Fellows from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu recently visited the Griffith Climate Change Response Program (GCCRP) for an Australia Awards Fellowship program focused on valuing culture and nature for sustainable natural resource management.
The program included lectures, tutorials and a series of site visits from the Gold Coast campus to the Lamington National Park, Australian National University, Cairns, traditional aboriginal homelands in Dimbulah-Wungu Country and to the Australian Museum in Sydney.
In Melanesia, natural resources and ecosystems are under increasing pressure from population growth, natural disasters and economic development needs.
The program addressed how natural resources can be appropriately managed in ways that reflect the underlying cultural values, connections to nature, and promote cost-effective, sustainable and just resource use and economic development.
“The Fellowship was a life changing experience for me,” said one of the fellows.
“Climate change affects all of the Pacific nations,” said Talei Kocovanua, Climate Change Project Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cooperation in Fiji.
“If I lose my land, I will lose my identity and I will lose my resources.”
Fellows were drawn from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), based in Vanuatu, and comprises Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste of New Caledonia.
The MSG covers 2000 islands and nine million people.
MSG Program Manager Stan Wapot said the program would help develop links between the MSG and Australia as well as among the members of the MSG through the Fellows themselves.
“I have learnt to see the value of my traditions and culture from the outside,” said Mike Waiwai, coordinator of the traditional knowledge project in Vanuatu.
“I am encouraged to preserve and promote my culture and to help develop policy that will protect my culture. I will apply the knowledge from the project to help develop ways to generate income to help preserve environment and culture.”
The similarities between the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and the Melanesian people had a strong impact on the Fellows, especially after their stay in the traditional aboriginal homelands in Dimbulah- Wungu Country.
“The Fellows will publish on sustainable natural resource management based on their learning during the Fellowship,” said Professor Brendan Mackey, GCCRP Director.
The Fellowship is funded through the Australia Awards Fellowships program, and administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It aims to build capacity and strengthen partnerships between Australian organisations and partner organisations in eligible developing countries in support of key development and foreign affairs priorities.
Project management is through Griffith International’s International Business Development Unit.