste of time and resources for both the planners and the people. The local people may become disillusioned because they would have identified the interventions, but lack the tools and the capacity to implement those activities.

What is conservation for Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea like other last frontiers of biodiversity richness has been recipient of a lot of money for biodiversity conservation.   A notable donor is the United Nations Global Environmental Facility (GEF).  When PNG ratified the Rio Convention in 1993, GEF grants totaling US$34,728,691 that leveraged US$63,040,600 in co-financing resources were given to PNG for nine national projects. These include five projects in biodiversity, three in climate change, and one multi-focal area[1].

But, how much conservation has PNG achieved with such amounts of money from donors like the GEF?

Currently, there exist 56 Protected Areas (PA) in PNG.  Of these 33 are Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) established under the Fauna Protection Act 1974 while the rest are National Parks, Sanctuaries and Memorial Parks, established under the National Parks (Act) ordinance 1966-1971 and the Sanctuaries and Fauna Protected Area Act (1966). Until recently, one Conservation Area has been established under the Conservation Areas Act 1980.

These PA are situated on state land and were acquired between the 1970’s and 1980’s – none in the last two decades and all before the availability of the GEF money.  Similarly, almost all WMA’s were established in the 1990’s using some GEF money, but none in the recent past.  The Conservation Areas Act 1980 has never been implemented until recently in this decade..

If conservation is about acquiring land as PA’s, then PNG has failed dismally. The PA’s occupy a tiny 2.8% of the 46, 000 km2 of the PNG landmass.

If conservation is about protecting wildlife then this is another dismal effort. Notable wildlife sanctuaries established in the 1970s and 1980s only exist on paper.  Baiyer Wildlife Sanctuary is not on the tourist maps anymore, so is the Wau Ecological Institute and the Moitaka Wildlife in the Nation’s Capital.

If conservation was meant to be an alternate development option to environmental destructive development, then the previous conservation projects (eg: the Lak Integrated Conservation and Development Project  (ICAD), New Ireland Province) shows that conservation will never compete with the extractive industries in fulfilling the people’s developmental aspirations.

If conservation was about sustainable management of resources, there is no way of measuring the impact of a sustainable management project because stories are still being told of people hunting wildlife to low numbers. There is also evidence of large scale destructive logging practice in Wildlife Management Areas.

Government efforts in conservation so far, has been found wanting. The low budget allocated to conservation year after year, the lack of new PA’s in the last two decades, even the issuance of logging and mining license in conservation areas show that conservation is a low priority to the government.

What is it that we are trying to achieve with conservation in PNG, when conservation projects are not achieving envisaged success?  Could it be that we are measuring the wrong target?  What is conservation in PNG anyway?

Conservation seems to be an alien concept in Melanesia.  Activities like hunting, mating, eating – all have a name in the local language, but the preservation and sustainable management of nature was the unintended outcome of low population, less destructive harvesting technology, and fear of the unknown.

Being isolated in a small hamlet in the forest, the world to the people was the forest boarded by their tribal enemies on all sides. There was no way for people to appreciate that they were also global citizens.

The precautionary view for conservation was non-existent because there was no global view and importance attached to the theory of extinction when the people were surrounded by vast forests.  The people were not aware that population growth and climate change was changing their landscape.

This conservation ethos of conserving biodiversity because of its inherent value was non-existent for the locals.  The priority of local people was on species of utilitarian value and traditional taxonomy attest to this.

Furthermore, there was no observable urgency for conservation among the local people to secure food security.   Surrounded by the vast forest, the prevailing thought was that there is enough for now and there will still be enough for the future.

Even the posterity value of conservation is not shared by Melanesians. The local people expand energy to maximize harvests to strengthen social relationships and alliances which would then provide the support in times of need.

If conservation is an alien concept in Papua New Guinea, do we need it?

Yes we do, because of the encroaching environmentally destructive activities for economic development for the elite few. Conservation is the last hope to protect the livelihoods of  Papua New Guineans who still depend on forest resources.

How can we implement successful conservation projects in Papua New Guinea?

The thrust of conservation should not be about nature, but about reforming people’s attitudes toward nature. Conservation in Melanesia and in PNG should be about education that shows people the consequences of their actions on their natural resources that will eventually impact their livelihood.

Furthermore, the people must be given alternatives so that they can minimize their dependence on the forest. If this is not forthcoming, then, science knowledge must be used to inform sustainable management strategies.

The local level government must be given the mandate to make their own conservation laws as well as enact appropriate penalties for offenders.

Last, but not the least, any new conservation interventions must involve local people.  They must be made decision makers and not mere observers – after all, it is the people who live on the land and their actions determine the outcome of conservation efforts.  Therefore, they need to own their actions.

With a clear understanding of what conservation looks like Papua New Guinea, future conservation efforts can be planned so that there is realistic outcomes to measure success. This will also ensure that Papua New Guinea get value for all the foreign currency pouring in for conservation efforts.

victoria pigeon

[1] http://www.gefonline.org/Country/CountryProfile.cfm,

Securing food for uncertain days using “kastam”

Traditional knowledge or kastam is the accumulated wealth of human experiences and adaptations over time. Kastam is closely tied to language, social relations, spirituality and worldview, and is generally held collectively. The evidence of the long interaction between the people and nature can be seen in the detailed rituals based on this knowledge and the specific management practices of natural resources.  Indigenous people show reverence for their kastam because their survival depends on keeping this knowledge alive.

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The introduction of the Western Culture as the grander culture has killed kastam by labelling it primitive and out-dated. However, this knowledge is needed for survival for the three quarters of Papua New Guineans who still live a life style reminiscent to that of their ancestors – a lifestyle that requires an understanding of kastam to live off the land.

What should food security in Papua New Guinea look like? In this essay, I show that aspects of our  traditional knowledge or “kastam” can be used to secure food for the rural Papua New Guineans. Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and the right legislations by the government can complement kastam to secure food for the people.

Customary Land Tenure

Anthropological work shows that indigenous people relate to the bush and the resources within to be their source of personhood, society and sustenance. There is no distinction between the physical soil, the tribal land boundaries and nature contained on it – all these are generally referred to as land. The land is considered a gift from some mystical ancestor and therefore, there is strong emotional attachment to the land.

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The land ownership arrangement in Papua New Guinea is security against hunger.  Having access to a piece of healthy forest allows people to gather and hunt and share the resources they find to meet their dietary needs and food preferences. When forests are protected, water sources are protected and consequently, the health of the people is protected.

The paradox however, is that within the last three decades, environmentally destructive industries have increased. Tribal forests are being lost to development. This is inevitable because, nature is the “capital” for economic development in Papua New Guinea, often as large scale extractive and environmentally destructive industries. Reports show that logging has changed 48.2 % of forest in Papua New Guinea since the 1970s.  The areas accessible for logging are situated in lowland rain-forest which contains high biodiversity richness and high endemics. The lowlands also contain highly dense human population.

Apart from the loss of land for development activities, crook land deals are also marginalising some landowners, making them beggars in their own land. With no economic power, no land, and no influence and status, these landless people are pushed to the fringes of society as well as fringes of productive land. The food that is grown at the fringes is not enough to support an active life. The money given in compensation is not enough to meet family needs and obligations as well as purchase preferred food which is also nutritious.

The government can secure food for the people by preventing the loss of customary land. This can be done through a Protected Areas system. This ensures the land is protected from outside interests.

Protecting the environment using the Protected Area Legislations can stop the loss of customary land. There are several options for Papua New Guinea, including but not limited to; National Parks, Conservation Areas and Wildlife Sanctuaries. These options, however, are top-down processes that remove the forest owner and make the government the custodian of the Protected Area. The land is locked away by the government, preventing local people access and use.

The Wildlife Management Area under the Fauna Protection Act 1966 is an excellent option. Under this option the local people manage their own resources on their land, they make their own laws to protect land as well as use the resources on the land.

Local laws based on social taboos and kastam has advantages that it is voluntary and costs nothing. The self-imposed management laws are self-monitored and are hard to change as opposed to formal institutions that impose rules that are written, designed and enforced by third party and which costs money to enforce.

Currently, the Wildlife Management Area system is voluntarily done outside of the government authority. By erecting appropriate legislations, the government can support forest communities who wish to protect their land using the Wildlife Management Area system. Further support can be given to the local communities by making available science information that shows the link between harvest and recruitment of wildlife. With credible science information, the local people can sustainably manage the resource in their forest.

Strong local Leadership

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Traditionally, kastam is maintained by elders and passed down the generations. There was respect for elders and the rulers on the land. Strong local leadership held communities together by maintaining communal beliefs and ensuring respect and full community participation in cultural practices and rites; strong local leadership also had the power to solve conflicts arising from disputes.

Strong community bonds ensured that all members of the community were accounted for when it came to sharing food, land and other resources. Relationships forged through marriage ensured that even people without land have user rights in land belonging to their kinsman.  Furthermore, elders and clan leaders knew their allies and used that in times of need. The western styled nuclear family system however encourages estrangement from kin – kin groups however, are the best buffer against food shortages.

When the government or any other well-intentioned group choose to work with communities, they work with committees, or bring outsiders or choose the young educated community members. In doing so, they change the power systems in cultural institutions, generating debate and resistance. What is not understood is that; the peoples’ alliance is with elders in their clan groups not committees and outsiders and the young and inexperienced. The role of cultural leaders and institutions to hold communities together must be incorporated in community projects including food security projects.

Barter System

Less than 25% of the Papua New Guinea adult population engage in a cash economy and live in urban and peri-urban areas. These small numbers of people support the national economy through tax, these people also remit cash back to rural areas to supplement the subsistence livelihood of extended relatives in the rural areas.  This system cannot be relied upon to secure food for people in times of prolonged food scarcity.

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Bartering, a traditional transaction in which people exchanged resources they have in excess with others for something of a comparable value ensured people had a variety to their diet. The currency for the transaction was not limited to just food but included wealth from the forest – bird’s feathers, cuscus pelt, canes, tree bark, bark cloths, shells and necklaces.

The use of a single currency has disadvantaged the rural people who have limited avenues to earn money to pay for services and goods including food.  Rice, flour and tinned-fish cannot be bartered; it must be bought with money. Even with a rich wealth of bird feathers, a person cannot access the easily available store-bought food.  By encouraging economic activities in rural areas, rural-based people can participate in it and earn money to buy food and medicine.

If the government cannot support economic activities in rural areas, then it must allow rural people to barter for rice, flour and tinned fish using wealth from the forest when they have no cash to buy those select items.

Swidden system of gardening

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that food security for people who still depend on the land for food can be achieved through a diversified crop garden containing varied cultivars – a concept consistent with the swidden agriculture system.

The swidden system (also slash-and-burn) of agriculture largely practiced in PNG is a system tested over thousands of years and is suited for the nutrient deficient soil of the tropical environment.

In a swidden system, a forest patch is identified, cut, left to dry and burnt to get rid of the leaves and branches and undergrowth before the land is planted. The burning adds vital micro nutrients like potassium and magnesium to the soil. A variety of crops, from herbs to bigger plants like the banana are grown together in a single plot to take advantage of the differing nutrient status of the garden. Importantly in this traditional method, the forest seed bank is left intact in the soil.

Food crops gradually decline in yield in subsequent usage of a plot of land; to avoid this, the land is allowed to fallow. A long fallow is positively correlated to higher crop yield.  During the fallow period, the forest seed bank germinates and through the process of decomposition, soil development takes place.

The tradition system of gardening secures food for the people. The time in between abandoning an old garden and making a new garden is a time of food shortage. The banana always takes the lifetime of the garden to grow; it is always the last plant in a garden to bear fruit after other food crops have been eaten. People eat banana while making new gardens – this is a classic example of a perfected method of gardening that ensures food security when farmers are in transition between the old and a new garden.

There are some food crops that are used as the last resource to see people through times of food shortage. For instance, the sago – though of lower nutritional value, the high carbohydrate content keeps people through times of food shortage.

Food security for PNG lies in strengthening the traditional agriculture method, complemented by improved agricultural techniques. Together with improved agriculture education, food security programs must integrate health and hygiene in food preparation, food storage, and the protection of water resources.

Food Storage

Traditional methods of food storage are limited to the dry storage of yams, coconut and other nuts and desiccation by smoking. Food preserved by this method cannot be stored over a few weeks for smoked food and a few months for dry storage items

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Technology and new knowledge can enable people to store food for long periods. Downstream processing of local staples into forms that can be stored over time is a food security intervention. PNG can easily process local food like sago, kaukau, banana and cassava into flour that can be stored for long periods of time; or even freezing taro and cassava; drying corn, peanut and beans and appropriately packing that can be kept for a long time.

Such vital information can be made available via advances made in the Mobile Technology and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Positive change will happen en masse when more people access scientific information to help them decide their course of action for their land and resources to secure their own food supply.

Conclusion

Many well-intentioned groups including the government envisage they can bring a total solution for food security from outside. However, it should be acknowledged that the people are better suited to helping themselves. Therefore, effort must go into supporting the existing systems of self-help.

Looking for answers from outsiders breeds a dependency habit that is detrimental to the innovative and self-preservation and innate intelligence of the people that has sustained their ancestors for thousands for years. The people must be encouraged to innovate on existing knowledge – the kastam. In that way, the knowledge generated is relevant and implementable and affordable.  Appropriate technology and scientific knowledge and relevant legislation can then complement kastam in securing food for the people of Papua New Guinea.

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