Indigenous peoples join forces to save the rainforest from loggers

Sirebe of Bbabatana rainforest surveying a conservation site. Image courtesy of Cornelius Qaqara

Indigenous peoples join forces to save the rainforest from loggers

Linford Pitamamae, an Indigenous Melanesian villager from the Solomon Islands, has frequently seen logging ships arrive to pillage his land’s unique rainforest since he was a child. “It has always made me angry,” he says.

"But is there any alternative? It's not only happening in my place, in the western Choiseul province but every province in the Solomon Islands.” Having a forestry background, he decided to turn to conservation for solutions.

Indigenous-led conservation

Through Pitamamae’s efforts, six tribes from Choiseul Island united to establish the Babatana Virgin Rainforest Conservation, a preservation project protecting 300,000-hectares of rainforest from loggers. The project also safeguards many vital species and provides an alternative income for local communities.

In 2018, the conservation group started selling carbon credits, monetary compensation for the carbon emissions absorbed by their rainforest. For Pitamamae’s community, this generated around US $300,000 in quarterly payments.

"The whole idea behind this is to be fair to upcoming generations. We can't be that selfish. The forest was enjoyed by our ancestors. Now we are using it. It must also be enjoyed by generations to come," Pitamamae said.

Wilko Bosma, the Natural Resources Development Foundation Manager, a local NGO,  said the Solomon Islands need to follow initiatives like the one in Babatana, which allows communities to conserve their natural resources. "It's not only about the money. It's all about sustainability. Sustainable use and conservation of resources," the conservation expert said.

An important region

The Solomon Islands has 992 islands and atolls located in the Pacific Ocean. The area is a crucial hotspot for endemic birds, such as Kuvojo, which can only be found in Choiseul. This is also the case for tree species like Tubi and Kwila.

Forest conservation, like the one practiced in the Babatana rainforest, is key to climate action. The trees in these ecosystems capture carbon emissions from the atmosphere, which helps mitigate temperature increases.

Rainforests are also essential for local communities facing climate impacts, as they reduce the damage from extreme weather events by preventing flooding and protecting against coastal erosion.

Getting rid of logging

Logging has been a widespread activity in the Solomon Islands since the 1950s. As a result, species extinction, vanishing islands, and deforestation have become severe issues.

From 2002 to 2020, the Solomon Islands lost around 1.200 km2 of primary forest. According to the online satellite monitoring platform Global Forest Watch, this area makes up about 4% of the country.

This type of excessive logging moved Pitamamae to search for conservation alternatives. "It forced me to quit my job," he said.

In 2006, Pitamamae gathered local leaders to talk about conservation initiatives. His people, the Sirebe community, decided to protect an area of 800 hectares of pristine rainforest while still taking advantage of small-scale farming and sawmilling.

The idea expanded like a domino effect. After protecting the initial area, five more Indigenous communities followed their steps. Yet, the communities still had to engage in extractive activities to sustain themselves economically.

Credits for sustainability

In 2018, a local NGO called the Natural Resources Development Foundation reached out to the Babatana Rainforest community offering a pilot project for a carbon trading initiative. The community could stop their extractive activities and be provided for through this program as they protect the rainforest.

After signing the piloted site for a 30 years lease, the Sirebe recently got the first quarterly payment of $300,000 for carbon trading. The funds are managed by a locally established committee, where the money is used transparently and looks at the needs of individual families, Pitamamae said.

With the first round of funds, the committee aims to build permanent housing for women and finance student fees for young people. “This indeed will solve lots of our problems, including our living standards, as well as easing off the burden of school fee-paying every year,” said Karah Qalo, a Sirebe women leader.

The Babatana Virgin Rainforest Conservation demonstrates that when Indigenous communities on the frontlines are empowered, solutions to biodiversity loss and the climate crisis can be successful. Through this progress, both the environment and the livelihoods of people benefit.

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