Illegal logging has fuelled the rapid disappearance of commercially viable forests and threatened indigenous livelihoods in the southwest Pacific Island state of the Solomon Islands. But against the odds, local communities are coming together to fight unscrupulous operators through the courts – and winning.
“The power here is from the people. We have come together as an island to strive for the sustainable management of our resources and that is our strength,” said Ferguson Vaghi, coordinator of the indigenous landowner-led Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association.
Nowhere is the destruction more visible than on the striking 15-kilometre-long volcanic island oF Kolombangara in Western Province, one day’s travel by boat northwest of the capital, Honiara. Here relentless extraction for nearly half a century has depleted more than 50 percent of the island’s forests.
“We depend on our forest resources for everyday living,” Vaghi said. “When the logging companies came in, they destroyed about 91 percent of the forests’ value in terms of biodiversity, rivers, water, animals and food.”
The Solomon Islands has more than 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres) of forest covering approximately 80 percent of its land area, which is spread over 990 islands. Communities on Kolombangara Island, like the majority of the population, are rural and rely on subsistence agriculture.
For the past 20 years, the government’s economic focus on logging, which accounts for 60 percent of export earnings, has brought few benefits to rural communities, which have seen little improvement in their lives.
The majority of the logs are exported and local landowners receive 15 percent royalties. But deforestation has removed wild fruits and vegetables that are a local food source and destroyed the habitats of animals, such as pigs, which then plunder community food gardens.
“The stream which provides us with a water supply is polluted with oil from dirty logging machinery and our pipe has been broken by falling trees,” said Vezinia Danny, from the village of Kuzi, which has a population of 200. “So now we have to paddle our canoes for miles to get clean water.”
The small island developing state, which is on the frontlines of climate change, is now one of the world’s 10 most threatened forest eco-regions, while government revenues from timber sales are expected to quickly diminish ahead of the industry’s predicted collapse by 2015, according to the Solomon Islands Forest Management Project.
“Those involved in unsustainable or illegal logging are seeking short term benefit, responding to the needs and wants of today and not thinking of the long term consequences,” said Peter Mahoa, a forestry lecturer at the Solomon Islands National University in Honiara.
For the complete article, please see Thomson Reuters.