The O le Siosiomaga Society is a local Western Samoa environmental NGO. They have instigated a number of community oriented projects in Western Samoa. Their newest and most interesting project is the "Uafato Conservation Area." The Society has a proposal before the Global Environment Facilityís South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme co-ordinated by SPREP.
Uafato is located on the Northeast coast of Upolu. The conservation area includes a virgin rainforest, the coastline, the coral reef and adjacent marine areas as well as the village itself.
The project has, from the start, worked with the commitment and management skills of the traditional landowners in partnership with the management and technical support of the Siosiomaga Society and the Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment. Local participatory planning and management is provided by the Uafato fono (village council). The fono appointed a conservation area coordinating committee to oversee the management of the site. The committee consists of the village pastor and local matai and representatives from village groups such as the faletua ma tausi (wives of matai), taulelea (untitled men), wives of taulelea and aualuma (unmarried women).
The fono is in the process of establishing the conservation area covering the village rainforests and adjacent marine areas. The management team, made up of villagers, the O le Siosiomaga Society, and government agencies will collect resource data and coordinate management policy to assure sustainability of the conservation area. This is still in the planning stage.
The village is at the head of a deep bay and is surrounded by steep mountains covered with primary rainforest. The rainforest was rated as a grade 1 priority site for conservation (Park et al 1992). It is one of the few places in Samoa where there is an intact band of rainforest from the sea to the interior and is thought to be one of the most viable areas in Samoa for conservation that will sustain the natural ecosystem in perpetuity along with the traditional forms of resource use.
The fono has already placed restrictions on access to the forest and sea and have banned the use of chemical pesticides, dynamite, and fish poisons. While the ban is effective in the forest and coastal area, fishers with boats from a neighboring village have violated the ban on fishing in the village conservation area and the fono has been unable to do anything about it.
The project is committed to assessing and monitoring biodiversity data and levels of village use of resources. The surveys and monitoring will be performed with the assistance of the DEC and consultants. The initial surveys will establish long term monitoring activities for key species and habitats.
Uafato was one of the original settlements, dating back 2,500 to 3,000 years ago (Green and Davidson 1981). The rugged topography has a strong scenic attraction but 90% of the village customary land is unsuitable for agriculture due to the steep slopes and poor soil.
The population of Uafato was 234 in 1991. This is divided into 17 extended families (aiga), some with 2 or 3 households. The population peaked at 287 in 1971 and then declined throughout the 1970ís and 1980ís due to out-migration. A household survey revealed each nuclear family had an average of 5 children living overseas. The village is typical of most Samoan villages. It is located on the coast with a central village green (malae) in front of the church. There is no store. Small plantations extend up the slope behind the village.
The village economy is subsistence based. Only 8 of 102 economically active people have a wage job and these work in Apia returning during weekends. The only economic activity is handcraft production including wooden carvings and woven items. 87% of respondents in a village survey reported income from handicrafts. Remittanes from family members overseas were another important source of money.
Farming is the most time consuming economic activity. 75% of the agricultural land is under coconut. Breadfruit, bananas and root crops are grown in small plots under shifting cultivation, often on steep land. Fallow periods are short (one to two years) due to the limited available land and rich soil.
Uafato is a traditional village governed by the matai system. The basic social unit is the extended family (aiga) headed by a matai or chief appointed by consensus of the family. The matai directs the use of family land and other assets, including labor.
The village matai make up the village council or fono. Under the Village Fono Act 1990, the fono has legal, judicial and executive powers. The fono has substantial influence on village life, regulating activities, mediating disputes, and passes rules, restrictions and enforcement of resource use.
The second major social institution is the church. About 80% attends the local Congregational Christian Church and a small number attends the Mormon church in a nearby village. The church is the focus of social and economic activities and the village pastor has considerable influence on village life. In Uafato, the village pastor is the focal point for the Conservation Area project.
Other village groups include the Womenís Committee and the Untitled Menís group, a wood carver association and a Christian Youth Group.
The decision making process is done by the men but the women play a strong role in village life. The Womenís Committee represents womenís rights to the village council and organizes community based activities including village hygiene, sanitation and beautification. Women participate in fishing activities by gleaning the reef at low tide, turning over rocks to find shells and other eatable invertebrates.
The Uafato bay is deep, with a narrow fringing reef extending less than 300 metros off the coast. The corals of the reef top were reportedly destroyed by Cyclone Ofa in 1990 and showed no signs of recovery in February 1997. The reef top is coral and basalt rubble and the beach in front of the village has experienced some coastal erosion since the Cyclone. Larger stones and coral fragments have a moderately well developed invertebrate fauna under them.
Corals on the upper reef slope were also destroyed but a 1995 community survey found coral cover returning (no survey was done immediately after the Cyclone to document destruction). The community survey found extensive development of tabulate Acropora hyacinthus on the southern reef slope and a wide variety of massive, branching and other corals on the western side of the bay (Siosiomaga 1996). The bay is an important big-eyed scad fishery (Stelar crumenopthalmus) and local fishermen say it is relatively unexploited.
There are two motorized, aluminum catamarans (alia), one supplied by the O le Siosiomaga Society and the other privately owned by the only full time commercial fisherman in the village.
Eighty Seven percent of respondents in a household survey said they regularly fished or collected marine creatures for food. Most of the fish is eaten by the family. 65% of households have a canoe (paopao). Most fishermen fish 3 to 4 times a week. 40% fish inside the reef, 30% on the reef, and 30% outside the reef. They use hand lines, nets and spears. Most fishing is done at night.
Fishermen noted that some species are rare, including giant clams, lobster, and turtles. 57% felt these species should be protected in some way. Fish consumption is estimated to be about 35 kg/person/year.
Uafato has a continuing relationship with the O le Siosiomaga Society in the development of a conservation area. The project officer lives in the village for a portion of each week and holds regular workshops on conservation topics. It is this intimate association that influenced the fono to agree on an extensive resource management scheme.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The nearest DAFF district office is at Taelefaga in Fagaloa. DAFF has agreed to assist the conservation effort by providing technical assistance and advice. The AusAid funded fisheries extension project will work with Uafato fishermen in management of the fisheries resources.
The Watershed Management Section of the Forestry Division will assist in propagation of indigenous trees for planting in watershed areas and will help develop a nursery and train villagers to run it.
The Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment (DLSE)
The Division of Environment and Conservation (DEC) manages national parks and reserves. It has conducted ecological surveys and provided environmental education activities for Uafato. It will continue to assist the village in setting up the conservation area, assessing and monitoring biodiversity, and providing amenities for tourists.
The Western Samoa Visitors Bureau (WSVB)
The WSVB promotes Western Samoa as a tourist destination and is helping develop ecotourism in Uafato and other places of special natural interest. There is already an Uafato rainforest tour and the WSVB will promote the area as a unique historical, cultural and environmental site.
Project training requirements:
Village personnel will require training in participatory project planning and management, biodiversity surveys, sustainable resource management and participatory monitoring and evaluation of ecosystems. In addition, the community requires educational materials on biodiversity conservation and the need for sustainable resource management.
Siosiomaga Society (1996) Uafato Conservation Area Project Western Samoa. Project preparation document to the South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme. 1996