|Moira Dasipio (Pic: Nature Conservancy)|
Katharine Gammon has written for Nature, Wired , Discover, and Popular Science. A new mom, she lives in Santa Monica. full bio
When mining and logging companies come to villages asking for resource rights, how can indigenous people make an informed decision?
A new program in the Solomon Islands is giving them a voice - and one local woman is making it her mission to change the way her people decide the future of their land.
Moira Dasipio, 55, lives and works in Isabel Province, the largest province in the country, where 70 languages are spoken and 40% of children don’t have access to a primary education. But when it comes to biodiversity, the Solomon Islands is a place that can’t be beat, with more than 100 species of coral in shimmering waters and endangered birds soaring over tropical forests.
Its wealth of environmental resources has made it popular with companies looking to expand mining and logging operations in the region, and local people have been known to sign away resource rights without truly understanding how their land will be used.
The macro-economy of the Solomon Islands is dominated by overseas aid and exports of products such as logs, tuna, gold, and palm oil, according to Robyn James, a project leader with The Nature Conservancy, which has been working with locals in the region since 2012.
While logging has been a significant component of foreign earnings in the past two decades, production rates in the past 10 years have grossly exceeded sustainable levels and are now at a crisis level.
Enter Dasipio, who leads Mothers’ Union, a Christian organization that supports health and education for young girls and women on the islands. As a mother and grandmother, Dasipio says that her life’s focus is on making sure the environment remains clean for future generations.
“We are working with communities to raise awareness so our people understand the effect of mining and logging and how [we can] protect our resources for years to come,” she says, speaking out of her office in Buala, the capital city of Isabel Province.
Dasipio has coordinated a group of local facilitators who take the message of conservation and information out to the villages. On the agenda right now is a potential nickel mine, and they have already reached approximately 3,000 people to discuss the project. For her efforts, she recently won the Coral Triangle Initiative award.
James says that she saw Dasipio’s passion shine through when working with her. “Moira is a very charismatic person; people are drawn to her when she talks,” she shares. In a culture that is male-dominated, Dasipio is powerful.
“Some women would never have the courage to stand up in front of male chiefs and have strong views about how women should be involved, but she does.”
Most of the land in the Solomon Islands is under a maze of chief and family tenure. In Isabel Province, land ownership is passed through the female line, which should make it easy for women to be involved in the planning process. But in reality, James says, that’s not how it works.
“Often men are very focused on the monetary benefits of exploiting your resources, whereas women are much more focused on what the long-term benefits are,” she explains. “Traditionally, they’re the main people who care for the children and grandchildren, so they’re more inclined to think about how to manage this for the long-term.”
James says that the decision-making process involves putting maps up on the wall and asking people to chart out where the best fishing is, where their cultural heritage sites are, and what their priorities are for the future. “It’s an amazing process, and Moira ensured that women’s voices were heard in the process.”
Last year, James took a group of Solomon Islanders to Australia to see a giant mining operation in person and to speak with indigenous Australians on how the mines have impacted their communities.
The trip also included some learning experiences, such as how to use an escalator. “All these things we take for granted, they had never seen before,” says James, “and then they are asked to make complex decisions about mining rights when they have no access to information.” She notes that the Solomon Islanders were shocked to see the size of a mine up close.
Dasipio is happy to have the successes of the past few years, but her work continues. “We are striving [for] ourselves, my women, and all people. We are all working together for a better future.”