Solomon Islands in the western Pacific have been ravaged by nearly three years of civil conflict. The economy is in tatters, the main city Honiara is run by militant groups, and most education, health and public service functions are not working. In this climate the corruption ridden, destructive and often illegal industrial logging sector has continued unabated.
At the village, where most people live in Solomons, the former small businesses of eco-tourism, copra, cocoa and marine product exporting have all but come to halt due to a lack of visitors, markets or logistical problems. However, community-based eco-forestry has managed to continue, and more people are turning to it to generate a sustainable income instead of the possible option of destructive logging. NGO eco-forestry support programmes have been going for more than 10 years in Solomons, including a joint Solomon Islands Development Trust/Greenpeace Ecoforestry Programme --so the lessons have been learned, and they know how to make village projects a success.
Key lessons and critical success requirements include:
- have a clear set of non-negotiable support programme entry requirements, such as undisputed land tenure or rights, a functioning community organisation and decision making body, equitable decision making and income sharing, and rejection of destructive activities.
- only invest in supporting projects that meet the 'success' requirements otherwise it will end in disappointment on both sides.
- ensure the support programme has integrated activities from village and forest level support to marketing and certification.
- translate any external standards requirements (e.g. FSC) into simple check-lists that are easy to use and understand.
- plan to provide field support and monitoring to village projects for 5 to 10 years.
- pay particular attention to social indicators in support and monitoring, especially how money is shared and spent.
However, NGO programmes struggle to get the funds they need to maintain and expand their programmes. Due to the security situation in the country donors such as the European Union are staying away, and potential donors such as the World Bank and AusAid hide behind rhetoric.
With the ongoing conflict in Solomons it is remarkable that any village eco-forestry projects are able to continue operating. This is a measure of the commitment and ingenuity of the village people, and the NGO field staff who support them. Eco-forestry offers one of the few hopes for forest conservation and to oppose rampant destructive Malaysian logging.
By Grant Rosoman, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org