The negative effects of human activity on terrestrial and marine resources as fundamental bases of our daily lives are real.
Fiu Mataese Elisara, Executive Director of O le Siosiomaga Society Inc (O.L.S.S.I), discussed the issues concerning, ‘Evolving principles and practices on Sustainable development, Climate Change and Land Tenure systems in the Pacific’, at the final day of the Second Pacific Islands University Research Network (PIURN) Conference at the National University of Samoa (NUS). Sustainable development has been talked about for more than half a century, Fiu said.
Many caught up in the concept of sustainable development were unprepared 54 years ago and we find ourselves even today desperately struggling to catch up with a tomorrow already made obsolete the realities of today.
"A balance translation of three pillars-economic growth, social equity and environmental integrity, into an integrated whole," said Fiu.
"Cultural diversity central to Pacific lives, pushed as a fourth pillar. The Pacific is arguably in the best position to practice sustainable development.” "It is imperative the world moves from sustainable development to sustainable human development," he said.
He explained that putting poor people first, enlarging their opportunities to live long healthy lives, to be educated, to have employment needed for a decent standard of living. It means generating rather than degrading the natural resource base, to provide present and future generations with sustainable livelihoods.
"Development which does not improve the lives of the poor has no soul," he said. "One that impoverishes the environment has no vision.” "One that fails to empower individuals and communities has no anchor. "One that fails to enlarge opportunities of people has no future," said Fiu.
Fiu said that the shifting goal posts of the rich are realities of today. “They point to dictating the lives of developing countries including the Pacific and they do it deliberately for their convenience.”
He also said the negative effects on terrestrial and marine resources as fundamental basis of our daily lives are real. "Climate change is a specific Pacific issue," Fiu said. "For many of us, it is matter of life and death, it is urgent.”
"In many cases, we are forced to leave our ancestral homes and live in foreign lands that we do not identify with. It is about Climate justice," he said.
Climate Change violated those rights. "Culprits responsible must bear responsibility and held accountable for our demise. We lose our culture, face forced alienation of customary land, our traditional lives are trashed and we are denied freedom to exist as sovereign peoples and countries," Fiu said.
He concluded his presentation focusing on the theme, Challenges on Customary Land under development and Climate Change.
Customary lands and related principles and practices are particular targets of foreign interests and national investors.
"Be warned, Pacific peoples see it coming, do not mistake it," said Mr. Elisara. “The Papua New Guinea (PNG) customary land tenure system covers 97 percent of total land mass, and is life support for 80 percent of total population," he said.
Pacific Islands such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Malukau, Solomom Islands, West Papua, and Vanuatu claimed protection of customery lands in response to increasing threats to customary land and sea systems, posed by land reforms, deep sea exploration, seabed mining and foreign agendas of aid agencies, international financial institutions, governments and elites within the Pacfic.
Fiu also said that uprooting people, making land available for investors continue today, in the name of ‘development’. It benefits transnational companies, allow them to freely access and exploit our natural resources. It relocates people as an adaptation response to climate change, and force resettlements on those in coastal village communities.
"In Samoa leasing and licensing of customary land has, however been practiced in the past," he said.
"The Alienation of Customary Lands Act 1965 (ACLA) regulated these leases and licenses entered into by the matai on behalf of all his customary land owners with their consent.
"Under ACLA, leases and licenses of customary lands could be granted only by the Minister responsible for lands. "But registration did not convey an ‘indefeasible title’ as in the Torrens system where ‘indefeasible title’ is ownership that cannot be defeated, revoked, or cancelled by reference to any past event, error or omission in the title," said Fiu.
This use of leasehold rights over customary lands as a collateral to raise funds through a secured loan was new to Samoan customary land laws.
The effect of this 2013 amendment further erodes the inalienability of customary lands. Fiu mentioned that complainants fear mortgage of leases could be granted by the Minister without the consent of customary land owners and subsequent assignments of such mortgages for default put customary lands in the hands of unknown third parties. “Land to us is special. Land is our life, identity, culture, tradition, source of our language, medicine, and our connection with the land is spiritual and natural,” Fiu said.
“It is our most valuable asset - everyone owns land, uses it, eats out of it, and is buried in it upon death. Any transfer of right in land is understood as temporary regardless of the provision in laws. Land dealings by government without free prior informed consent and agreements of customary land owners are not valid.
"For the future of our children, we need to break away from current systems of over-exploitation, unlimited land grabbing, over-consumption, over-production and over-extraction," Fiu added.
Many solutions continue to exist in the methods and systemic alternatives of the Pacific. In local village communities, indigenous peoples, women, small farmers, fisher folks.
These solutions can secure food security and sovereignty, and allow enjoy holistic living, agro-ecology, environment conservation, rights of nature, spiritual connectivity, and cultural integrity. “Changing the system is our hope to reclaim our future!” Fiu concluded.
Caption: Fiu Mataese Elisara, expressing challenges of sustainable development in the Pacific.
*By Katalina Tovia and Julie Simati Fiu (Both Katalina and Julie are media and journalism students at NUS)