Chief John Andrew Kiri of North Malaita is blunt in his assessment of environmental conditions in and around his tropical community’s lands – and indeed, across all of Malaita, the most populous and largest island by size in the Solomon Islands.
“In the northern region, the slash and burn gardening method contributes a lot to forest degradation,” Kiri says. “Coupled with rampant logging activities in many parts of Malaita, communities are beginning to realize the importance of managing their remaining forests and waters.” Critical ecosystems in the Solomon Islands, located in the South Pacific, are directly imperiled by uncontrolled timber cutting, fueled largely by Chinese demand compounded by population increases and ineffective conservation policies and practices.
With help from USAID’s SCALE-NRM activity, Malaitans are being empowered to take climate action and build an environmentally sustainable future. SCALE-NRM (Strengthening Competitiveness, Agriculture, Livelihoods and Environment – Natural Resources Management) is supporting the Malaita provincial government’s capacity to control and manage the use of and protection of island’s forests. Simultaneously, the project is working with tribes and communities at the village level to enable them to derive livelihood co-benefits (such as new job and income opportunities) from forest conservation through an approach called Payment for Ecosystem Services, as well through the development of alternative livelihood activities linked to market opportunities. In the process, the project is helping islanders and the provincial government forge a new social contract together based on trust and a sustainable future.
SCALE-NRM activities in Malaita are also contributing to the nation’s Paris Agreement commitment to reach net zero by 2050, the date by which it has pledged to balance its greenhouse gas emissions against those it takes out. The approach is also offering policymakers and community leaders a model to inform climate action on a national scale.
Malaita’s provincial government is taking action, starting with an overhaul of the province’s business licensing regulations.
To establish better enforcement and monitoring systems and begin to hold logging companies, contractors, and industry service providers accountable, SCALE-NRM collaborated with the provincial government to design a stronger regulatory system to protect the island’s forests.
The resulting Forest Business Licensing Ordinance, which is going to be voted on by Malaita’s Provincial Assembly, now has teeth. It also aligns with other relevant laws and policies, including the Solomon Islands’ National Forestry Policy 2020 and the Malaita Alliance for Rural Advancement Government Policy 2019-2023. The draft licensing ordinance is a milestone in provincial efforts to regain control over forests, prevent illegal logging, and help the nation meet its climate commitments.
“The normal practice now is a huge loss to provincial governments and resource owners,” says SCALE-NRM’s Ednal Palmer. “Once the government gives a green light to a logging company and an understanding is established with a few landowners – maybe just one principal landowner without the knowledge of the rest – that company can enter and start logging activities. The company pays little or no fees, but the province will need to spend money to try and monitor its logging activities. As a result of lack of finances and resources, forestry officials and provincial workers hardly ever travel to the field to monitor logging activities.”
In addition to the policy side, SCALE-NRM’s approach helps to catalyze locally led climate action, raise climate awareness and spur collaborative natural resources management, in part by facilitating opportunities for community and tribal leaders to become strategic partners with Malaita’s provincial government. The goal: mobilizing people-centered climate action, raising community awareness and encouraging local leadership.
One example of this collaboration is a reforestation initiative planned for the Bina and Kwaibala catchment areas. The two crucial watershed regions are among the most heavily degraded and deforested regions of Malaita.
As part of its ongoing work with tribal groups in Malaita to conserve and reforest degraded areas, SCALE-NRM rolled out trainings at Kakara in West Kwara’ae, Bona in West Kwaio and Waihau in West Are’are, in collaboration with Ministry of Forestry and Research extension agents and the Malaita Provincial Government. Both catchment areas provide forest ecosystem services that are vital to the health of Malaitan communities whose livelihoods depend on the land.
The trainings equipped community members with skills to conduct reforestation initiatives and monitoring, empowering them to mobilize others and share knowledge to lead additional efforts. To sustain reforestation initiatives over the long term, the project is supporting expansion of tree nurseries to ensure adequate supplies of tree seedlings are available to community and tribal-led reforestation efforts. Through a combination of technical assistance to communities and expansion of nursery capacity, this initiative targets over 3,700 hectares of degraded land for reforestation. The new trees will contribute to the drawdown of over 300,0000 tons of CO2 over a five-year period, or the equivalent of taking about 65,217 cars off the road for an entire year.
The Forest Development Fund, SCALE-NRM’s grant program, is designed to spark further community and private sector-led reforestation efforts, establish Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes and expand alternative livelihoods initiatives.
The grants program launched in March 2022 and helped spur conversation and awareness amongst and between communities about the economic benefits of sustainable natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. The SCALE-NRM team visited Auki, Atori, Malu’u and Afio, connecting with nearly 100 different local organizations, all of which expressed interest in learning about and possibly applying for grants to jumpstart new, sustainable agroforestry enterprises or to support expansion of existing businesses. Applications were received from enterprises seeking grant funding, technical assistance, equipment and help establishing or expanding market linkages in agroforestry value chains including kava, taro, honey, cocoa, coconut, ginger and livestock.
Three organizations receiving Forest Development Fund support are managing tree nurseries in the West Kwaio and West Kwara’ae regions of Malaita. The nurseries will supply tree seedlings to community and tribal-led reforestation efforts, and the grants will enable the organizations to scale activities to supply those efforts. The development of tree nurseries is a key component to the growth of locally led reforestation systems in the province.
The SCALE-NRM activity is working with communities and the provincial government to design Malaita’s first PES pilot programs, which help communities generate livelihood co-benefits from their conservation efforts. The PES approach has proven effective at empowering communities in other countries to directly benefit from their own efforts to improve forest and watershed protection, including in Vietnam, where Winrock implemented USAID’s successful Vietnam Forests and Deltas activity.
“The PES system creates opportunities for communities to put a price on services – such as forest conservation and water quality – which are not currently valued in Malaita,” says Morgan Wairiu, SCALE-NRM’s chief of party. “This system will play an important role in accelerating targeted climate actions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The project is working with Malaitan communities to develop the first four PES schemes covering over 10,000 hectares of land across six areas of Malaita.
“One of these is an avoided-emissions PES plan on registered land in East Fataleka and Aluta Basin that will protect trees that we know are in high-risk logging locations,” Wairiu says. SCALE-NRM will help link community organizers to global carbon markets for funding to sustain its protection of the forests.
“We’re also working with communities to establish other PES plans in the Bina and Kwaibala catchments, a pair of important watersheds. This would also enable communities and the Solomon Islands Water Authority to tap funds through carbon markets and increased ecotourism in protected areas, some of which would be reinvested in improved water infrastructure.”
Another avoided emissions PES plan is also in development in two other areas, East and West Are’Are, on customary lands in collaboration with a community organization, the Mai Ma’asina Greenbelt Alliance. The plan will benefit eight tribes on two different clusters of land that are both in the process of being conserved under the Protected Areas Act of 2010, a piece of national legislation.
With support from a FDF grant, the Takataka Eco Village Conservation Foundation is taking the first steps toward establishing a PES scheme by conducting a forest inventory and household survey of the Takataka conservation area, with the goal of eventually establishing a forest carbon project in the region.
“Some communities have started to initiate action, but [the] the PES initiative is really attracting interests amongst tribes,” says Chief Kiri of North Malaita.
“This is because people have already started to think of ways to manage their remaining forest resources.”