Since he was a child, Linford Pitamamae, an indigenous Melanisian villager from the Pacific island nation of Solomon Islands, always saw logging ships entering his Island, pillaging its unique rainforest. He always felt angry about it, 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,” Pitamamae said. Having a forestry background, he decided to turn to conservation for solutions.
During the last 20 years, through Pitamamae’s efforts, six tribes of the Choiseul island united to establish the Babatana Virgin Rainforest Conservation, a 300,000 hectare conservation project protecting virgin Pacific rainforest from loggers.
The project managed to protect an endangered rainforest with many key species. But, in an equally important fashion, the conservation area also provided an alternative income for local communities.
In 2018, the conservation area started a dialogue for selling carbon credits, a monetary compensation for the carbon emissions absorbed by their rainforest. For Pitamamae’s tribe, this generated around US $300,000 in quarterly payments.
“The whole idea behind this is to be fair with their 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 our generations to come,” Pitamamae said.
Wilko Bosma, the manager of the Natural Resources Development Foundation, 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 and how much we were paid. It’s all about sustainability. Sustainable use and conservation of our resources,” the conservation expert said.
The Solomon Islands has 992 islands and atolls located in the Pacific Ocean. The islands were a key 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 for climate action. The trees in these ecosystems capture carbon emissions from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, which helps to mitigate temperature increase.
Rainforests are also very important for local communities to face future climate impacts, as they often reduce the damage from extreme weather events.
Getting rid of logging
Logging has been a very common activity in the Solomon Islands since the 1950s. As a result, species extinction, vanishing islands, and deforestation have become severe issues in the islands.
From 2002 to 2020, Solomon Islands lost around 1.200 km2 of humid primary forest, an area that makes up about 4% of the whole country, according to the online satellite monitoring platform Global Forest Watch.
Excessive logging in his community moved Pitamamae to search for conservation alternatives in the Pacific. “It forced me to quit my job,” he said.
In 2006, Pitamamae decided to gather his tribe’s leaders and started having talks over what these conservation initiatives could look like. His tribe, the Sirebe tribe, still had a vast virgin forest area in danger of being exploited by loggers.
It took them 25 years to work on their conservation area. The Sirebe community decided to protect an area of 800 hectares of virgin rainforest, while still taking advantage of small-scale farming and saw milling.
“Our culture is our life. Our land and forest is our life. At all costs, we must conserve it,” says.
The idea expanded like a domino effect. After protecting the initial area in his tribe, five more tribes followed their steps.
In spite of its potential, the initiative still forced the community to engage in extractive activities to economically sustain themselves.
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. This seemed like a way to provide long term sustainability to the forest protection project.
After signing up the piloted site for a 30 years lease, the Sirebe tribe recently got the first quarterly payment of $300,000 for carbon trading.
Although the government did not provide direct support to the initiative, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry, Vaeno Vigulu, commended the Babatana group.
“On the government side, we supported the initiative but seeing we have other ongoing projects, our work on the REDD+ initiative is dragging slowly,” he said.
The management of the fund in the Pacific ‘s Sirebe tribe is handled by an established committee, where the money will be used in a transparent way, Pitamamae said. They set up a committee that handles the fund, which looks at the needs of individual families. Funds are used according to the needs.
With the first tract of funds, the tribe is aiming to build permanent housing for women and finances 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 the Sirebe women leader, Karah Qalo.
This story is supported by One Earth and Climate Tracker’s Solutions Reporting Fellowship.