A unique feature of Papua New Guinea is the land tenure system - almost all the land is in customary ownership. In this situation landowners (who are typically families, extended families and clans) make the decisions on land-use and enforce them. Consequently, there is no chance of buying land or establishing large national parks, as is the conservation model in many countries.
As a result engagement with local communities is at the centre of everything WCS does within Papua New Guinea, and WCS PNG has a vibrant community engagement team which deals with these issues. All conservation projects being undertaken by WCS PNG are spear-headed by the community engagement team, who work on the ground to ensure that conservation initiatives and recommendations from the science and policy teams are implemented and with the support of local people. At the forefront of this work is the principal of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) and the community engagement team ensures that the FPIC process is conducted by local community facilitators at the beginning of every project. This process is to ensure that resources owners are aware of what is going on and understand the projects well before the start. This provides the opportunity for the landowners to take ownership of projects.
WCS PNG community engagement team works to ensure that we have a team of well-trained community workers – we would not send untrained biologists into the forest to do surveys, but conservation organisations often send untrained community workers into the far more complex world of community relations. WCS works to train local based Community Facilitators (CFs) to undertake the vital work of working with local communities, ensuring that community expectations match the outcomes that conservation projects can realistically deliver, and listening and learning what they are doing and explain what we are doing.
This process will help establish a mutual understanding of the process and of expected outcomes. These community facilitators are locals with some basic education up to secondary school level. Trained CFs are sent to the field with professional community engagement officers to work with the resources owners. In the field the community engagement team aims to strengthen local institutions that are involved with resource management. Successful resource management and conservation in PNG cannot ignore complex customary social groups and institutions, and construct artificial groups like committees that bundle many social groups together that do not have a history of cooperation.
To do this WCS identities the social scale local people work at and the existing social institutions at that scale. We then identify where institutions and traditional knowledge need support and work with landowners to find potential solutions to their own concerns over resource management. We can then use our science team to help them choose among possible solutions, and work to ensure that these solutions meet WCS’s conservation objectives and local people’s objective for continued access and use of natural resources.