Twelve undergraduate students from The University of Queensland (UQ) have come away with new learnings and life-changing experiences following their visit to the Babatana Rainforest Conservation Project on Choiseul Island last month.Over two weeks, the students witnessed successful local efforts to preserve rainforests, enhance local livelihoods, and link with the global carbon market through the Babatana project.
The visit was led by Professor Kristen Lyons and Dr Peter Walters from the School of Science at UQ, and supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs New Colombo Plan.
It was facilitated in close cooperation with the Solomon Islands-based Natural Resources Development Foundation (NRDF) and Nakau, both of which support Indigenous-led ecosystem protection and restoration programs.
“This trip has been over four years in the making … the onset of the Covid pandemic put everything on hold.” says Kristen Lyons from UQ.
She says once they could finally visit, she says students were keen to learn “about the challenges and opportunities in seeking to balance caring for tribal lands, people, environment and future generations.”
“I am so inspired by the dedication to showing the world what a socially responsible and ecologically sustainable future can look like,” she says.
The students are all from the Faculty of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences at UQ and were selected for their commitment to environmental conservation and a desire to experience a rich cultural exchange with an important regional neighbour.
“What you learn here you could never experience in the classroom,” said the students of the visit. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity and its definitely changed my life.”
After a few days in Honiara, hearing from Solomon Islands Government representatives and Nakau, a visit to the Solomon Islands National University and a memorable Solomon Islands Independence Day celebration, students set off for Choiseul. They were hosted by Fred Tabepuda from NRDF and Lindford Pitatamae, leader of the Sirebe Tribal Association — and made very welcome by the entire village of Sasamungga.
On Choiseul, students learned much from key stakeholders in the Babatana Rainforest Conservation Project including representatives from participating tribal associations, the provincial government and womens’ groups.
They travelled by boat with Sirebe Forest Rangers up the beautiful Kolambangara river to the Sirebe Protected Area Rainforest.
Students also had the opportunity to meet and interview leaders from the local hospital, schools and church to learn about important institutions in village life.
“Getting to meet all the wonderful people here, all the people on the carbon project, it’s been such a great opportunity to develop my skills as a social scientist,” says student Sarra Hodson.
It was inspiring to see that such a vast amount of rainforest could be conserved through dedication and perseverance,” adds student Trent Moses.One of the biggest takeaways for students was how carbon projects enable local communities to have global impact and develop sustainable livelihoods while holding onto local agency, values and cultural priorities.
One student, Zara Childs, said: “It was so impactful to learn how Indigenous knowledge plays a really important role in the way you relate to the land and one another.”
“This knowledge was seen in the way you traversed the streams and sea; to the way you sourced and prepared food – all crucial knowledge for your ongoing resilience in the context of a climate which is always changing,” she says.
The Sirebe Tribe is the first of four tribal groups in the Babatana Rainforest Conservation Project to complete a process to legislate primary rainforests as Protected Areas by the Solomon Islands Government.
This important milestone will protect customary forests from human induced environmental threats, primarily from commercial logging operations. Protected Area status will also allow these tribal groups to sell carbon credits through the global Plan Vivo certification body which specialises in sustainable livelihood development, protecting local ecologies against climate change and building local climate capacity and skills transfer.
The experience and knowledge of customary landowners participating in the Babatana project has become an inspiration for other communities and organisations wanting to embark on carbon projects and is a unique demonstration of what makes a good forest carbon project.
UQ Students were: Yi Hung Chen, Zara Childs, Leah Clayton, Josie Cook, Erinn Davenport, Rachel Donovan, Amber Edser, Sarra Hodson, Alycia Kawitzki, Willowbie Kingston-Trotter, Trent Moses, Elizabeth Nguyen