Western Samoa is ruled by a King as a Constitutional Monarchy. The King holds office for life. When he dies, the Legislative Assembly will elect a head of state for a five year term.
Geography Climate and Population
The country consists of two main islands with a land area of 283,100 hectares. These small islands are located in the Pacific Ocean at latitude 14° south. The climate is tropical and humid, but the Southeast trade winds make it mild. Temperature is constant between 24-29°C, and rainfall varies from 1,800 - 3,800 mm/annum.
The population in 1994 was 164,000. It is experiencing a high growth rate albeit from a very low base. Doubling time is estimated to be 28 years and the population is projected to have reached 192,000 by 2010. However overall population growth tends to be low due to emigration. Education standards are generally high which helps facilitate emigration. Over 50% of the population live in rural villages, most of which are located along the coastal margin.
The country has very limited natural resources and a continuing large current deficit. Major exports are agriculturally based and these have suffered considerable decline in recent years. To add to the problems, cyclone damage to subsistence and commercial crops has been high in recent years. About 70% of the people are farmers. GDP per capita is US$980 in 1993.
Like most of the Pacific Island countries, Western Samoa is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and on funds remitted home by islanders living in other countries, especially New Zealand and the USA.
The natural vegetation of the islands is rainforest. In 1992 the forested area of the country was estimated as being 47% of land area. Total roundwood production was 131,000 m3. Some small plantations are being established to supply both local industrial wood and fuelwood. About 80% of land remains under customary rights where the local village owns the land. This is in contrast to most places colonised by Europeans where customary rights were alienated.
The major crop grown is coconut and significant areas of land that were previously forest now support the crop. The use of the old coconut trees for timber has been investigated in the past.
The increase in agricultural land is closely correlated with population growth (and of course removal of the natural forest) and increasing production of agricultural crops for export. In many cases the forest is cleared to plant taro (a vegetable crop) and is then turned to coconut.
Over 70% of the land in Western Samoa is held in customary ownership. Thus any forest policy must be cognisant of this factor. In addition there are few if any commercially viable natural forests remaining on the islands.
A start was made in 1992 on developing a National Forest Policy which set out the goals, plans and strategies for the development of the forestry sector. A principal focus of this work is to be able to strengthen the sector and seek donor assistance and national funding. The key areas the Policy considers are reforestation, training, watershed protection, conservation and agro forestry. Various aid assisted programmes are underway as a result of this work especially in the areas of reforestation and agroforestry.
Another achievement that has come from the Policy development work has been the Watershed Protection and Management Regulations (1992). These created a better legal framework and coordinating mechanism among the various agencies involved in this important area of work.
A complete National Ecological survey finished in 1992 identified 14 sites for conservation of biodiversity in coastal lowland areas. Development of agreements with villagers for the conservation of these areas continues on from this work.
The forestry sector is attributed low importance in the country due to a combination of physical and economic features, including the incidence of hurricanes, the limited amount of land available, the dependence on fish and agriculture, and the shortage of skilled people. As a result the intensity of planning and development of the forestry infrastructure is low.
The pressures of growing populations with increasing aspirations, as well as political and economic forces driving deforestation, must be addressed.
A customary tenure system and strong control of local resources, while often assumed to favour improvement in management of forest resources, can present their own challenges to conservation of forest ecosystems. In Western Samoa the intricate political system, in which families vie for status and power, is tightly woven with a flexible customary land-tenure system. Cooperative efforts that are necessary for local forest conservation are not favoured by the competitive aspect of the local system. However, conservation efforts might build on another aspect of the social system, namely their strongly developed sense of social cohesion and responsibility.
Local leaders and land managers must be convinced of the value of forest conservation for it to be accepted. In particular they must be convinced that the forest is worth more to them intact in both the short and long term. In the case of a country like Western Samoa where the forests have limited wood values and are not required to protect the soils from erosion, and the soils have good natural fertility, this is not an easy task. Indeed the ultimate solution may lie in convincing these people that the forest has an intrinsic or existence value which is greater than other values.
To a greater or lesser extent this may require the involvement of the international community as they are equally the recipients of the existence benefit as the local people.
Failure to respond to the pressures will result in further degradation of the natural forest resource, and ultimately greater reliance of the people on imports of forest products. Unfortunately, it is the non-wood and non-commercial wood products that face the greatest threat, as generally these cannot be imported, or cannot be imported economically.
Pressure on the forest in Western Samoa is not the most pressing or threatening issue. It is, however, one which must be addressed.