Community participation in assessment and management
of land resources.

Land survey in Vanuatu | Land and Agricultural Research in Vanuatu | Agricultural Research in Fiji |
Eco-Forestry in the Solomons

Agenda 21. Chapter 10.

Integrated approach to the planning and management of land resources.

"Governments at the appropriate levels, in collaboration with national organizations, and with support of regional and international organizations, should establish innovative procedures, programs, projects and services that facilitate and encourage the active participation of those affected in the decision making and implementation process, especially of groups that hitherto often been excluded, such as women, youth, indigenous people and their communities and other local communities."

"Provide the appropriate technical information necessary for informed decision making on land use and management in an accessible form to all sectors of the population, especially to local communities and women;

"Support low cost, community managed systems for the collection of comparable information on the status and process of change of land resources, including soils, forest cover, wildlife, climate and other elements."

Participatory Data Gathering for land surveys in Vanuatu

In 1996, the Lands & Survey Department, Vanuatu participated in a UNDP Community Based Land Survey and Registration Project on Lolihor, North Ambrym. Villagers walked the borders of their custom land with hand held Geographic Positioning System (GPS) receivers. The GPS automatically collected the exact co-ordinates of the land boundaries. When the unit was returned to the survey team, they downloaded the information into a notebook computer - or returned the unit to Vila where they downloaded the data into their main database.

The project had a great many problems, mostly because it dealt with a highly complex and sensitive issue - regulation of custom land. This was bound to cause problems and suspicion. A UNDP review of the project blamed poor communication with the villagers at the start, claiming that many people did not know the reason for the project or why the information was needed.

"There was a lack of proper consultation and co-ordination between the co-ordinating agency, the implementing agency, outside agencies and Lollihor Development Council. It demonstrated lack of will and commitment towards the project by these agencies." (UNDP 1997).

"People were dispatched without clear instructions and directives. There was lack of clear procedure of how data collected from the survey could be analyzed, documented and stored. Whilst some villagers in Lolihor do agree with the survey, most didn't agree due to lack of adequate knowledge, no knowledge at all, ill informed or being misinformed of the project purpose."

However, the UNDP review was, itself, a hasty affair and, according to the Director of Lands and Survey, Edmund Arthur. The sensitive nature of registration of custom land is controversial and any outside review would be exposed to such controversy, especially by people who are violently opposed to any kind of land registration. Data from the villagers who chose to participate in the project were, according to Mr. Arthur, highly satisfactory for their survey and land registration activities.

These experiments with the participatory process developed a realization that participatory research needs to be a "whole of government" system incorporated with an integrated community-developed vision. Lands and Survey, Agriculture, Forestry, and Land Planning are integrating their efforts and their data in the Vanuatu Land Use Planning Project.

Participatory agricultural research and management in Vanuatu

Participatory research often involves methods to discover the needs, problems, and solutions of the different interested parties. Planning research requires social, economic, private sector and environmental investigations done with the full and active participation of people in the commercial and subsistence sectors. Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools and techniques will be especially helpful to gain participation on the grass-roots level. Effective use of these tools require special training and experience.

In 1995, as part of the Pacific Regional Agricultural Programme, the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture in Vanuatu, began a research programme to assist farmers in improving productivity of their gardens. They diagnosed farm problems in three areas using semi-formal questionnaires and then using participatory tools.

The questionnaires asked questions like, Why don't the farmers mulch? What are the uses of trees left on the land when clearing? Field visits to selected farmers tried to identify problems by interviewing the farmers and observing their farms.

In the Participatory approach, community meetings were organized in three villages and PRA tools were used to gather information on the farming systems.

The Agriculture extension officers discussed farming problems with the farmers and tried to get them to prioritize their problems using a variety of methods. The farmers were unable to reach a consensus as to their collective priorities, but agreed to rank them individually using stones to represent the problems.

They used causal diagrams as tools to discuss the causes of the farm problems. This was not simply an extracting of the farmers' knowledge as they did not, for example, know about nutrient deficiencies in the soils. As the farmers are superstitious, they might blame the death of their crops from disease on black magic or spells. But by discussing and listening carefully to the farmers the Agricultural agents found a deep knowledge of the relationship between certain pests and diseases and crop problems. They knew, for example, that taro should not be planted where bananas had been before to prevent damage from taro beetles. Scientists have only recently learned that bananas are a host plant for the beetle.

Once the causes were understood, the farmers were asked what they thought was the best solution to the problems. These were listed and the relative merits of each solution discussed before new technologies or solutions were suggested by the extension agents. When the new ideas were introduced the reasons why the agricultural agents thought they might work were carefully explained so the farmers understood the relationships. "Once the farmers understand the solutions offered to them, our experience shows that they are eager to test them and compare them with their own practice." (Bule and Schwanz 1996).

Agricultural History and Participatory farm research in Fiji

Literature searches of policy documents, interviews with planners over a range of sectors, and the analysis of past sector studies, consultancy reports, and documents also provide a framework for the policy and planning process.

Agricultural development in Fiji dates back to 1880. Modern agricultural development agents think the existing multitude of agricultural problems and issues in Fiji are just now being attacked with bright new initiatives. In reality, many of the concepts promoted today were being promoted before the second World War (Howlett et al. 1996).

Agroforestry was being promoted for soil fertility improvement and erosion control. Vetiver grass was proposed and demonstrated to farmers in the thirties. It is instructive to examine the outcome of these interventions, and even more instructive to note that nobody did examine the results of the earlier efforts until 1996.

The review found that past introductions of trees for shade, live fences and ornamentals survived. An example is the use of gliricidia for hedgerows and live fences. Shade trees are still used for coffee and cocoa production and wiriwiri remains popular for support of vanilla and pepper plants.

But the proposal to use trees for conservation barriers, reforestation, green manure, and soil fertility improvements did not survive. None of the inter-cropping and alley cropping ideas of the thirties and forties moved into general use by farmers. The recent attempt to promote calliandra hedgerows has not led to widespread adoption. Vetiver grass was adopted for erosion control but has nearly vanished from use.

The review makes it clear that:

  1. the ideas of sustainable farming were well known a hundred years ago even though the word had not been adopted for the concepts
  2. farmers adopt practices and plants that they feel they need and ignore the rest.
  3. the lack of linkage and co-operation between different institutions is a recurrent theme. Even within the same Ministry different divisions and sections can be working on related agricultural goals with little contact between them.
  4. the failure to review and restructure efforts to achieve conservation and sustainable agriculture goals has been a weakness of the system from the start and is still a major constraint in the Pacific islands. The cycle of effort, failure, effort will continue so long as there is no assessment and monitoring of management decisions.

The authors derive five major historical lessons:

  1. Look to see what others have done before and learn from their successes or failures.
  2. What has been adopted is what the farmer needs to solve some of the problems he or she is facing.
  3. Poor policies, issues of land tenure and economic disincentives can limit the adoption of otherwise sound technologies.
  4. Links within and outside government and non-government institutions working on agricultural issues have often been weak and activities uncoordinated.
  5. Institutional agroforestry has largely focused on trees to support specific activities often connected to cash cropping, it has not focused on the wider role(s) trees may and do play in farming systems.

Fiji agricultural agents have developed a number of approaches to increase farmer and community participation in the process of farm research. Recently, Participatory Rural Appraisal has been recognized as an essential ingredient to agricultural development. PRA begins with the recognition that farmers will only adopt practices that meet their perceived needs. The process recognizes the need for communication links between all interested parties in defining research goals, management policy, and solutions to problems.

Between September 1995 and February 1996, the research team, made up of MAFFA officers, farmers and other resource persons, evaluated the farming systems of the Naquaraivi area of Waibau, Fiji. The team used the following PRA tools to develop a better understanding of the farming system:

  • Participatory mapping
  • Transect and group works
  • Seasonal calendars
  • Daily and activity profiles
  • Historical profiles and trend analyses
  • Time lines and chronologies
  • Matrix scoring and preference ranking
  • Venn and network diagramming
  • Flow diagrams on systems and impact
  • Semi-structured interviewing
  • Direct observation
  • Social maps

The long term impact of the participatory approach will be interesting to compare with the past Century of poor performance.

The Solomon Island Development Trust & Greenpeace Ecoforestry Project


The Solomon Islands Ecoforestry Program [PO Box 147, Honiara, Solomon Islands 20455] assists community groups which would like to begin Ecoforestry on a small scale. Their program was designed to present an economically useful alternative to selling the forests to large scale Asian logging companies. It's a very complicated issue. SIDT has been an active and effective NGO in the Solomon Islands for more than a decade. They had more than 300 volunteers, numerous publications in Pidgin English, and a theater group. They have been successful in getting conservation messages to almost all villages in the Solomons. But the loggers, with large cash offerings and political backing have managed to overcome caution. The villagers take the cash. SIDT and Greenpeace joined forces to begin an economic counter-plan.

The large scale logging companies pay the people between SI$8 and $15 per cubic meter. Ecoforestry gains the sub-clan SI$1300 per cubic meter. The processed timber is sent to New Zealand. Villagers cut the logs in the forest using chain saws, but they only select trees over a certain size and they use special chain saws to cut the trees into planks right at the site of the felling to reduce damage to the surrounding forest. No logging roads or heavy machinery is required when the trees are milled on site.

The project began in June of 1995 and there are currently 7 villages participating in the project. Only one group has a portable sawmill, the rest process the timber using chainsaws. The team works with a clan or a sub-clan in a village of 30 to 40 people, not the whole village, to reduce complexities and land disputes.

The group must agree they really want to participate in the project. They have to form a committee to endorse the establishment of Ecoforestry. The members of the committee are drawn from the subclan. They must have at least 200 ha of land with clear undisputed ownership.

The first step is to hold a meeting with the people - this might last for a day or two - and select 2 people for training. The training program is 6 weeks long and is held at the Komuniboli Training Centre. The courses include:

  • First Aid & Social Issues
  • Chain Saw Maintenance
  • Forest Management and Planning
  • Survey and Mapping
  • Chain Saw Milling
  • Timber Grading
  • Small Saw Milling
  • Business Management

The Survey and mapping includes a system to assess and monitor the forest resources. They use aerial photos and or topographic maps to begin to map the area. Protected forests are drawn in - buffer zones around streams and Tambu areas - and the loggable section divided into hectare blocks. The hectare blocks are mapped in detail prior to an actual logging operation (no inventory of the whole property is attempted due to the effort involved). They pace off the 100m by 100m grid and record the location, names and sizes of trees. The trees to be cut must meet certain specifications (greater than 60cm and not nut or special trees) are marked. They are cut and milled by chainsaw on site.

The Block Record Sheet must be submitted with each lot of timber to qualify for the eco-timber status.

The project has had several problems. First, Ecoforestry is a part-time activity for the villagers. They do it when they have time and need the money. On the other hand, the market in New Zealand is huge and for it to be economic, must have a steady throughput that is greater than their current operation can supply.

They also have a serious problem in transporting the timber. The small groups are scattered and there is no road access to some, so the timber must be moved by boat. But there is no regular boat and it is uneconomical to charter a boat to pick up a small load of timber from one village here and another there.

When they approach a village, or work with a sub-clan, it is not long before the large scale loggers appear. They offer large block-sums of cash - perhaps $50,000 - and the people don’t have to do anything to get it but let them cut the trees. The Solomon Island Forest Industry Association and the large scale logging companies have PR people with millions of dollars at their disposal to convince people to deal with them. The SIDT has nothing to offer but assistance and training. Although many people in the villages fear large scale logging, the propaganda can be very convincing and people eventually give in.

In the best of all worlds, the Solomon Island Government would help by including timber in the Export Commodities Board brief. Right now they only collect and market copra. Why not timber as well? The Government could help by building roads and perhaps regional storage and transshipment depots for timber. But of course, it costs the Government nothing to let the Asian timber companies simply organize all this themselves.

I asked them if they were winning or losing the battle. They said, "We are losing the battle for the forests."