Land payment programme to benefit communities
A new service offering farmers payments for managing their land in environmentally friendly ways is a chance to protect nature and build income streams for farmers, officials say.
Payments for ecosystem services (P.E.S.) are incentives offered to farmers or landowners.
The programme is part of the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund’s Vaisigano Catchment Project (G.C.F-V.C.P).
It was first designed as an innovative means of generating income for communities more than two years ago. But the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (A.C.E.O) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s (M.N.R.E) Environment Sector, France Reupena, said the project will enter the pilot phase.
She said the multi-sectoral project managed by the Ministry of Finance (M.O.F) and implemented by agencies such as the M.N.R.E; the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I); and Land Transport Authority (L.T.A).
While those agencies will have charge of infrastructure while the Ministry of Health (M.O.H) in terms of health surveillance.
“[We hope] to pilot P.E.S in Samoa for the first time as an innovative way of conserving and protecting our forests to enhance ecosystem services such as - water quality, flood risk regulation, climate regulation, habitat for wildlife and tourism and recreation while providing income-generating opportunities for the communities,” she said.
Mrs. Reupena said they are working closely with key partners across the Government, private sector, civil society and communities for the programme pilot.
The Vice-President of the Samoa Conservation Society (S.C.S), James Atherton, told the Samoa Observer the feasibility of the idea has been explored since November 2016.
But the current P.E.S. project only began in May; it ends in March 2023.
“We are at the end of the first stage of a five-stage project. Next, we look in more detail at the feasibility of P.E.S. in the two project sites: Magiagi and Malololelei,” he said.
He further stated that the programme’s key aim is to achieve sustainable funding for ecosystem management, restoration and tree planting.
Earlier this year, Mr Atherton was interviewed about the benefits the community will obtain from the P.E.S programme. He said the project will look after forests and watershed areas in a sustainable way to enhance their “services”.
“These services include a wide range of things such as clean water, air, protection from cyclones, soil retention, carbon that is locked up in trees and not released into the air, opportunities for recreation and so on,” he said.
“The way P.E.S works is that the providers or landowners of [ecosystem services] receive payments [or economic incentives] from the beneficiaries or users of those services.
“The payments received are conditional on the continued maintenance of those services. The whole process is regulated and monitored carefully to ensure fairness and transparency for both the users and providers of the services.
“There are two main types of P.E.S. The first type is where the beneficiaries and users of the [ecosystem services] are locally-based companies or state-owned enterprises [such as the Electric Power Corporation] that might be interested in paying landowners to maintain healthy watersheds.
“The second type is where the buyers live overseas and [...] may be interested in buying what are called ‘carbon credits’ on the international carbon market.
“These generally are companies that want to “offset” or pay for their carbon emissions by paying for forests to be planted and/or protected and carbon to be “locked up in trees”. The global carbon offset market is worth around USD$600 million [a year].”
According to Mr. Atherton, carbon dioxide in the air from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal or gas or from burning land or cutting down the forest is the main cause of climate change so that the more carbon kept in the trees, ground or sea the better.
He further stated that trees absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of around 50 per cent and are so an efficient way to reduce carbon in the air. Protecting forests and not cutting down trees or planting trees and other plants, especially in degraded areas, has similarly beneficial effects.
“Let’s look at the Vaisigano catchment as an example,” Mr. Atherton said.
“The concept of P.E.S is that the landowners of the Vaisigano river catchment should be rewarded for doing a good job at maintaining or even enhancing the services that the Vaisigano catchment provides in terms of clean water, air, safeguarded biodiversity, and forested slopes that hold soil and lock up carbon.
“What does this mean in a practical sense? It means that landowners can receive payments for either not logging the forest that could be used for agriculture, or for stabilising river banks and slopes by planting trees, or fencing cattle to keep them away from rivers or other activities that enhance the watershed.
“In Samoa M.N.R.E with the support of the N.G.O partners Live and Learn, Nakau, the Samoa Conservation Society and Ekos are currently implementing a pilot P.E.S project to look into the feasibility of PES in the Samoan context.”
He said the three-year project will investigate two sites, which are Magiagi and Malololelei for the financial, technical and social feasibility of the P.E.S.
“We will be consulting with site landowners to assess the suitability of sites for P.E.S, and working out what watershed management activities are needed in these sites,” he said.
“At the same time, we will be looking at governance issues related to how we best manage the project as well as investigating project certification options and how we can best market the project internationally and finally how we ensure fair and transparent distribution of payments and sustainably maintain the watershed areas.
“We hope and anticipate that our pilot will be a success so that we can expand it to other catchments and sites in Samoa and ensure a sustainable funding stream for ecosystem conservation and management in Samoa.”