Stronger roots: Growing resilient forests in Samoa

People working in the forest
The initiative provides young people with job opportunities and encourages them to take responsibility for the seedlings. Photo: UNDP in Samoa.

If you look beyond the coral reefs and blue lagoons of Samoa, you will see mountain ranges rising up from within the islands, carpeted in thick forest.

Samoa’s forests, which cover around 60 percent of the land, play a critical role in the country’s diverse ecosystem. Tree roots serve to prevent soil erosion and flood damage, local people rely on woodlands and wetlands for livelihoods and resources, such as food, medicine and timber. The forests also act as carbon sinks, capturing and storing greenhouse gases, which helps to slow the rate of climate change.

Highlights

  • A 4-year project is working to increase the resilience of Samoa’s forests, and the communities that depend on them, to climate change.
  • Nurseries and agroforestry/reforestation programmes were initiated in 14 villages, creating job opportunities for youth and instilling a sense of environmental responsibility.
  • More than 15,000 people have been engaged in the management of their local resources, creating 3D models of their geographic areas.

However, these island forests are endangered, due to increasing climate events such as storms and cyclones, combined with logging and deforestation activities. According to recent estimates, Samoa has no more than five years of merchantable forests left (FAO, PDF).

Since 2011 UNDP has been leading an intervention on the integration of climate change risk and resilience in forestry management in Samoa (ICCRIFS). Financed by a grant from the Global Environment Facility through the Least Developed Country Fund, with co-financing by the Government of Samoa, the 4-year, US$4.9 m project was implemented across the island to raise climate awareness, improve livelihoods and increase reforestation.

Green nurseries cultivating different varieties of native trees and plants were set up in 14 pilot villages, primarily for reforestation and coastal protection purposes. Native seedlings are distributed monthly to village youth who plant them in the upland areas, along with cash crops for consumption and sale. The intervention has provided young people with job opportunities, and encouraged them to take responsibility for the seedlings through penalties and incentives.

A key element of the project’s success has been engaging 16,700 people in the management of their local resources. In each participating village, leaders, men, women and children used simple materials like cardboard and paper mache to create a three dimensional model of their area. For many, this was the first time they had seen a bird’s eye view of how the watersheds, agricultural lands and the entire ecosystem of where they live are interlinked.

“Many young people have been engaged in the construction [of the 3D models], as well as women and elderly representatives, who can contribute their unique understanding of their territory and traditional knowledge,” explains Yvette Kerslake, the project coordinator. It was “through this tool that we got the commitment and also the interest of the community in working together with us,” she says.

The models provide the Samoan government with valuable local knowledge to use in national forestry management plans. The initiative has resulted in a range of revisions to national forestry policy and plans, enhanced early warning systems, and a better understanding among government officials of the need to support efforts in the forestry sector to adapt to climate change.

As the intervention achieves stronger climate resilience in Samoa, Yvette expresses hope for her country. “Looking towards the future it would be good to manage our resources, keep it natural and sustainable, [and to become] a country that is able to better respond to impacts ... We will hopefully still exist by then.”

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