Self-Sufficiency And Sustainability

Maradel K. Gale, J.D.

Director, Micronesia and South Pacific Program

Associate Professor, Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management

University of Oregon


Life on small, isolated islands in a large expanse of ocean can be precarious. T hat people and cultures evolved over generations on these islands is testament to the ability of early settlers to make decisions which ensured their survival. These decisions, based on an appraisal of what was available to use, and how it could be maintained through time, constitute an early form of sustainable living (Clarke 1990). In prehistoric times, there were few or no opportunities to supplement the local resource base with outside supplies , and self-sufficiency was the rule.

Early European explorers found indigenous people who apparently were healthy and lived "good" lives in the eyes of these earliest visitors. Starvation and deprivation of basic life needs were not noted in early accounts of the islands. While Pacific storms probably destroyed food resources then , as they do now, systems of interchange with other islands eventually were developed to meet even those naturally-caused shortages.

The introduction of new ideas, materials, and desires accompanied the early whalers, traders, missionaries, and colonialists who, in successive waves, washed over the islands. Increasingly, traditional methods of survival were displaced by imported ideas and products, and people moved away from their self-sufficient ways into models of living more dependent on outside sources for survival. This dependency was reached in various parts of the Pacific at various times and to varying degrees. On some islands, there are still practiced remnants of the traditional life-style. From these remaining traditional cultures, we can learn about th e patterns of life that were tied more closely to utilization and stewardship of what was naturally available, and discern methods which may again become vitally useful to the island people.

Margaret Mead, in a speech in 1976, has eloquently argued that the study of islands can provide ecological and social models for large soci eties, and for the planet as a whole:

We have, in small islands, the greatest diversity of ecological, cultural, and economic style that we have anywhere in the world. Furthermore, because these are island cultures, we actually have in them the closest thing to a model of the whole world -- an island where the people do n ot know there are any other people. Easter Island was a good model of planet earth. Easter Island people got there and they knew they could never get away. They were there for keeps as far as they knew, and there was no one else who was ever going to come, so they had to make what they could of the situation. Now we know that we are all alone in the solar system and no other people are going to come to our rescue; we, too, must make do because nobody is going to help us. We can study and analyze the behavior of people on islands and their relationship to a known environment; we can understand an island because we can sail around it, fly over it, climb over it, and catalogue every tree and plant and insect.(Mead, 1976)

Pacific islands are, indeed, living laboratories where in we can see the results of social, economic, and environmental experiments in ways that are not visible on larger land masses (Clarke 1990). A segment of road bulldozed on Kosrae in the morning silts in a portion of the lagoon with the afternoon rainstorm. The introduction of imported foodstuffs and resultant changes in people's diet create widespread health problems within a decade. The imposition of non-local institutions creates social problem s as traditional practices become superfluous to the modern lifestyle. On a 40-square mile island, cause and effect are more clearly linked than on a large land mass with a mobile population. This phenomenon can also be the gift of the islands to the rest of the world: experiments with sustainability in the islands can become models for developed countries which have not yet even recognized the degree to which they are unsustainable.

Some Thoughts on Concepts of Sustainability

The concept of "sustainability" in the development context became widely discussed as a result of the report of the Brundtland Commission, established by the United Nations. The crux of that commission's focus on the relationship between economic development and environmental protection was the concern for intergenerational equity. The current generation, in striving for economic development, was cautioned to treat the natural resource base in such a way as to preserve means for future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987; World Bank 1996).

In its initial development context, sustainability was used primarily in the realm of economics: whether a particular economic approach would be sustainable for a society. In fact, there remains a notion that economic growth can be "sustainable" (Fairbairn 1991; World Bank 1996). While some level of economic growth may be needed in many Pacific island countries, there is no model of growth which is sustainable over time. We live on a finite planet, and the limits of our growth are rapidly being reached, if not already exceeded in some domains. That this has not yet been widely recognized in the economic realm possibly stems from the fact that many economists are less familiar with the natural world than they are with the constructed world of economics; it may also have some relati onship to the size of the land mass with which they are familiar.

Concern with the "narrow" approach of sustainability dealing only with economics was raised by persons involved in the environmental movement. They argued that looking at sustainability in strictly economic terms missed the larger point: failure to pay attention t o the long-term viability of the society's natural resources (land, air, water at a minimum) means there can be no real sustainability in the long run.

More recently, scholars and practitioners have recognized two other dimensions in the puzzle of sustainability: socio-cultural factors and moral/ethical/spiritual values. It is arg ued that, in addition to the issues of economics and the environment, cultural, social and political traditions and values of a society must be taken into account in determining whether a path is sustainable. Ethicists have weighed in with even less quantifiable concerns: whether social justice is being served by the decisions, and the degree to which higher moral, spiritual and ethical values are manifested in the decision-making process and outco me.

Ultimately, people in all nations will face the issue of creating a sustainable life-style. The least sustainable societies are those in the developed "west," which rely on exploitation of the natural resources base of "less developed" countries to meet ever-growing demands for raw materials as well as consumer goods. It is pr obable that all communities have passed through a period of sustainability, fleeting though that may have been. In the past, the drive to acquire "more" and "better" has propelled communities away from self-sufficiency and sustainability and toward a life-style that depends on utilization of resources from beyond our own borders. Given enough power, or money, these needs can be met through the economic market system. Destruction of a country's reso urce base can be ignored if there is the possibility of getting necessary raw materials from elsewhere. This is particularly so if the economic imbalance between buyer and supplier means the cost of goods obtained from afar is so low that distance and transport are not inhibiting factors. However, it is just a matter of time until the inequity of this situation (the excessive use of resources by one group of people at the expense of others) is no l onger tolerated, and citizens of the over-consuming western nations will be facing the same issues as are the people of the Pacific islands.

Some words about this chapter: the author's experience is predominantly in the part of the Pacific known as Micronesia, which is comprised of very small islands lacking in extensive terrest rial natural resources, characterized by rapid population growth, and excessive dependency on foreign aid from the US and, in the case of Kiribati, from Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand. Some of the islands in the South Pacific, notably Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and to a lesser extent, Vanuatu, have a wider array of land-based natural resources which could be managed on a sustained basis to provide economic benefits to the local p eople (forestry, cattle production). Some of the islands have had rich mineral deposits, which, by their very nature, are not subject to sustainable methods of utilization (Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Banaba).

Notwithstanding the focus in this chapter, it should be noted that many of the issues and problems which are discussed here are found in the larger, metropolitan states and countries such as Hawai'i and New Zealand, where there are large populations of Pacific islanders. While the scale differs, the issues, particularly for the Maori and Hawaiian people, remain the same.

Sustainability in Prehistory

There are varying theories of the settlement patterns and lifestyles of the early Pacific islands inhabitants. Archaeological evidence indicates that some islands were once inhabited and then abandoned, either through death or by immigration. Even with few natural resources to draw upon, other islands were inhabited for centuries (Levin 1994) and were still occup ied when the first recorded visits by Europeans occurred. What made the difference?

Some islands were more blessed with natural resources than others. On some of the very small, low atolls, the line between life and death must have been very fine indeed. However, even on these islands, there was archaeological evidence of prehistoric settlements (including pavements and temples) indicating that people lived there for more than an occasional visit (Terrell, 1986). Reasons why these islands might have been abandoned as living places likely rest with scarcity of resources.

One of the limiting factors appears to have been the amount of rainfall on a particular islan d. (See Dodd 1983.) There can be long periods of time between rainy periods and early catchment systems may have been inadequate to see people through a drought. While some Pacific islands receive great amounts of rain, others can experience drought for months at a time (Oliver 1989).

Cultivated crops provided much of the daily sustenance. These crops included taro, yams, breadfruit, bananas, pandanus, cassava, sugarcane and sweet potatoes (Segal 1989; Pollock 1992), as well as rice in the Marianas. Even the low coral atolls supported an array of staple foods. Along with coconuts, islanders raised taro, breadfruit, and bananas in specially prepared planting sites (Hunter-Anderson 1996). In addition, islanders caught fish from the lagoon. On some islands, pigs and dogs wer e raised and eaten at special feasts. Where coconut palms existed, drinking water was available from the green nuts, and some islanders made a fermented drink from the sap of the palm.

Diseases or natural disasters which affected the food resources could destroy the population through starvation if there were not other islands to which the inhabitants could sail. The caste system on Yap, for example, reflects the social and economic relationships between the outer islanders of Yap (from islands such as Woleai and Ulithi) and the Yapese "main" islanders who gave shelter and food in times when the low outliers were unable to support their populations as a result of devastating storms (Hunter-Anderson 1996).

Early western visitors to the islands did not find people to be dying out as a result of malnutrition (Oliver 1989), suggesting that measures were taken to ensure that resources were marshaled in such a way as to be able to feed the extant population (Slatter 1994). These measures included such things as taboos on when certain crops could be harvested and by whom, when particular fish were to be caught, and where and when they were off-limits due to the need to replenish the species during the spawning season (Brower 1983; Levin 1994). In many islands there was also a strong lagoon and reef tenure system which ensured that the owners managed the fishery resource to provide a continuing supply of food (Johannes 1981; Liew 1990). The villages were self-sustaining, having access to natural resources that supplied their food, housing, clothing , medicines, and means of transportation (Hunter-Anderson 1996).

Possibly as a result of this husbanding of the local natural resources, small islands were able to support populations which seem very large for the size of the land mass on which they lived (Helu-Thaman 1994). Archaeologists estimate that Yap, an island in Microne sia of 39 square miles (100.2 sq. km.), may have supported a population as large as 50,000 people on its main island (Labby 1976). That compares with a current population on Yap proper of about 7,500 people (Yap State Office of the Governor 1994).

However, recent research is accumulating increasing evidence of environmental impact by prec ontact populations (Kirch 1997a). Archaeological and palynological work in Mangaia, Tikopia, and other islands have demonstated a widespread pattern of forest conversion to grasslands and fernlands, to the point that agriculture became limited to relatively small lowland areas where sediment had accumulated. On Mangaia (along with deforestation and exotic introductions), there were extinctions of 16 bird species, declines in fruit bats and other forest species, and increased consumption of rats and human flesh, mostly in upper archaeological strata (Kirch 1997b). On Easter Island (Figure 34.1), complete destruction of the forest resource has been linked to warfare, famine, and a population "crash" (Bahn and Flenley 1992).

Environmental impact was not l imited to the smallest islands. In Hawaii, Polynesian settlement resulted in forest destruction, elevated erosion rates, and extinctions of birds and other forest dependent fauna. In the case of birds, this actually exceeded historically documented postcontact extinctions. In New Zealand, precontact populations worked natural resources "to the edge of viability and beyond" through deforestation; soil erosion; avifaunal extinctions (including all moa species); and overexploitation of marine life; and by the 15th century, northern New Zealand came to be dotted with fortifications, a likely consequence of the increasing pressure on resources (Anderson and McGlone 1992). On New Guinea, impact included conversion of forests to grasslands (especially in the highlands) and extinctions of marsupial megafauna (Kirch 1997).

The Impact of European Contact

Pacific islanders had been living on their islands for extended periods of time, in some cases over several thousand years, before the "discovery" of their islands by western explorers. The earliest European contact with P acific islanders occurred between Magellan and the people of southern Guam in 1521 (Hezel 1983). After replenishing their boats with desperately needed food and water, and killing some Guamanians in the process, the Spanish fleet sailed away, only to be followed in later years by successive waves of explorers, whalers, missionaries and colonizing nations.

In the south Pacific, the French and British vied for various islands in the region, with England successfully acquiring Australia and New Zealand, and the French settling for parts of Polynesia and Melanesia. What did these people bring to the islanders who greeted them with varying degrees of welcome or hostility?

In the late 1700s, efforts were made to establish Catholic missions in the western Caroline islands (Hezel and Berg 1980). Similar missionary efforts took place at about this same time in parts of the south Pacific by the London Missionary Society (Dodd 1983).

The missionaries did not support traditional practices of the people whom they came to heal and convert. It was felt that the native people of the islands were lacking in "civilization" and were greatly in need of the teachings offered by the missionaries (Ellis 1833). Not only was the spiritual dimension fair game for the missionaries, but other aspects of the culture were modified as well (Shouksmith 1993). After experiencing a cyclone in Rarotonga, a missionary writes that "it became an earnest ... ai m of the missionary to import such kinds of food as wind and wave could not so easily destroy" and to build houses which would not be so subject to destruction from storms (Sunderland and Buzacott 1866). A common pattern among the missionaries was to prohibit the continuation of some traditional practices, particularly clothing or lack of it (Ravuvu 1988), dances, and story-telling which seemed unchristian in the eyes of the missionaries. In so doi ng, the missionaries systematically devalued the traditional patterns of island living, and began the process of substituting imported customs and goods which continues to this day.

In the early 1800s, traders came to the islands seeking such things as sandalwood, sea cucumbers, and pearls (see, e.g., Rapaport 1995). In Fiji, for example, a profitable trade in sandalwood developed through the first Europeans to visit the islands. In only ten years, the supply of trees had been exhausted and the sandalwood trade ended (Derrick 1951). The islanders had received trade goods in return: glass beads, iron, adzes, cloth, and pots. While the monetary value of the trade was very unequal, the contact was even more harmful in terms of the threat to the survival of island communities and their culture and lifestyle (Campbell 1989). Most distressing, during this early contact period many villages were decimated by the introduction of diseases brought by the foreigners: cholera in some cases and dysentery in others (Gravelle 1979).

As a result of the importation of diseases by outsiders who visited the islands, some local populations were put at risk of survival. In Micronesia, for example, the island of Kosrae was not visited by westerners until the French ship, Coquille, put officers ashore in 1824. At the time of the first visits to the islands, the population was estimated to be around 3,000, although the early visitors report that the women were generally hidden away from the visitors, so these reports may have been underestimates. It was als o noted that Kosrae contained several villages not currently occupied, which may have indicated a decline in population prior to the advent of the visitors. Whalers and traders followed the first explorers who visited Kosrae and by the early 1890's, largely as a result of introduced diseases, the Kosraean population was down to less than 300 (Segal 1989).

The lessons taught by the missionaries and traders throughout the Pacific were important precursors of a dependence which was to intensify over time. From the missionaries, the islanders learned that their traditional lifestyles and beliefs were not acceptable. In some cases, even the language was forbidden to be spoken in places such as the mission schools. From the traders, local people observed the extirpation of entire resources which had formerly been carefully husbanded. The methods of conservation which had sustained the islanders through generations were obliterated within a few short years in the haste to remove natural resources and sell them to waiting markets. While the island people often did not directly participate in the trade, nor did they always benefit from it, they observed the annihilation of species as a practice of "more civilized" peoples.

While the early missionaries, traders and whalers were essentially "free agents" in that they were not operating on behalf of any government, they were followed in many cases by representatives of national governments which had an interest in developing the islands for their own purposes. England and France were active in the south Pacific, developing plantations for sugar and coconuts, the United States established a coaling station in Samoa, the Japanese established outposts in Micronesia for purposes of growing food supplies needed on their crowded islands. Great Britain annexed Fiji at the request of one of the native rulers who feared he would be unable to keep the country united.

Most of the colonial nations were content with exploiting the natural resources, many of which were not currently utilized by the local people. Such things as minerals, guano and sandalwood had not been of particular use to the islanders (Campbell 1989). Nor could they harvest the resources from the ocean to the degree practiced by the colonials. The use of land, however, was a different picture, and the usu rpation of land created dislocations for which resolution is still being sought in the courts.

Japan, unlike the western colonial nations, came to see Micronesia as a permanent part of its realm, providing both a relief valve for crowding in their own islands, and a source of food and fisheries to feed their population. As the Japanese government encouraged colonization of the islands, eventually the Micronesians were outnumbered on their own islands. For example, in Saipan in the mid-1930's, there were 3,000 Chamorros and Carolinians and more than 20,000 Japanese (Peattie 1988). While Saipan was the most highly impacted by the Japanese flood of immigrants, throughout Micronesia there were Japanese families settled in the islands, and by 1938, over 50% of Palau's population was Japanese (Peattie 1988).

Some of the ruling foreign nations were less than benign in their treatment of the local people. In Kosrae, for example, as World War II intensified in the Pacific, the Japanese forced the Kosraeans to move to the interior of the island and engaged the men in digging caves and fortifications for use i n the event of an invasion of the island by the US (Segal 1989; see also Peattie 1989). This act separated families and more importantly, removed people from their traditional lands and access to the reefs on which they depended for their food.

As people moved from their traditional homesites into the administrative centers of t heir islands, either by their own desire or under edict of the ruling government, they became estranged from their land and traditional fishing patterns. Subsistence agriculture suffered from the migration; fewer farmers grew fewer crops, and traditional methods of irrigating and storing crops were lost (Campbell 1989).

As they mo ved into urban settings, islanders were exposed to an ever-widening array of goods, including food, which were being imported to the islands to satisfy the needs of the expatriate communities (Pollock 1992). Even on remote atolls, imported foods were introduced (Levin 1994). Demand for these goods of modern life created a need for cash, which could be obtained by selling some of their own foodstuffs if the family was still working their traditional lands, selling or leasing their land, or getting a job. The long-range effect of these cash-economy activities was to erode the traditional patterns of sharing found in most of the islands (Ravuvu 1988). Status in many of these societies depended on the ability to distribute property, as opposed to accumulating it. Such accumulation had no effect on status, until the impact of western cultures began to alter these traditional patterns, t hus interfering with the social structure of the community (Johannes 1981).

During the colonial era in the islands, the sought-after jobs were those with the government, because they paid a cash wage. The example of Kosrae, in Micronesia, illustrates the role of the government in providing employment in the islands. On Kosrae in 1 975, of a resident population of 4,200, the Trust Territory administration employed 291 on a year-round, full-time basis, with an average salary of $3,100 (Peoples 1985). In 1994, the public sector employment in Kosrae reached 67% of the total formal sector employment (FSM 1995).

The desire to have a paying job created a demand fo r an education system which is relevant to the types of job skills needed for employment in the government sector. According to Ravuvu (1988), "Formal education has . . . become dysfunctional; often the skills and knowledge acquired have little relevance to life in the villages." (See Helu-Thaman 1994). Performance on standardized examinations, which determines employability after leaving school, has become the driving force for most of the educati on in countries such as Fiji in the south Pacific (Ravuvu 1988). Further, the values and mannerisms taught in the schools were often contradictory to the traditional values and patterns of the people. The emergence of centralized school systems undermined the role of traditional teachers in the villages. The formal schools also taught subjects which were basically irrelevant to the local situation -- the history and geography of the US or the Briti sh Empire, for example (Ravuvu 1988).

In the Japanese era in Micronesia, over half the school day was devoted to teaching Japanese, with an emphasis on Japanese "moral education" including loyalty to the Japanese empire. Students were not allowed to speak their own languages, and no time was devoted to the local culture, history or traditions (Peattie 1988; see also Ravuvu 1988). School systems developed by the Japanese that had originally been intended to educate the islanders to the Japanese way of life were gradually converted to systems which provided a traditional Japanese education to the children of the expatriate families living in the islands. The island children were given a minimum level of education (usually three grades), conducted in Japanese, which they could not adequately learn in such a short time, and then returned to their communities (Peattie 1988).

Issues of land tenure which plague many islands to this day have their seeds in the colonial administrations. After 1918, Japan undertook land surveys throughout the islands they administered in Micronesia. They designate d land that was not "in use" as government land (Segal 1989). To the non-island eye, much of the land may have appeared unused, however, it was known to local people to be land of a particular clan or family, and was often part of the extended farming system of the family. Even today, the problems created by this early dispossession of land are keeping the courts tied up resolving land tenure disputes.

The development of bureaucracies fit in nicely with the increasing interest in obtaining government jobs in order to have a regular cash income. Traditional decision-making and leadership systems stemmed from such things as ascribed status in the village, age, marital status and lineage (Coyne 1992). In bureaucracies, status is generally accorded by seniority and rank withi n the system. The government bureaucracy on many islands became the decision-making entity for the island, usurping the role of the traditional leaders. This fact led further to the decline of traditional practices and problem-solving mechanisms.

Even the diets of islanders were impacted by the colonial powers. Following the imp acts on consumption begun by the missionaries, the later "dietary colonialism" frequently stemmed from programs in home economics sponsored by government community or health departments. These programs were based on western tastes and foods, and further denigrated the importance of local Pacific islands foods and eating patterns. Islanders developed high incidences of diet-linked diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, alcoholism, and malnutrition (Schoeffel 1992).

Just as the earlier importation of goods and education programs influenced the desires of the local people, the development of mass communication systems such as television spurred the creation of desires that could be satisfied only by increased importation, or emigration from the island community to the land where the advertisements originated. Additionally, the US or Australian advertisements frequently offered images which were the height of cultural insensitivity and which ultimately served to break down the traditional values and practices (Kabutaulaka 1995; O'Rourke 1982).

In sum, the impacts of European contact on the sustainability of the islands was resoundingly negative. Islanders moved from self-sufficient, interdependent communities into urbanized areas, where they were dependent on wage-paying jobs to provide their sustenance. Imported foods, materials and consumer goods became "necessities" for the islanders, and they needed jobs to pay for these things. Traditional values were negated, and in their place the values of the colonials were implanted. Commu nities and governments became dependent upon funds brought into the islands through aid, remittances from relatives living abroad, and the exploitation of existing natural resources. The few people who remained self-sufficient in their lifestyle often were regarded as failures (Ravuvu 1988). From the perspective that these were societies very much in transition, the trend toward independence seemed a risky step, yet that was the next move for many of the islands.

Sustainability Today

Most of the island groups are now independent countries, free to chart their own course in the world. But the effects of the colonial era linger and have left countries which, in many cases, are heavily dependent upon outside funding sources for their continued survival (Ward 1993). Illustrative of this situation is the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), a country composed of four states (Yap, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk) which were part of the former Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. Affiliated with the US through a Compact of Free Association, by 2001, the FSM (1994 population of 105,506), will have received a total of US $907 million over the 15-year period of the original Compact (Federated States of Micronesia 1995). In addition, aid funds in the form of grants and loans have also been received from other countries such as Australia and Japan, and from regional development organizations such as the Asian Development Bank.

Many Pacific island countries are models of the MIRAB form of economies: they survive through migration, remittances from relatives abroad, aid from other countries and development organizations which sustain their overlarge bureaucracies (Connell 1991). There is debate over whether, in the long run, these economies can be sustained, as they are overly dependent on outside financial resources, tend to foster an excessively large public sector and have paid little attention to issues of self-sufficiency for the people who remain on the island. See, for example, the discussion in Brown, 1992.

The vulnerability of these small islands to schemes proposed by other nations is also alarming. For example, there have been a number of propos als for specific Pacific islands to become nuclear waste disposal sites (MIJ 1990, 21; 1994, 1, 4), or to become the repository of garbage exported from metropolitan areas (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1989, A-1, A-6; Oregonian, 1990, A10). Under pressure to show economic growth, some island governments are seriously considering accepting these schemes even though the ecological and socio-cultural impacts are not fully known.

Threats to the future viability of the islands also come in the form of proposals for golf courses and large resorts. For example, an agreement was signed in 1996 between the government of the Marshall Islands and a Korean investment group for a major resort on the island of Mili. Plans include casinos, hotels and condominiums, shops, golf cou rses, and, not incidentally, the relocation of the current Marshallese residents to other islands (MIJ 1996b, 1, 16). Proposals such as these often utilize the best agricultural land, and would bring few, if any, benefits to the islanders. Typically, these proposals are developed by foreign interests who sell packaged tours to people who would come for the golf, sunshine, beaches and fancy hotels that accompany the golf courses. In 1993, the Japane se Ocean Development Company proposed a resort for Palau that would cover 435 acres, with a 680-room Mediterranean-style hotel, two 12-story towers, a 150-room complex for the employees and their families, parks, apartments, a marina capable of holding 600 boats, a nightclub, cultural center, casino, restaurants, and dive facility (Micronesian Investment Quarterly 1993).

Large tourist resorts of this type already exist in places such as Saipan in the Northern Marianas, and in Guam. The typical scenario is for plane-loads of Japanese tourists to visit these resorts, paying for their trip in Japan. The foods, building materials, and supplies that are used in the resorts are imported from Japan, and the labor is most often imported from outside of the region. The small amount of money that flows into the local economy stems from leases on the land for the resort, the sale of handicrafts and trinkets to the tourists, and a few jobs in the lower echelons of the enterprise that are held by local people.

This large-scale tourism is not the stuff of successful economic (or sustainable) development for the islands. Not only does this kind of development fail to bring reasonable sums of money into the local economy, but it challenges the possibility of locally sustainable living by utilizing available agricultural land for tourism properties. Subsistence agriculture is still very important in most of the Pacific island countries, and is an efficient part of the economy (Asian Development Bank 1995), so it is critical to support efforts to continue th ese traditional practices.

It is highly questionable whether the small islands in the Pacific will ever become "developed" in the western sense. That is, they will likely not be able to be a part of the larger world economy, or to do so on their own terms, without outside economic support.

Most of the smaller island nations simply do not have what it takes to become equal players on the world's economic stage. The distance from markets, expensive transportation, limited natural resources, fragile ecological systems, lack of skilled work force, exposure to devastating natural hazards, dependence on outside funding sources and institutions, highly politicize d and sometimes unstable environments all counteract economic development in the traditional western sense (Connell 1991; ADB 1995). Furthermore, efforts to conform to the western model of development have resulted in an unequal distribution of resources and benefits, destruction of peoples' ability to pursue a self-sufficient lifestyle, environmental degradation, and a focus on economic support not for local people but for business and industry wh ich brings in little more than marginal benefits locally (Griffen 1994).

Environmental degradation includes deforestation, soil erosion, and extinctions; as well as a variety of new problems. Land, fresh water, and reefs have been polluted by mining wastes and nuclear testing (rendering several islands uninhabitable into the distant future), runoff of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers (which result in eutrophication), urban and industrial wastes, and oil spills. Deforestation has extended to previously intact upland ecosystems. Exploitation and extinction of marine resources has been severe in both sessile species (such as clams and pearl oysters) and mobile long-lived species (such as turtles, whales, deep-water snappers and continental shelf fishes). The g lobal phenomenon of sea level rise is especially worrisome on coral atolls (Dahl and Baumgart 1983, Brodie et al. 1990).

The destruction of self-sufficiency among the local people generally is often not taken into account in the economics of the decision-makers. A study of logging activities on the island of Choiseul, Solomon Islands is i nstructive in this regard. The villagers of Kuku received some timber royalties, but lost their ability to continue their self-sufficient life-styles. Prior to the logging, the forests provided shelter for gardens, food gathering opportunities, firewood production, housing materials, traditional medicines and miscellaneous products such as hunting equipment made from bush materials. The logging royalties, a one-time payment, amounted to $18,162 for Kuku village. The net loss due to the destruction of their traditional forest activities, sustained over time, was determined to be $158,451. Logging royalties, were no substitute for the losses in subsistence production from the rain forest, shown in Table 34.1 (Cassells 1993.)

Since the "western model" seems unlikely to provide the answers for the small Pacific nations, it is important to look at other options for the futures of these islands. These are not options which have been given much credence by the metropolitan countries of the world, in part because the scale must be so small to work in the islands (Fairbairn-Dunlop 1994). However, as pointed out in the introduction to this chapter, these are options that, in the future, may become of greater importan ce even to the large, developed countries of the world.

The Future

The western models of development have not worked well for the island microstates. Measuring per capita income growth is not necessarily the most useful means of determining the level of "development" of the islands, and to require such "growth" puts pressure on the countries to engage in activities and practices which are not in accord with the realities of their islands. Large-scale growth and development will ultimately destroy the resource base of the islands and engender permanent states of dependency on outside aid in order for families to continue to live o n the islands.

Rather than quickly embracing schemes for development which come from outside the island communities, islanders would be well advised to be cautious about such proposals, and to determine the cultural, environmental and social impacts likely to accompany plans for development (Ravuvu 1988).

In reality, there is limited development potential for these islands; and it is at a scale not consistent with the plans and proposals which have been made for large-scale development, whether for tuna canneries, golf courses and resorts, or garbage dumps. More environmentally and socially reasonable efforts at development are needed, which will enable islander s to continue to participate, albeit at a reduced level, in the cash economy. Focus is needed on the development and support of small businesses which are locally owned and controlled, including such activities as small-scale ecotourism resorts, and food production in the form of mixed or truck gardens. In addition, the human resources of the island may provide a form of sustainability through the continuation of remittances from members who have m oved to metropolitan countries.

According to Connell (1991), "tourism constitutes perhaps the only economic sector where there are genuine comparative advantages for island microstates: clean beaches, unpolluted waters, warm weather, and . . . distinctive cultures." Without care, those advantages will be lost through over-develo pment, as we are beginning to see in places such as Guam and Saipan. Rather than seeking to increase the numbers of tourists visiting an island each year, which is the typical measure of economic growth, it may be necessary to reduce the numbers of such visitors in order to conserve the quality of the experience, preserve the natural resource base, and increase the value of the enterprise to the local communities (Oelrichs 1992). Carefully designed and managed, such tourism can reflect local values rather than mimicking tourist development from other locations.

Guam provides instructive examples of the impacts of rapid growth, largely connected to seemingly uncontrolled tourism development. Sedimentation from runoff associated with soil disturbances from building has affe cted up to 70% of the reef in certain bays; as a result, some reefs have lost 90-95% of their coral habitats in the last several years (Technical Report 1993). In the Tumon-Tamuning tourist area, overloaded sewage systems periodically discharge untreated or poorly treated wastes onto streets and into coastal waters (ibid., 97). Freshwater resources on Guam are provided by aquifers which are recharged by rainfall. As more construction occurs, fewer areas remain to serve as recharge for the aquifers. Further, irrigation of the currently existing seven golf courses uses 1/5 - 1/10 of the island's water supply; proposals to build 22 more golf courses have been approved (Roos 1993). In addition to tourist-related landscape use, tourists also consume more water (450 gallons per day per room) than the average resident, putting stress on the limited freshwater resource (ibid., 17). Finally, tourists create additional demands for expensive electrical power, add to the wastewater load, and generate solid waste at the rate of four pounds per day (Technical Report 1993).

Throughout the Pacific islands, food production activities (agriculture and fishing) continue to employ the greatest percentage of the labor force, either in co mmercial efforts, or more commonly, in self-sufficient endeavors (Ward 1993; FSM 1995). In Western Samoa, 60% of the total agricultural production is subsistence, and in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, the figure is about 75% (Ward 1993; Wiseman 1993). Even a country like the FSM, which has been inundated by large amounts of US aid for several decades, continues to rely on its traditional subsistence sector. In 1995, 21% of the gross domestic product was produced by non-market production (FSM 1995). At the same time, in a country such as the Marshall Islands, where 99% of the green vegetables are imported in cans (Micronesian Investment Quarterly 1994), there is a need to replant the traditional crops that have been displaced by the ready availability of imported (and expensive) canned goods. Agriculture is the sector "upon which sound economic development and economic in dependence will continue to be based" (Siwatibau 1991).

The benefits of a traditional diet have been reported recently. Longitudinal studies of the health effects of the traditional Hawaiian diet on a group of people studied by Dr. Terry Shintani of the Wai'anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center have demonstrated the ameliorative effects on cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood pressure and weight control. The diet consists of starchy foods such as taro, sweet potato, poi, breadfruit, and fish, fruits and vegetables, with very little meat, sweets or salt (Van Slot 1997).

Families need to be supported in their efforts to continue or return to their mixed crop farming activities in order to maintain a diet rich in the starches, vegetables and fruits which nourished their ancestors (FSM 1995). In addition, traditional farming practices can provide a small, steady income for those who continue to plant and harvest traditional crops. For example, a woman working in her Yapese mixed garden can earn $8 for a day's work if she sells the surplus produce not needed by her family. With a job in the garment factory, at 80 an hour, she earns less in a day, and has not produced food for her family (Falanruw 1996).

In addition to substituting local foods for imports, there are other efforts which can enhance the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the islands. In Vanuatu, for example, there is growing recognition that imported out board motor systems are too costly to buy and maintain. The response has been a reintroduction of the traditional outrigger paddling canoe which is now being rigged for sailing so it can be used in self-sufficient fishing endeavors (MIJ 1996a).

Schemes to encourage commercial agriculture production though monoculture also threat en the island environment. Such efforts require large-scale land clearing, and use of pesticides and fertilizers which are not involved in the mixed farming methods traditionally practiced (James 1993). The results of such efforts are loss of important trees, erosion, siltation of the lagoon, and depletion of soil (Falanruw 1994). The Tonga "squash boom" is a case in point. Extensive cultivation for export to Japan has led to land degradation due to the fertilizers and pesticides used in the commercial process. Once the land has been used for squash, it must be left fallow for the following year. Monocrop farming has reduced land available for family food production, removing farmers from subsistence and small cash crop farming activities into a reliance on an external market (Tongamoa 1997).

Some commercial planting schemes are not well-founded, and the resulting failures can be costly to the island governments both in terms of subsidies and loss of confidence among the disillusioned farmers (Ravuvu 1988). Tonga provides another example: the promotion by the government and external aid agencies of coffee plantations. The purpose of the program was to provide income for local farmers. Coffee faces a diffi cult market, in direct competition with experienced South American growers and distributors. When the coffee didn't sell well on the international market, there was no local market to fall back upon, unlike the situation with pineapples or bananas. Eventually the farmers abandoned the coffee plantations (Tongamoa 1997).

Much of th e focus on fisheries has been on the pelagic species, for which many of the island nations have sold fishing rights to industrialized nations equipped with the necessary capital to harvest these fish (Slatter 1994). As a form of income generation for the island nations, access fees paid be various nations differ dramatically. World Bank staff have identified a range from 10 percent of the value of the catch (paid by the US) to 2.2 percent (paid by Korea), with an average of 4.4 percent (World Bank 1996). The present system of off-shore fisheries management, which is difficult to monitor and enforce, "encourages overexploitation" (idem).

For self-sufficiency purposes, attention needs to be paid to the coastal fish resources, from which most households can derive an important source of protein. These are the fisheries for which traditional management systems were in place in the past, and where women have had a particularly important role in the harvest of non-fish seafood (Bidesi 1994).

Travelers in the Pacific note the continuous flow of exchanges between member of families and clans livin g in the islands and those who have migrated to metropolitan countries. This occurs in the form of people moving back and forth, maintaining important familial linkages, and in the forms of commodities and cash. The commodities are found in the ubiquitous cooler chests of food moving from the islands to relatives in places where "local" foods are not available, and in the cartons of consumer goods that are brought to the islands by returning family members. In addition, there is movement of cash into the islands for a variety of purposes.

The traditional obligations of families and clans included the exchange responsibilities, and these are kept alive even across distances. When a family member migrates to a metropolitan country, there is often a specific purpose for doing so -- to obtain an education, and get a job which will provide cash for the family. Often this cash is to help educate younger siblings, or to build a house for the parents. As the younger family members receive an education, and are employable, they will replace the earlier migrant, who is then free to return to the island home. Through this revolving system, the remittance exchange is actually more sustainable than would be expected in social sys tems without strong family responsibility components (Tongamoa 1997). See also Bertram 1993.

The choice of technology to be utilized in the islands is another facet of sustainability. "Appropriate" technology is that which is relatively simple to maintain, requires few outside inputs, and ideally can be created from locally available mate rials. Dependence on inappropriate technology can lead to exploitation of nature resources to maintain the technology. Liew (1990) cites the example of diesel-fueled generators to provide electricity for remote atolls in Kiribati and Tokelau. This has created a need for cash income in the households to pay for the electricity, and for cash revenues for the government to pay for the fuel. The cash is derived through sale of limited natural resources.

In the education sector, attention needs to be paid to providing an education which incorporates traditional information and skills, as well as those needed to succeed in the changing world. While preparation for tertiary education may be appropriate for some children, not all will benefit from this emphasis, and the curriculum should provide "tracks" for learners who will provide the work force for the islands. Many skills are in short supply among islanders, and a strong vocational program of study can begin to meet these needs. The influx of "foreign" workers in professional, managerial and administrative roles is a result of the lack of islanders with these skills (Gannicott 1993). In some countries, in spite of policies of universal education, the reality is that many children are not schooled, due to lack of resources. Youth and young adults who have not obtained a primary education need to be provided with general and nonformal education (Rofeta 1993).

The benefits of a movement to self-sufficiency and sustainability will reach beyond the obvious ones of increasing food securi ty in the islands and maintaining viable ocean resources. Involving local communities in the planning and implementation of measures to accomplish sustainability will strengthen these communities and their roles in the life of the islands (Helu-Thaman 1992). Whether through usurpation by governing bodies or lack of awareness of gradual shifts in power from the people, many decisions that used to be made at the village level are now centralized. In addition to the alienation caused by such power shifts, important cultural roles and benefits have been lost or muted. As communities are reintegrated into the decision-making process for their futures, there can occur a revitalization of the cultural attributes which are now in danger of being lost (FSM 1995).

In the past, environmental awareness, self-sufficiency and sustainability were central to the lifestyles of the people who first settled the Pacific islands (Helu-Thaman 1993; Clarke, 1990). Some of this knowledge remains, and traditional behavior is still practiced in places throughout the Pacific. Reinforcement and wider reintroduction of these remnants of sustainable living can benefit not only the islands, but can also serve as a mod el of conscious living within the limits of our resources for people in communities around the world.


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FSM Proceedings of the First Federated States of Micronesia Economic Summit

MIJ Marshall Islands Journal

Table 34.1 Estimated annual value of forest produce per household in Choiseul, Solomon Islands; values are in Solmon Islands dollars, determined on the basis of surrogate pricing (see Cassells 1992 for details)


Value per year

Garden SI


Nut and fruit trees


Other forest food








Miscellaneous forest produce


Custom medicine


Total SI


List of Figures

Figure 34.1. Population growth, overexploitation of resources, and population decline on Easter Island (after Bahn and Flenley 1992)


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