Specials Environment

A Programme for Sustainable Development in the South Pacific

Posted June 1996

Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in the South Pacific

Technical Consultation of South Pacific Small Island Developing States
on Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Forestry And Fisheries
Apia, Samoa, 6-9 May 1996

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
and South Pacific Regional Environment Programme


Prepared by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme in collaboration with a number of regional South Pacific organizations


Table of contents

Executive summary

I. Introduction

II. Issues and constraints

  1. National Resource Endowments
  2. Issues and Problems
  3. Constraints
III. Possible actions for natural resource management
  1. A Framework for Sustainable Resource Management
  2. Land
  3. Forestry
  4. Fresh Water
  5. Coastal Marine Resources
  6. Offshore Fisheries
IV. Means of implementation
  1. Involving Resources Owners
  2. Raising Awareness and Promoting Knowledge
  3. Institutional Arrangements
    1. National Leadership
    2. National Coordination
    3. Regional Coordination
  4. Legal Matters
References

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The arrival of western values in the South Pacific resulted in forest depletion, plantation agriculture, and in a few cases in mining, which have led to increasing damage to the environment and profound social change, while bringing few benefits to the resource owners.

Several conferences over the past few years have laid the groundwork by dealing with sustainable development: the FAO Inter-Regional Conference of Small Island Countries on Sustainable Development and Environment in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, (Barbados, 1992); the Earth Summit (Rio, 1992), and, the UN Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (Barbados, 1994).

Natural disasters (e.g. cyclones), high population growth, and customary ownership in the region pose serious problems for natural resource management. Land is subject to considerable tenure disputes and pressures: depletion of nutrients from overuse, lack of technologies for cultivation of sloping land, and encroachment of human settlements and infrastructure. Forests are subject to high and unnecessarily destructive logging which leads to erosion and destruction of watersheds; there is little or no reforestation. Water is threatened by problems of quality, as well as quantity, at a time when demand for water is expanding rapidly mainly for urban and touristic uses. As for coastal marine resources, once abundant, fish has been considerably over- exploited and mangroves and coral reefs are being damaged. As for off-shore fisheries, they do not always benefit the islands fully and control of foreign fleets fishing under license is difficult.

As governments endeavour to ensure more sustainable management of resources, six constraints have to be faced: (i) people's conviction that natural resources are free and limitless resulting in a lack of a sense of urgency for action; (ii) a dearth of skilled manpower; (iii) lack of experience in integrated approaches; (iv) inadequate funding; (v) insufficiently developed cooperation among island states of the region; and (vi) the pressures for change in lifestyles. Customary ownership of resources makes legislation hard to apply.

Insofar as it is at community level that resources are mainly used (and depleted), participation by local communities is indispensable. Proper participatory techniques must be devised and (improved) traditional management methods revalorized.

Public education, a thorough review of legislation, and a conducive political atmosphere are basic to making progress in sustainable use of land, water, forests and fishery resources.

Consideration needs to be given to the institutional framework: for forestry, an agency responsible for assessing resources and market potential, devising guidelines and codes, and providing technical support; for fisheries, the strengthening of existing administrations; to ensure an integrated approach, a Natural Resource Management Council, involving representatives of all stake-holders, mirrored by community-level bodies.

I. INTRODUCTION

The effective sustainable management of natural resources is critical, not only to the economic development of South Pacific Small Island Developing States (SPSIDS), but also to the continuing well-being of the present and future generations of the peoples of those States. His Excellency, Mr. L. Erskine Standingford, Prime Minister of Barbados, in opening of the UN Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in 1994, said: "For us small island developing states, the question of sustainability is not an abstruse arcane concern. It is rather a matter that affects the very nature of our existence."

The potential for small islands to pursue sustainable development relies on maintaining the level and quality of natural resources which are by definition limited. At their most basic, these resources provide essential life support systems: water supplies, food supplies; protection from erosion, shelter.

Traditional island societies exploited natural resources mainly to meet subsistence needs. On fertile volcanic islands, a "subsistence affluence" was achieved and surplus resources were deployed to support elaborate religious and political systems rather than market/export driven economies. Historically, the traditional practices, and the cultural management systems to which they were subject, were generally sustainable. However, with European contact and the development of more western style economies, there has been a tendency to fuel development by liquidating natural capital resources.

In recent years, donors providing support to SPSIDS communities have increasingly sought to pursue the implementation of development strategies which they believe will lead to economic self-sufficiency. This in turn has prompted efforts in all Pacific island communities to pursue new industry development targeting export growth in agriculture, forestry, tourism and, to a lesser extent, fisheries. The pressure to which natural resources have been subjected by these development efforts, and the substantial and sometimes disastrous degradation and depletion which as occurred, has begun to focus the attention of communities on the need to implement sustainable management of those remaining resources.

II. ISSUES AND CONSTRAINTS

1. Natural Resource Endowments

There is substantial diversity amongst the SPSIDS in terms of physical size and characteristics and in the extend and diversity of natural resource endowments.

Over the past two hundred years, since the advent of European influence, island economic growth has frequently been achieved through expedient export of natural resources of highest value at the time. In some cases, mineral resources were exploited, for example phosphate in Kiribati and Nauru. More recently, there has been the exploitation of high value forest resources in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The wholesale removal of natural resources has resulted in substantial environment degradation, and also significant social changes, due in part to the small size of the island social systems. At the same time, the level of economic benefit accruing to the resource owners has been small, often minimal, in relation to the resource value. The degradation and depletion of natural resources which has resulted from mining, forest harvest, and the establishment of plantation crops has highlighted in stark terms the need for effective management of remaining resource inventories.

A major problem related to resource conservation is that most resources are subject to customary ownership, and a further complication is large-scale emigration (leading to land being unavailable for cultivation, and conservation measures impossible). As a result, the effective application of legislation to protect resources is difficult at best.

There are extensive offshore deep water manganese nodule, cobalt- rich manganese crust, and hydrothermal mineral deposits in the region. The considerable amount of data available has been systematically assessed. The Cook Islands appear to have the best potential for nodule mining based on existing information. It seems likely that any deep-sea mining would be at least ten years away and probably more, depending on political and resource constraints on the availability of strategic metals.

There is also potential for recovery of hydrocarbons in the region. Papua New Guinea has producing oil and gas fields. The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and Tuvalu all have potential for hydrocarbons, but most of the limited exploration activity has been in Fiji and Tonga. Apart from Papua New Guinea, the region is regarded as a frontier area for exploration by oil companies. There could be long lead times between further exploration, commercial discovery, and production.

2. Issues and Problems

The social, economic and political parameters for the achievement of sustainable management of natural resources were considered at the FAO Inter-Regional Conference of Small Island Countries on Sustainable Development and Environment in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Barbados in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, and its follow-up conference, the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in Barbados in 1994.

Many of the issues and problems which confront island communities in the maintenance of sustainable quality and levels of natural resources are common to most SPSIDS. Three general issues need to be raised, since they affect any effort to move towards sustainable development.

The first concerns natural disasters and particularly cyclones. In small states, their relative impact on the economy is amplified, compared to larger states better able to face financial consequences (indeed the same applies to most negative impacts such as land and water degradation - small states are less resilient). The destruction of forests by cyclones is especially serious in countries where forest resources are already fragile.

The second issue is that to date, resources have been exploited under customary systems and have appeared to be limitless. In the new context of resource depletion and population pressures, new attitudes must be developed, so that people accept the need to be managed.

The third is population growth. The region has very high population growth rates, even taking account of emigration. Annual growth rates are as high as 4.2% in the Marshall Islands, 3.5% in the Solomon Islands, 2.5% in Vanuatu, and 2.2% in Papua New Guinea, though some islands such as Tonga and Samoa appear to have introduced successful population policies, according to data available.

The more significant issues for each resource are summarized in the following paragraphs.

Land: (i) population increase leading to intensified land use; agricultural land availability per head of population has declined in some countries (for instance Fiji and Tonga) but increased in Vanuatu. The ratio of agricultural land to agricultural population varied widely, from 7.63 ha. in Samoa to only 0.36 ha. in the Solomon Islands in 1994; (ii) depletion of nutrients from overuse of available land; (iii) non-availability of land because of customary land tenure disputes and difficulties; (iv) lack of new technology to extend land use, for example farming on sloping land; (v) conflict between farming, infrastructures (especially roads) and residential use, especially in coastal areas; and (vi) unavailability of land (no titles under customary systems) as security for borrowing. Traditional tenure and inheritance systems which were predominantly matrilineal in most of Micronesia and parts of Melanesia including Fiji, have been eroded since the introduction of Christianity and Colonial governments. This notwithstanding hwoever, women's rights of access improve as one moves eastwards across the Pacific.

Forest Resources: (i) relatively high rate of logging (or loss of tree cover) in the smaller island states; (ii) use of unsound and unnecessarily destructive logging practices; (iii) consequent soil erosion and loss of watershed; (iv) lack of reforestation and forest development and; (v) clearing of forests for farming and plantation crops. Women are especially affected by indiscriminate logging by the loss of access to non-wood forest products as well as diminishing supplies of fuelwood.

Water Resources. Water resources have become subject to increasing pressures in SPSIDS. The availability and quality of water is directly related to land-use patterns and resource utilization. Where watershed management has been neglected and logging of forests has proceeded uncontrolled, water flows have been adversely affected (resulting in more frequent floods and "droughts" during wet and dry seasons respectively). With rapid urbanization, European life-styles and more extensive reticulation, and in some cases consumption by new industries, the demand for water has increased substantially. In the atoll countries, the balance of supply and demand is critical. Fresh water stocks are subject to contamination from wastes, chemicals and rising sea levels.

Coastal Marine Resources. Resource management difficulties include: (i) overfishing and harvest of juveniles and producing females; (ii) use of destructive fishing techniques (use of chemicals and dynamite); (iii) loss of mangrove resources, particularly to tourism and land development and; (iv) damage to coral reef areas, both by man and natural disasters.

Off-shore Fisheries. Management difficulties include: (i) exploitation mainly by foreign fleets under licensing agreements; (ii) extent of exploitation by distant fleets; (iii) insufficient economic benefit accruing to the island economies and; (iv) risk of use of destructive fish harvesting systems (though various control measures have now largely overcome such difficulties thanks to regional collaboration).

Sand and Gravel. At the present time, for all countries in the South Pacific, the most important minerals being mined are sand and aggregate materials, used for construction and landfill. As development proceeds, increasing demand is outstripping traditional supplies in places and causing environmental damage.

3. Constraints

Six constraints are identified in facing unsustainable resource management:

While problems and issues are well recognized and there is some increase in community concern over unsustainable resource use in many countries, in most cases, unfortunately, there is no perceived compelling need to address the problems and issues involved and no sense of urgency to find and implement solutions. The value of natural resource stocks such as beaches, farmlands, forests, and coastal marine fish stocks, are not quantified in economic terms. At grassroot community level, many resources are still perceived as "free" and "without limit". There is a lack of public awareness, at local community level, of the potential scarcity of the resources involved. Partly resulting from this lack of knowledge or awareness and hence, lack of pressure, resources are being liquidated for immediate economic gain rather than being managed sustainably;

A second and difficult constraint for SPSIDS in developing and maintaining sustainable natural resource management techniques, is the limitation of manpower and technical skills and knowledge, which in most cases are inadequate to tackle the task of sustainable management;

A more integrated approach to natural resource management is required and this calls for a wide range of disciplines among staff. Most professionals will have been trained outside the region and the training received will not (and could not) have addressed this requirement. An integrated approach is by definition cross- sectoral but the ministry and departmental set-up, being sectoral, is not conducive to such approaches. Developing the necessary expertise will come only through the gradual process of experience. A greater pool of forestry, agriculture, fisheries and conservation professionals is essential, but it is difficult for SPSIDS to train and maintain the numbers required;

A fourth constraint is that the availability of funding to tackle unsustainability has been restricted. It is noticeable that significant aid funding has been focused on the larger continental countries while the special case of island resources - small in quantity but great in human significance - has gone comparatively unnoticed. For example, foreign companies logging the Solomon Islands forest resources are not given any incentive to invest in reforestation. They are naturally not inclined to volunteer the sums required (which are large) and invest in long-term returns;

Fifth, while historically, cooperation between island nations has substantial potential value in dealing with the issues and the problems of resource management, cooperation has been limited by difficulties of transport and communications. More recently, the establishment of the South Pacific Organization Coordinating Committee has addressed this problem and significant benefits are already being realized. However, difficulties still exist, created by the complexity of the issues and the diversity of the resources, in coordinating the roles and inputs of the various multilateral and regional agencies involved;

The last and most difficult problem to address, in achieving sustainable management of resources, involves the external financial and social pressures to which island communities are subject, with the result that some of the traditional cultural and community-based resource management systems are being eroded. People in island communities are in many cases no longer satisfied with subsistence, and have acquired higher material aspirations; in other cases, the traditional systems have been made less effective by population concentration and economic pressures.

III. POSSIBLE ACTIONS FOR NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

1. A Framework for Sustainable Resource Management

The key word in sustainable resource management is management. Management is not about the provision of a ready-made, top-down list of solutions. Rather, it is about the creation of a framework or environment which facilitates the assessment of issues and problems, in close consultation with the local population, and the development (and continual refinement of) effective strategies and action plans to maintain the balance between resource capabilities and their utilization. In order to achieve this within the framework, there must be a management system and structure which can:

The development and on-going refinement of resource management programmes will require inputs of professional skills and experience. At the same time, systems for sustainable management of natural resources should be developed to involve and make maximum use of the traditional resource management techniques and control systems which exist in Pacific island societies, provided these can be proven to be efficient and sustainable in current conditions of population pressure.

In contrast to Western control systems which tend to be structured and inflexible, the traditional community control systems and resource ownership are continually negotiable through traditional decision-making structures. They are hence far more resilient and flexible and take a more "holistic" approach than do their western style counterparts. Significantly, many of these control systems are based on the premise that resources are held in trust for future generations.

On the other hand, traditional systems may not easily facilitate the taking of "hard" decisions, for example, the foregoing of immediate income to produce a much higher return for the next generation, especially in a context of external pressures for a "better" life, as mentioned above.

What is more important is that for most resources largely (and for some wholly) the practice of sustainable resource management mostly takes place at local community level. Often, those responsible for resource utilization at community level have not been involved in the resource research/planning process. In future, opportunities must be provided for local or village communities to develop and/or acquire knowledge and appreciation of the benefits of conserving and managing resources and to evaluate for themselves the relative costs and benefits of different uses and different levels and time frames of use.

The most important factor determining whether individuals or communities will manage natural resources sustainably is whether or not they perceive that it is in their interest to do so. This also applies to landowners (as opposed to the communities living on the land), who should also be closely involved in discussions on more sustainable management.

2. Land

Sustainable management of the land resource requires action to address the following:

3. Forestry

It is essential that owners of existing forest resources, as well as those whose usufruct rights may be affected, and those in control of land suitable for forestry development become more involved in forestry management and in the supervision of commercial forestry. Assistance and support should be provided to enable landowners to better understand the short- and long-term issues involved in forest exploitation, and more especially over- exploitation.

An agency involving representatives of owners and communities as well as relevant ministries could be given the task of ensuring the efficient and sustainable use of trees and other forest resources in the interests of all stake holders, including the owners (seeking to draw optimum economic returns) and the general public (maintenance of the environmental benefits of forests such as land and water protection). Such an agency would need the human resources, and political clout to undertake its tasks and impose its decisions. It could:

4. Fresh Water

Governments have in place programmes to improve sustainable supplies of safe water. These initiatives are pursuing:

While these programmes are essentially carried out at national level, regional input providing technical assistance, training and sharing of country experiences would enhance programme results.

5. Coastal Marine Resources

Effective management of coastal fisheries is central to the continuing health (food security) and well-being of most Pacific island communities. They should therefore receive high priority aimed at managing them sustainably and conserving them in face of the risk of severe over-fishing. Action could involve:

The full involvement of traditional management systems at local community level will be crucial to the successful execution of these programmes. Allocating fishing areas to specific communities based around the customary system (by establishing a form of "exclusive coastal zones" managed similarly to EEZs but by the concerned community) may make them collectively more responsible and willing to exploit the resource more sustainably and monitor abuses. However, the pursuit of projects in this area should also consider the difficulties being encountered, the high level of technology required, and the failures and consequent losses and frustrations which have occurred.

6. Offshore Fisheries

Offshore fisheries are not being fully utilized for the benefit of island communities, although some significant benefits are being derived from access fees negotiated with distant-water fishing nations.

The Forum Fishery Agency (FFA) is at the forefront of resource management and supervision, and has fostered significant progress in regional cooperation in this area. The regulation of international vessels has been effective, and there has been further progress in regional cooperation in surveillance. The monitoring of tuna stocks is undertaken by the Offshore Fisheries Programme of the South Pacific Commission.

However, these initiatives have not been translated into economic returns for island-based operators. The harvest by island fishermen in their EEZs is extremely small compared to that of distant (USA and Asian) fleets. In 1994, 1.2 million tonnes of tuna worth US$ 1,660 million were caught in SPSIDS' EEZs. Exports from most countries would not reach 0.1% of this amount. Urgent action by SPSIDS governments is required to: provide the technology and harvest know-how; and make available the capital.

Such action would enable island men and women to participate more fully in the utilization of the straddling and highly migratory fish resource in regional EEZs. At present, initiatives by the international community to legally protect this resource and provide priority for its utilization by the owner communities may prove effective.

However, the prospect is that ultimately it will be impossible to effectively control or limit harvest of these resources by the fleets of distant countries (whose own resources have been depleted), unless island communities can demonstrate full and effective sustainable utilization.

IV. MEANS OF IMPLEMENTATION

This section proposes, for discussion, means and actions for putting into practice the needs and aspirations identified in the earlier section.

1. Involving Resource Owners

Action both at national and regional level is essential to more fully involve those having community authority over resources (land, forests, marine) in the research, planning and management process. This is probably the most important parameter in sustainable management. Actions could include the following:

2. Raising Awareness and Promoting Knowledge

Programmes need to be implemented and maintained to fully inform communities about the value of resources, the costs of over- utilization and under-utilization, the knock-on effects of actions which may appear anodine when viewed in isolation, the long-term benefits which will be derived from sustainable management (and utilization), and the comparative returns available from alternative uses of specific resources. Actions could include the following:

3. Institutional Arrangements

3.1. National Leadership Sustainable management of natural resources is essentially a local and national responsibility, since issues and actions to be taken are addressed in each country. Communities, at district or village level, will look to national leaders for guidance and example. Village men and women should be consulted regularly to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed.

Commitment of the wider community to national programmes is granted only when political leaders, government officials and instrumentalities use resources sustainably and apply "good governance". Good governance implies that actions and initiatives are known in advance to all stakeholders, that different social groups be represented at national and local decision-making, and that management is transparent, while information is accessible to all on an equal basis. If national leaders are perceived as reaping personal gains or short-term benefits from wholesale resource utilization or government bodies are seen as wasteful or irresponsible in their use of resources, communities will naturally adopt a similar attitude.

3.2. National Coordination

National plans, strategies, and action programmes for sustainable management of natural resources in each country will require coordination and direction at national level. It is suggested that the formation of Natural Resource Management Councils be considered, involving key industry development, conservation and community men and women leaders. The Council would have to be given the authority to impose its decisions and be seconded by a highly qualified technical secretariat. The Council could be seconded by local area management groups or planning groups in order to involve local communities to the maximum.

The role of such a national body would be to oversee the implementation of the resources management programme by:

However, national decisions and capacity to manage natural resources sustainably may be constrained by external factors such as unequal negotiations for rights to exploit natural resources by foreign companies, conditions imposed by structural adjustment programmes, limitations on national decision-making arising from GATT/WTO, and project designs imposed by donors which may be based on purely economic considerations and not take due account of local conditions and priorities.

Following the cyclone devastation of the 1980s and 1990s, National Disaster Councils were established in many countries. These Councils have been effective in designing recovery programmes and promoting disaster awareness and preparedness, particularly at local community level. Whether the enthusiasm and momentum of these units can be maintained however, in the absence of "regular" disasters (e.g. there was no cyclone in Samoa between 1968 and 1990) is a matter of some uncertainty.

In most cases, the individuals involved are those who would need to be part of Natural Resource Management Council. The proposal that National Disaster Council become Natural Resource Management Council (incorporating disaster management) would seem to have merit.

A small secretariat would need to be considered in each country, located in the appropriate administrative unit, to carry agreed national and community action plans, and to act as a conduit for regional cooperation. Female representation in these Councils should be ensured, so that their concerns are accommodated.

3.3. Regional Coordination

Recognizing the complexity and diversity of the resource management task, and the difficulty and financial burden associated with the provision of the required multi-disciplinary teams of professionals in each country, the establishment of a Regional Natural Resource Management Services Unit, within one of the existing regional organizations, could be considered.

This Unit would provide resource management services to governments in the region, making available skills and experience which would be much more difficult to build at national level, and facilitating the transfer and sharing of technical developments.

4. Legal Matters

National programmes of action are recommended in the context of current on-going initiatives and programmes (for example by FFA) to review and, where appropriate, amend legislation in the following areas:


REFERENCES

Asian Development Bank, 1990, "Economic Policies for Sustainable Development"

Bass S. and Dalal-Clayton B., 1995, "Small Island States and Sustainable Development: Strategic Issues and Experiences, International Institute for Environment and Development"

Clarke W.C., 1992, "Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategies in the Pacific Island Least Developed Countries - Issues and Policy Options". EXCAP

FAO, 1996, "Integrating Land Resources Management"

Forum Fisheries Agency, 1995, "Tuna and Pacific States: Some Considerations for Local Industry Development"

Gillet R., 1995, "Demand and Supply of Fish and Fish Products in the Pacific Islands Region"

Persand B., 1993, "Concepts and Issues of Sustainable Development in the Insular Caribbean, University of the West Indies"

SPREP, 1992, "Environment and Development: A Pacific Island Perspective"

SPREP, 1993, "Meeting Report of the Regional Technical Meeting for Indian and Pacific Oceans, Port Villa, Vanuatu, 31 May-4 June 1993, Input to the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States"


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