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Panel 3: Challenges to sustainable land and marine-based livelihood systems in the Pacific


Foale Simon, George Nicolas Curry, Gina koczberski, Frank Thomas

Session presentation

In the Pacific, livelihoods and well-being remain closely tied to agriculture and fisheries. While the past, as documented through environmental reconstruction using archaeological and historical ecological data, together with modern species conservation plans, can provide some of the knowledge and tools for sustainable livelihoods among contemporary Pacific Island communities, we need to be critical of the effectiveness of traditional coping strategies under new conditions of growing population, altered land- and seascapes, escalating climate-related hazards, and changes in community and individual needs. A key challenge to the long-term sustainability of land and marine-based livelihood systems is how to maintain household food and income security in the face of population, land and market pressures, changes in land use, shifting consumption patterns and climate and environmental stressors. Within this context of transformation, it is important to deepen our understanding of how Pacific people respond and adapt to the pressures on their livelihood systems and to understand the range of strategies they employ to reduce their vulnerability to food and income security. Equally important is the need to gain insights into why some households or communities have a greater capacity than others to ameliorate the risks and uncertainty in their livelihood and food systems.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Productivity vs connectivity: using an agricultural lens to gain new perspectives on coral reefs, fishery production, food security and livelihoods in the Western Pacific

Foale Simon (James Cook University)

Two perspectives on fishery production and management dominate contemporary scientific discourse in the Asia-Pacific: 1) The fisheries of greatest value and interest are those associated with coral reefs; and 2) The fundamental logic by which fishery production, and therefore management, is understood is that of connectivity – i.e. the export of larvae by relatively sedentary adult fish populations, typically managed with spatial tools such as marine protected areas.

In this paper I draw on a study (Roeger et al. 2016, Fisheries Research 174: 250-259) of a recent switch from coral reef-associated fish stocks to small pelagic stocks by a Solomon Islands community to pose, and suggest answers to, questions about the importance (potential and realized) of small pelagic fisheries for food security and livelihoods across the Asia-Pacific region. I also pose related questions about the relative importance of an understanding of biological oceanography (or to put it simply: nutrient supply) in the productivity of small pelagic fisheries, and the extent to which these scientific questions have been ignored as a result of the dominance of the above-mentioned discourse on reefs and connectivity.

Finally I interrogate the extent to which small pelagic fisheries are exploited by actors with different levels of economic and political power, across different parts of the Western Pacific and Southeast Asian region.

Maintaining food security through farming innovations and social networks in rural Papua New Guinea

George Nicolas Curry (Curtin University)

Gina koczberski (Curtin University)

Veronica Bue (University of Technology)

Emmanuel Germis (Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association, Dami)

Steven Nake (Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association, Dami)

Paul Nelson (James Cook University)

Farmers in the developing world who are heavily dependent on the natural environment display considerable adaptability and responsiveness to changing economic, ecological and institutional circumstances. We examine how migrant farmers in PNG are responding and adapting to land shortages for food gardens. The study sites are the oil palm areas of West New Britain Province, PNG, where food production is a key strategy for maintaining food and income security. Despite rising land scarcity for food gardens, virtually all smallholder families continue to grow sufficient food for their families, as well as a surplus for local markets. The paper outlines the diverse adaptive strategies households have developed to maintain food security, including a shift to more flexible land access arrangements that ‘revive’ and adapt traditional systems of land sharing on communally owned land. These strategies are being superimposed on state agricultural leasehold land registered in the names of individual farmers. The resilience of the farming system lies not so much in the incremental adaptive changes smallholders have introduced into their farming systems to intensify production, but in the more transformative farming innovations modelled on traditional mechanisms of land rights and social and kinship relationships to facilitate land access. We highlight the role of indigenous institutions and cultural values for sustaining household food security.

Problems with land and problems with water: Logging versus Marine Conservation in Marau Sound, Solomon Islands.

Anna-Karina Hermkens (Australian National University)

This paper elucidates and analyses the tensions between and among Are’are people (descendants from Malaita) and Mbirau people living in Marau Sound in Guadalcanal. These tensions and resulting disputes all revolve around place, around Marau Sound, and who can claim ownership of its marine and land resources. Are’are have engaged with Marau Sound as a frontier with possibilities for new socialities, livelihoods, and, recently, developments such as the exploitation of ecotourism lodges and guesthouses, clam and coral mariculture, and aquarium fishery. With the development of five Marine Protected Areas in the sound and NGOs regularly visiting the islands, the question of ownership, and in particular, ownership of marine resources, has become a major issue. Mbirau feel left out of the various developments and maintain that Are’are should share the revenues from marine exploitation, claiming ancient privileges over the offshore reefs. In order to get access to development, Mbirau have agreed for logging to commence in their inland areas, which Are’are strongly disapprove of. In short, the Marau case shows par excellence that place and identity are important concepts in material and conceptual contests around globalisation and capitalist resource exploitation. Moreover, it shows how local values related to the environment, identity and social relations come under scrutiny due to access and lack of access to resource exploitation.

Characterizing the Adaptive Capacity of Coastal Communities faced with Changes in Marine Resource Availability and Climate Change: Case Study of Fiji and Solomon Islands

Cakacaka Akuila (University of Bremen)

Ferse Sebastian

Most coastal communities of the Pacific Islands are traditionally highly dependent on marine resources as their main source of animal protein and livelihood. This makes them highly vulnerable to any change in the status of these resources. We examine the adaptive capacity of coastal communities in Solomon Islands and Fiji faced with changes in marine resource availability and climate change, understood as the individual characteristics of a household or community enabling it to cope, adapt and structurally reorganize itself to reduce threats. Household survey data complemented by key informant and focus group interviews were collected from ten communities in Fiji and nine in the Solomon Islands. The adaptive capacity of communities was measured using 12 indicators representing physical, natural, financial, human and social assets following the sustainable livelihood framework. Adaptive capacity was relatively higher in Solomon Islands than Fiji. Individual analysis of the assets underlined differences between communities and households within countries and helped to identify specific strengths and weaknesses. Management approaches must consider differences in the strengths and weaknesses of households and communities based on their specific asset portfolios in addressing threats to coastal livelihoods.

Food Security in Papua New Guinea: an overview

Richard Michael ('Mike') Bourke (The Australian National University)

Food security in Papua New Guinea is reviewed. The definition of food security is followed by a brief summary of the demography. For most people, food security has improved greatly over the past 120 years and particularly over the past 50 years. Despite this, many people suffer from long-term food insecurity, particularly children, but also women and men, associated with limited access to foods high in protein, fats and oil. Long-term shortages of carbohydrate foods are limited.
Short term food supply issues arise from climatic extremes, particularly drought, frost and extended periods of very high rainfall. Drought and frost associated with El Niño has caused widespread major food shortages on five occasions over the past 100 years. A review of the two most recent events in 1997-98 and 2015-16 is given, focusing on the impact upon and response by rural villagers.
Changes in sea level, temperature and rainfall associated with climate change threaten food security in some locations. A short summary is given of the impact to date, how villagers are responding and the ecological zones where the impact is likely to be the greatest. Factors that are likely to enhance food security for rural PNG villagers conclude the presentation.

The impact of food shortages in high altitude locations in Hela and Enga provinces, Papua New Guinea

James Komengi (United Church, Hela Region, Tari, Hela Province, Papua New Guinea)

A series of severe frosts hit high altitude areas of Hela and Enga Provinces, Papua New Guinea in July 2015. These frosts destroyed large areas of food crops in a region that had already been feeling the effects of the El Niño drought since February 2015. Approximately 140,000 people were affected by the subsequent food shortages in these areas, which did not ease in many parts of the region until the end of 2016. We present the findings of assessments conducted by the Church Partnership Program and the United Church in March 2016 in Hela and Enga Provinces. It details the social impacts of frost and drought, which include severe food shortages, malnutrition, closures or partial closures of schools and hospitals, out-migration and family violence. We pay particular attention to the experience of children, many of whom were left to fend for themselves when their parents left in search of work or food.

Seeds of Resilience: Urban Agriculture and Food Security in the Pacific

Natalie Araujo (La Trobe University)

In recent years and especially following Tropical Cyclone Pam, which wreaked devastation on Vanuautu in 2015, several prominent public servants and international development practitioners have called for the greater promotion of urban agriculture. Recognising long-standing community practices, this is framed as part of kastom economies of resilience, as a response to climate change and population growth, as a means of maintaining indigenous knowledge practices, and as a pathway to health and social justice for marginalized urban dwellers. Drawing from an ongoing cross-disciplinary qualitative project, this paper undertakes an examination of urban agricultural practices to investigate the ways in which these practices facilitate or obstruct contemporary development concerns, including gender equity, human mobility, increasing urbanisation, health, and climate change responses. This paper, as with the project from which it emerges, addresses a critical need to connect rapidly proliferating development and policy literature with the lived realities and experiences of those at whom those initiatives are directed.

Strengthening Noongar culture through the commercial development of cultural lands (South West of Western Australia) ?

Virginie Bernard (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, EHESS)

To settle their land claim out of Courts, the Aboriginal Noongars of the South West of Western Australia, represented by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea council (SWALSC), engaged in official negotiations with the State of Western Australia. More than the symbolic recognition of their land rights the legal process could grant them, negotiating an agreement had the potential to deliver concrete outcomes. Should the agreement be ratified, up to 320,000 hectares of cultural and development land would notably be divested to the Noongars to form a Noongar land estate. The Noongars would decide how to manage these lands through the Noongar governance system that would be set up as part of the agreement. They would have the possibility to convert more cultural land into development land and decide what commercial ventures to establish. I propose to present what “cultural land” and “development land” mean in this context and examine the conflicting discourses that the commercial development of cultural lands generates. SWALSC defends it as an essential move to trigger the Noongars’ social, economic and political betterment and assure them a place in the Australian “modern” society, which in turn would enable them to strengthen their culture. On the contrary, some Noongar dissidents denounce it as the selling of their culture and customary lands. The implementation of that commercialization will therefore depend upon SWALSC’s capacity to rally the Noongars behind its vision.

The Alienation of Samoan Customary Lands Through the Torrens System

IATI IATI (University of Otago)

In 2008, the Government of Samoa passed the Land Titles Registration Act (LTRA), which introduces the Torrens system, in particular, the principle of indefeasibility to the registration of lands in Samoa, including customary land leases. Applying the Torrens system, with its notorious history in countries like New Zealand, to Samoan customary lands meant that the LTRA 2008 has been controversial before, during, and even after it was passed. The key issue has been and remains, does/will the LTRA result in the alienation of customary land? The Government of Samoa has consistently denied that it will. Indeed, shortly before the LTRA was passed, it inserted additional provisions (Sections 9.4 & 9.5) to prevent any possibility of this happening, and claimed as much. Curiously, in 2015, the government passed the Land Titles Registration Amendment Act (LTRAA), with the intention of closing any loopholes that could allow for alienation. If, since 2008, the government was certain there would be no alienation, why enact the LTRAA 2015? This paper disagrees with the government’s conclusion. It critically analyses the LTRA, existing legal analyses, recent legislation, and subsequent amendments and argues that the LTRA can alienate the allodial title to customary lands from its owners, the aiga (both current and future members of an extended family) and/or nu’u (village/polity). It will highlight a number of political and legal avenues by which this can be achieved.

Women’s access to land in their commercial journeying Vanuatu 2016

Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn Dunlop (Auckland University of Technology)

All Vanuatu land is in customary tenure for the benefit of family members. Women’s access to land varies by island group (e.g. patriarchal / matriarchal) although reports are that prominence has been given to males and male access to land in the post contact era. Land for commercial and other purposes is available for Ni-Vanuatu and others (foreigners) through lease agreements with kastom owners. This presentation discusses the commercial journeys of two women entrepreneurs – one a Ni-Vanuatu – the different producer chains they are establishing (input substitution, commodity marketing) and their access land and other resources to grow their ventures.

Responder: Hon Ralph Regenvanu