Course in Vanuatu raises development concerns
A sustainable resource management course in Vanuatu has ignited differing views on development in the country.
A sustainable resource management course in Vanuatu has ignited debate about the direction of development in the country.
It raised questions as to whether courses run with Western assistance help or hinder countries with different value systems.
Bridget Grace has more.
An article published in Vanuatu last week lambasted the Australian-sponsored course, saying it pushed participants to focus on economic growth and viewed local traditions as impediments to development. Aminio David from the Lands Desk of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre was one of the authors of the article and says the course didn't respect traditional values.
AMINO DAVID: They were looking at putting a monetary value on resources starting from the sea to the coast and then to the forest. In my culture we do not value these things, these things they don't have value, they are so meaningful that they don't have value.
The course, 'Valuing Culture and Nature for Sustainable Resource Management' was held in Australia in May with funding support from AusAid. But Mr David is concerned about land in Vanuatu shifting away from traditional ownership and says these teachings are not in keeping with the the local concept of customary land.
AMINO DAVID: Putting numbers onto these things, that's what got me really scared for my country. Today we are in the middle of a war on land, most people have their land registered, and mortgaged and taken all this... and half of the people still keep their land in the traditional tenure. But very soon a lot of our people will be landless because once they take our land from the custom, or from all of us and we put it in a one man system, it's gone, it never comes back.
Ideas of private ownership and permanently relinquishing land are new to Vanuatu. Mr David says there are hundreds of people, whom he describes as victims, and therefore in many areas locals can no longer access the land or sea like they used too. He says on the island of Efate almost 90 percent of the coastline has been bought by foreigners and fences now run right down the beach. Mike Waiwai, from the Ministry of Climate Change also attended the course and published an article in response to Mr David's. He says Vanuatu needs to be open to new ideas and different notions of development. Mr Waiwai, who is a Social Scientist says the course is in keeping with a Melanesian Spearhead Group leadership programme. He says it's when locals sell to foreigners that they don't have access to the land.
MIKE WAIWAI: If they still own the lands they can do a lot of things out of the lands. So I don't see like that, this training is trying to teach us, or to help us to find ways on how this land can be sold. But it's just we're on our way to put our policy in place, or legislation where we can preserve our own land, and we can get an income from those lands. Like building a project say little bungalows, or hotels in those lands and getting money. land deals have meant that many traditional owners are now facing poverty.
Mr Waiwai says people in Vanuatu need to learn how to keep their resources.
MIKE WAIWAI: It's different from how people in Vanuatu think, but the way I think is it's really different from the way others think, like my friends think. But the way I see this we are just trying to learn on how we can preserve our natural resource.
Mr Waiwai says he didn't think the course had a hidden agenda and that it taught how to write policy that values both the culture and the environment. He says Vanuatu is a developing country and needs experts to help, and he wants Australia to continue to support Vanuatu in terms of these programmes.
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