L - R: MNRE CEO Taule’ale’ausumai La’avasa Malua, ACEO Faleafaga Tony Tipama’a, Easter Galuvao of SPREP, Dr Posa Skelton of SPREP and Editor of Samoa Observer, Mata’afa Keni Lesa.
“We don’t just sit around and wait for the world to make up its mind. We are trying our best to find help. If for some reason we cannot find help, we have to look to ourselves to help ourselves” – Taule’ale’ausumai La’avasa MaluaThe Pacific Voyage Media Team, 27 October Nagoya Japan
Samoa is not waiting for the world to make up its mind over whether to protect the environment in the next ten, twenty or however many years.
That’s what the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), Faumuina Tiatia Liuga will tell the world when he addresses the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan.
“Even though judging from the reports that the world has failed to meet the biodiversity targets, individual country progress varies,” Taule’ale’ausumai La’avasa Malua told the Pacific Voyage Media Team at the Nagoya Congress Centre.
“For us, we have started a programme to plan a million trees. Everyone is planting trees; even little kids are planting trees.”
Taule’ale’a is the Chief Executive Officer of MNRE. He is accompanying the Minister at the high level discussions involving hundreds of world leaders. Faleafaga Tony Tipama’a, an ACEO at MNRE, is the third member of the Samoan delegation.
Taule’ale’a said efforts to conserve the environment are being spearheaded by Samoa’s leaders.
“Even the Minister has planted 600 trees and I’ve also planted some trees,” said the CEO. “Students from one school, Vaiala Beach School, planted 360 trees at the national park. So everyone has been encouraged to play their part.”
The challenge for Samoa is land mass.
“So if legislation could open the opportunity for people to plant everywhere, that will be vital,” said Taule’ale’a. “Planting trees is important because it doesn’t only assist with mitigation of climate change, from the biodiversity perspective, it’s important we plant native trees and trees that are not invasive.
“So the Minister’s message is that we are not sitting there waiting for funds. We know there is a problem and we are moving to do something about it.
“That’s how our people work, that’s what we do. We don’t just sit around and wait for the world to make up its mind. We are trying our best to find help and if for some reason we cannot find help, we have to look to ourselves to help ourselves.
“We have to go back to the way we were before where we planted in the forest and work our land with our hands.”
Samoa believes it is important to promote and what’s been achieved so far.
“If you take protected areas for instance, we have a number of protected areas in the country, we have national parks,” said Taule’ale’a. “We have also worked to protect our coastal and marine environment. Fish is very important to us and they are under these protected areas and we have to ensure our protected area laws are firm to make sure they are fully protected.
“There are some cases where there are protected areas but you have to look at the administration to ensure there is enough money, know-how and human capacity for implementation.”
Money and the link to climate change are key factors in negotiations, said the CEO.
“Up until now, even though they are saying there is money for this and that programme, there doesn’t seem to be a lot.
“The only sure funding at this stage is from the Global Environment Facility which we have approached and are using for a number of our programmes. But there is not a lot of money, the most is probably about $5milion or $10million when these programmes should cost far beyond $10m, perhaps $50m or $1billion for one country.”
Samoa and other Pacific countries, however, should continue to persevere.
“Judging from the behaviour of the big countries, it seems they are not willing to increase funding. The European Union (EU) for example has said that they will not add anything further.
“EU’s focus in Samoa is on energy and water. Biodiversity in Samoa is mainly addressed through bilateral agreements with big countries such as with Japan where we have projects such as national parks and protected areas. We are also working with organisations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for conservation areas, marine conservation and wetlands.”
One of the biggest challenges for biodiversity in Samoa is invasive species.
“An easy example is the myna bird,” said Taule’ale’a. “There are also the merrenia peltata grass (fue lautele) in the forest and the African snail.
“There are foreign species that have been introduced such as many different types of exotic flowers and different plants.
“We have to be careful that we do not allow species we introduce to solve existing problems to become problems in the future.
“An example of this is the myna bird, look at what’s happening now. We have to be very careful.”
Plans to develop energy sources must be made with conserving nature in mind, warned the CEO.
“There are plants that can be used for biomass classifications but we have to look at their invasiveness and how they can be controlled,” he said.
“We have to look at how we can control these plants and that’s vital. We have to strike a balance. There were species that weren’t available before because the climate conditions weren’t favourable for their growth but now the weather has changed, some plant species are finding it more favourable than others.”
The issue of animals is an interesting one, the Samoan delegation noted.
“We have to tread carefully because what’s regarded by other countries as invasive are not necessarily invasive to us,” said Taule’ale’a. “For example, pigs are considered by other countries as invasive yet they are a key part of our diet so we have our own culling method. Besides the pigs do not go hungry in our country because we have a lot of coconuts to feed them.”
Biodiversity conservation can also be good for tourism, if its done right, said the CEO.
“We value our tourism for what it means to our economy,” said Taule’ale’a. “There are many tourists who want to listen to birds, look at native plants and so forth, so it’s another tool to attract tourists to Samoa.”
Asked what he would tell Samoans about biodiversity, Taule’ale’a responded: “I want to stress that our environment is very important. Trees provide us with fresh air and it’s a sanctuary for our birdlife.
“Our environment deserves to be respected. Our ancestors enjoyed a pristine environment, our present generation – eventhough with a lot of challenges – still enjoy the environment and our future generations deserve to enjoy the same environment.
“Our children should be able to enjoy the same environment our ancestors gave us. That’s why we should all work very hard to protect and conserve it.”