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Indigenous Institutions, Resilience and Failure of Co-Management of Rain Forest Preserves in Samoa

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Elmqvist, Thomas
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/251
Sector: Forestry
Social Organization
Region: Pacific and Australia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
rain forests
indigenous institutions
Abstract: "In Samoa, an archipelago in the western part of Polynesia, local societies use an array of institutions and management techniques to cope with uncertainties in their environment. Tropical cyclones are highly unpredictable, both on a temporal and spatial scale, and may cause widespread destruction of villages and plantations. Examples of institutions and resource management systems used under these circumstances include a sophisticated land tenure system enabling a buffer capacity for growing crops, the use of taboos for protecting specific species and techniques for long-term storage of food. The extent of damage to crops by cyclones is extremely variable both within and between crop species. Interviews of farmers support the idea that the polyculturing of many crops species in fact may be a system maintained as part of a strategy to increase resilience in the face of large unpredictable disturbances. "After cyclones, species-specific taboos are often used to protect certain forest species that show marked declines. In addition, this traditional taboo system has also recently been applied on the ecosystem level. Several local indigenous initiatives to conserve biodiversity were undertaken in the early 1990s and resulted in village-based rain forest preserves that are owned, controlled and managed by the villagers. Although these preserves appear to be a robust local approach to rain forest conservation, their establishment resulted in significant conflicts between the villagers and Western NGOs that assisted in raising funds for the preserves. The principles of indigenous control were unexpectedly difficult to accept by some western conservation organizations that ultimately were unwilling to cede decision-making authority to the indigenous leaders. In this case, co-management failed completely when a village decided to sever all relationships and refuse any further financial assistance from the Western NGOs. The reasons for co-management failure need to be analyzed in the context of the crucial role of local institutions and the importance of mutual trust."

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