After the Barana conservation area was established in 2017, “bitters turned sweet for the community,” says Melinda Kii, an Indigenous farmer from the Mabulu tribe, located in Solomon Islands’ Guadalcanal Province.
In the outskirts of Honiara City, the capital of the Solomon Islands, the Mabulu Mountain Ridge people created the Barana Nature and Heritage Park in 2017, a 5,000-hectare conservation area managed by the Indigenous tribes.
Unlike a traditional conservation area, the Mabulu people manage sustainable agricultural gardens on the site, allowing them to protect the forests and use its resources to produce food, shelter, and medicines for the community.
The natural reserve has significant importance as a carbon sink and water source for people in the country’s urban areas. Management activities in the area include reforestation to reduce flood risks, soil erosion, and land use mapping.
Before the locals pushed for the natural park, land sales pressured the area, which led to mass logging. Locals explained that the conservation site now aims to halt these unsustainable activities that have ravaged the area for ages.
The conservation efforts have already shown some results. A 2022 study by the University of the South Pacific indicates that there’s been an increase in medicinal plants in the park, which elders then use to prepare herbal medicines for the community and sell.
Sites like the Barana Nature and Heritage Park are considered Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs), which include protected areas often managed by local communities. Their role in global conservation is currently under discussion at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, as some experts argue these initiatives are not getting enough recognition.
Protecting the forest
Besides its natural importance, the mountains of Barana Park were a significant battleground during World War II, making the site a tourism hub. The locals, therefore, also profit from ecotourism and cultural tourism.
In 2017, the community joined forces to sustainably take advantage of its natural and cultural heritage, protecting the site from further deforestation. “We consulted with surrounding communities, and all agreed to the idea,” said Mane.
The conservation area partly solved many of the issues local communities were facing, including improvements to their food security, protection against disasters, and access to traditional medicines.
This improved living conditions for Indigenous communities. One example is the region's low rates of Noncommunicable Diseases (NDCs), such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, the leading cause of mortality in the Solomon Islands.
Agriculture in hand with conservation
Along with the Barana conservation initiative came the establishment of the Mabulu Farm, which aims to create opportunities for the community through organic food production. This goes hand in hand with conservation initiatives in the community.
Mabulu Farm manager, Alphonse Sikwa'ae, said the initiative supplies local foods and vegetables to the national market, particularly in cities, while creating jobs for young people in the community. Alphonse Sikwa'ae said, "This is already happening. We supply in bulk, market prices are slowly going down, and we want local farmers to do the same. We should stand together in addressing this health crisis."
Mabulu Farm mainly uses organic fertilization and crop rotation of vegetables and roots such as Chinese cabbage, cassava, taro, and potatoes. The farm occupied nearly 50 acres of land, which only started in early 2022.
One of the women in charge of the Mabulu farm, Melinda Kii, said Indigenous people across the country should stop selling their land and open them up for agricultural development.