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This article is adapted from How one rainforest was saved by Nancy Perkins, Greenpeace (May/June 1989).
If reproduced, please give credit to: Greenpeace/Nancy Perkins
In July 1988, when scientist Paul A. Cox arrived in the Western Samoan village of Falealupo, he was shocked to find loggers cutting down the trees in the surrounding forest.
He rushed to the village chiefs. Whats happening? he asked. Why are all the trees being cut down? The elders replied, We simply had no choice. We have resisted the loggers requests for years, but finally we had to give in. Why? Paul wanted to know. The Government has condemned our school, answered one chief. And has demanded that the village build a new one. Yes, added another, with a note of regret. Our choice was either to cut the rainforest or forego our childrens education. I cried when I saw our trees being felled, admitted another chief.
Could you not have found another way to raise the money for the school? asked Paul. He had been studying how Samoan people use the forest plants for more than 10 years, and he was very unhappy to see the forest disappearing. The 30,000 acres of rainforest surrounding Falealupo village on the island of Savaii in Western Samoa comprise one of the worlds last surviving ancient tropical rainforests.
A village chief answered Paul. Not enough money was coming in from the villages cash crop, cacao, because the season had been too wet, and the harvest poor. So we reluctantly signed a licencing agreement with a local logging company. The agreement allows the firm to cut down trees until the school debt is paid off. We were really in bondage to this school, and we didnt know how in the world to pay off our debt. said High Chief Seumanutafa Siosi. We support efforts to preserve the rainforest 100 per cent.
By rich countries standards, Falealupos debt for building the school might appear small - $55,000 - but it was a huge amount of money for the community. So Paul Cox decided he must help the villagers raise the money to pay for the school, and so preserve the rainforest.
First, he personally arranged for school payments to be made to the bank over the next few months while he set about finding sources of funding. He convinced Bat Conservation International to take over payments for several further months while he searched for more money.
Paul figured out that it cost about $1.83 to save an acre of rainforest on the island of Savaii. What an incredible legacy we could leave the world with such a small amount of money! reflected Paul. With this thought in mind, he approached several potential donors. One thing he made clear to people when he asked for their support was that, while money was needed to buy the rainforest, the people living there must remain on the land. Paul said, While foreign ownership of rainforest land may be a good idea in some countries, it is not acceptable in others. Paul stressed it was much better to work with island inhabitants by helping them economically, and supporting their natural desire to preserve the tropical rainforests.
In December 1988, two manufacturers of natural products agreed to support the Falealupo project, and by February 1989, the chiefs had received $45,000 from these companies.
The donors and Falealupos high chiefs had also signed a joint agreement prepared by Paul Cox. In the document, the donors had agreed to give up any rights to the rainforest. The high chiefs, in return, promised to preserve the land for 50 years. They also pledged to protect the wild plants and animals of the forest, including endangered species such as the flying fox, a fruit-eating bat that is the forests main pollinator.
The agreement does allow local people to collect forest plants for medicinal use, and to take certain woods for carving ceremonial canoes, homes and meeting houses. Small, traditional garden plots were also allowed, if the villagers planted them along the edge of the forest and did not clear any primary rainforest land. The agreement also gave Paul Cox and other scientists permission to continue their research in the forest.
And how did Samoa thank Paul Cox for all his work? The chiefs made him an honorary high chief!
ACTIVITIES FOR OLDER STUDENTS
Identify a local wilderness area that is in danger of being destroyed. Then,
(a) Write a letter to a potential donor requesting funds to help the local community buy the area. In your letter, describe the wildlife to be found in the region, and state clearly the reasons why you think the area should be protected. Explain, too, how the local community might use the areas resources without ruining the environment.
(b) Prepare a hypothetical contract between a donor and the local community which states clearly the rights and responsibilities that each party has regarding the wilderness area. For example, the donor may agree to pay for the land, and/or maintain a reserve, while giving up any rights of ownership. Local people may, in return, agree to preserve the land and protect its wildlife for a specific time, but be able to harvest medicinal plants, fodder and fruits etc. from the region.
The material in this OUTREACH pack may be used for non-profit, educational purposes in Third world countries, Use the material as you wish, but please credit OUTREACH
Dr. James Connor, OUTREACH Director, Teacher & Learning Center, 200 East Building, New York City, NY 10003, USA, Tel (212) 475 1993. Fax: (2121) 995 4040. Telex: 235128 N YU UR
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Writer/Editor Gillian Dorfman