Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Field Project Assessment
Promotion of indigenous wise practices: food security, Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

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Figure 1: Traditional yam storage and display house, 
Kiriwina High School

Date of

Site visit: 24th-29th June 2003
Assessment completed: 20th January 2004

conducted by

Ms. Narumon H. Arunotai (not closely associated with the project); Mr. Hans D. Thulstrup (not closely associated with the project); Mr. Haraka Gaudi (not closely associated with the project); Mr. Linus digim’Rina (closely associated with the project)

Project and relevant documentation:
  1. Progress report on the food producing trees replanting project in the Trobriand Islands (August 2001)
  2. A draft report on the social profile survey of the Baruni Village, National Capital District, Papua New Guinea (October 2001) 
  3. 2001 CSI Progress Report II, Indigenous Knowledge Project, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea (February 2002)  
  4. Linus digim’Rina: Lecture to the Japanese Society for Oceanic Studies ‘Food Security through Traditions: replanting trees and wise practices’ (2003)  
  5. Burenhult, G. The Archaeology of the Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. British Archaeological Reports. International Series 1080 (2002). Website: www.archaeopress.com

Assessment team briefing by Mr. Linus digim’Rina on the Trobriand Islands, followed by discussion on the form and programme for the assessment. 

Visit to Okeboma and Oluvilei villages and surrounding forest, inspection of mango trees, other fruit producing trees and traditional agricultural practices. 

Inspection of the Okeboma coastline, primary site for coral harvesting in Kiriwina 

Community briefing and discussion with approximately 200 inhabitants from six villages in and near the project area 

Inspection of mangrove canal, inlet, and lagoon between west coast of Trobriand Island and Boymapou Island by traditional canoe.  This is an area of sea grass beds and a major fishing area for mud crabs, shellfish, shrimps, etc. 

Visit to Kiriwina High School to inform students about the project, the assessment mission, and other relevant issues.  Donation of UNESCO-CSI publications to the school library. 

Assessment team wrap-up meeting and discussion of main issues arising from the assessment.

  1. Most interaction with stakeholders in the project communities took place in the Kiriwila language. Exchanges between the community and the assessment team therefore took place for the most part through the project coordinator as interpreter. 
  2. Land transportation on the island is difficult due to road conditions and very limited availability of vehicles.  The assessment team was only able to visit the villages and sites where the project is under operation.

Field Project Assessment

The sixteen characteristics, used to define ‘wise practices’, are used here to assess this field project. A qualitative scale is used as follows:

None (0): The field project activities to date do not comply with this characteristic or the characteristic is not relevant.
Slightly (1-3): The field project activities to date have begun in some preliminary way to satisfy  this characteristic.
Partially (4-6): The field project activities to date have gone some significant way towards fulfilling this characteristic.
Fully (7-9): The field project activities to date have gone the full way to complying with this characteristic.  

The assessment is based only on the activities undertaken to date and does not include those planned for the future. However, a forward-looking section has been added to the discussion of each wise practice characteristic (WPC) in which future potential developments are discussed.

1) Have the project activities ensured long term benefit?  

Partially (5)

Background: A central objective of the project is the enhancement of community resilience to extreme climatic events (e.g. droughts) through the re-introduction of traditional fruit tree cultivation, in particular mango, breadfruit and chestnut. The project goals and ultimate benefits are thus inherently long-term. 

Assessment: Although the survival rate of the seeds is quite low (29.8% survived, see table below), the surviving mango trees are growing and will eventually mature and bear fruit. Thus, while a central long-term benefit of the project has yet to fully manifest itself, the mango planting activities have brought with them a growing interest among village communities in re-planting fruit-bearing trees, and in changing the general attitudes towards the care for fruit trees.  Observations were made of good practices such as tending the mango trees and keeping a clearing around the tree to facilitate growth.  This reflects a growing understanding among some key stakeholders of the long-term benefits of the projects.

Table 1. Summary of fruit tree survival and non-survival
Village Survived
# (%)
# (%)
Okeboma 151 (37) 258 (63) 409
Oluvilei 97 (35.5) 176 (64.5) 273
Okupukopu 116 (22.6) 397 (77.4) 513
Ilalima 48 (25.5) 140 (74.5) 188
Total 412 (29.8) 971 (70.2 ) 1383


Table 2. Summary of causes for non-survival of fruit trees

Causes for non-survival

Pigs Humans/fire Humans/cut-uproot Bad seeds Unspecified Grand total

number of trees affected

Okeboma ? 14 19 81 144 258
Oluvilei 6 0 14 24 132 176
Okupukopu ? 55 14 134 194 397
Ilalima ? 0 14 13 113 140
Total 6 69 61 252 583 971

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC: Tree planting could be extended to cover other traditionally cultivated fruit trees, beyond the current focus on mango. There is a need to ensure stronger cooperation and effort in the communities during periods when the project coordinator is not present. This could be achieved by building a project team based on the existing project assistants in each village.  It is also recommended that tree-planting activity be expanded to other villages not covered in the first phase of the project. However, project promotion and/or awareness programs become far more effective when one speaks with workable examples. Expansion will then be an inherent part of the overall plan, approximately 5-7 years from now, after the mango trees have borne fruits.  The fruits themselves will be the main drivers of the expansion program, while the people as planters and owners become mere facilitators.


 Figure 2: Project coordinator Dr. Linus digim'Rina with 
mango tree planted on communal village land

2) Do the project activities provide for capacity building and institutional strengthening?

Slightly (2)

Background: Project activities have focused firstly on community consultations carried out by the project coordinator, then on villagers engaging in tree planting activities and subsequent monitoring of tree growth.  Other parallel activities included the compilation of Trobriand local knowledge by Kiriwina High School students. 

Assessment: As the project remains very limited in scope and relies to a large extent on the personal actions of the project coordinator who is only present at the project site for a few weeks per year, a consistent capacity building effort among community stakeholders should be made along with the promotion of the communal sense of ownership towards the project.  The project was premised upon total control by and for the people.  At present, the project has been successful in raising awareness about the importance of planting fruit trees, however this should be seen as just the first step towards attaining community capacity in planning and acting for sustainability and food security for the entire island, especially for future generations.  

The project provided for capacity building for Kiriwina High School students who engaged in research on local knowledge, they were encouraged to think about and appreciate traditional practices which have been friendly to the environment.  

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC: Among activities planned for when the trees begin bearing fruits are workshops or training events for project assistants, high school teachers and students, relevant local, provincial and national government agents who might be recruited to participate or even implement some of the future project activities. This would help to strengthen the continuity and consistency of project activities. Findings from local knowledge research could be incorporated into classroom learning and other school activities, thereby enhancing local content in the curriculum.

3) Are the project activities sustainable? Partially (4)
Background:  The word sustainable here could be interpreted in three ways: (1) that the result of the project activities (tree planting) has been achieved and there are trees which will survive, strive, bear fruit and assure food security for villagers, (2) that the local people have changed their attitude towards planting fruit trees, and some are actually running the project activities themselves (by planting, caring for and encouraging others), as in their own ways as they stand to benefit in the long run, and (3) that the concept/strategies of the project will be sustained, transferred, and designed for wider dissemination (this third aspect will be discussed in the following WPC dealing with transferability).   

Assessment: It is clear that the project activities are sustainable insofar as helping to assure the food security goal and gradually changing local people’s attitudes towards planting and tending fruit trees (first and second interpretations).  There are some indications of success in the tree-planting project; for example, some mango trees are well taken care of by the growers.  As many villagers begin to see the benefit of having more fruit trees in their village, the spread of habitual saving and replanting seeds should continue and sustain itself in the future.  Consequently, these practices might not continue as elements of a project but as a generally applied food production practice.   

Other project activities, however, like the promotion of sustainable harvesting of mud crabs and corals (for lime-powder production) will require input from the project coordinator and his team of helpers in order to ensure sustainability.  

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  Stronger involvement and a certain level of commitment are needed from other stakeholders in order to make the project more sustainable.  There are several local stakeholders who could be effectively involved in the project, such as schoolteachers and students, church groups, etc.  There are also national and international level organizations, e.g. Conservation International based at Alotau and the Australian Maritime Studies Institute that could contribute to the project in the future.

4) Have the project activities been transferred?

Slightly (2)

Background: Mango tree planting activities have been undertaken in six villages, but  data on survival and growth exist in only four villages. About 80 villages all over the Trobriand Islands face the same problem of neglect of fruit tree planting by present generations. 

Assessment:  Although the initial activity has been limited to these 4-6 villages, there is a potential for transferring fruit tree planting to other villages on the islands when these note the success of the pilot villages, especially when the trees start to bear fruit.  Therefore, the activity may be transferred locally in the future, however, such transferability is not yet visible at this stage of the project. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  Other villages and the wider Trobriand Island community should be informed about the progress of the project activity.  Information dissemination and inter-village communication may encourage other villages to pick up this wise practice.  Kiriwina High School is the ideal place for information dissemination as the students come from villages all over the island.  Many students stay in the school dormitory during weekdays and return home during weekends.  They can act as agents for information and change for a more sustainable future.

5) Are the project activities interdisciplinary and intersectoral?

Slightly (3)

Background:  Since the project coordinator, Dr. Linus digim’Rina, is an indigenous Trobriands Islands anthropologist, the issue of cultural continuity and local knowledge is prominent in this project.   At the beginning of the project, the coordinator had a chance to discuss project activities with the staff of an AusAid-supported reforestation program, which has a local office in the Trobriand Islands.  This program was science-based and focused on reforestation by introducing nitrogen-fixing trees/plants. 

Assessment:  The project activity has integrated social science, biological science, and anthropology, especially in the issues of food security, environmental sustainability, and conservation of traditional wise practice. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  The project coordinator plans to involve other academic disciplines like geography and marine science from the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) in the next phase of the project, especially on mangrove and mud-crab conservation.  This will bring other perspectives and techniques (Geographical information systems, mapping, marine biological survey and baseline studies, etc.) into the project.  A major research project for Christmas 2003 is planned within the project area.  In addition, the future involvement of university students, community members, village elders, and church groups in the project will enhance these intersectoral aspects. 

6) Do the project activities incorporate participatory processes?

Partially (5)

Background:  The project activities were conceived and implemented through consultation with local residents in six villages.  Consultations were carried out through open village meetings, allowing all members of the community to take part. All key stakeholders have been informed and all gave their approval of the activities in the project.  

Assessment:  Although the activities in the project incorporate participatory processes, stakeholder participation remains at the level of being informed and consulted.  Helping to plant and take good care of fruit tree has not yet spread beyond the teams of project assistants established in each village.  The project coordinator, based on his past experience, has been cautious in his approach since mobilizing efforts will be far more effective if the project team moves with tangible examples of the concept i.e. trees bearing fruit.  

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  There is a strong potential for recruiting  villagers to implement project activities.  There are occasional intra-village and inter-village ceremonies and rituals (such as village feasts) that provide opportunities for  cooperation and commitment from villagers.  The project is planning to identify ways to mobilize villagers to actively participate and contribute to the activities, perhaps by building on existing social structure and cultural practices.

7) Do the project activities provide for consensus building?

Fully (7)

Background:  Before the outset of the project, the coordinator conducted consultations with villagers and received agreement on the implementation of activities.  The six villages showed willingness to support the project.  In the community briefing and discussion during this assessment, no villagers expressed any opposition to the activities, and all discussions took place against a background of general support for the tree-planting initiative.  Some villagers asked if there were any future plan to replace the non-productive mango seeds or future plans for related activities. Questions regarding the project – whether to plant trees on individually owned or communally owned land, how to share benefits, etc. – were raised by villagers. 

Assessment:  The project activities provide for consensus building, as villagers involved agree that planting fruit tree will eventually ensure food security for their community.  It is the project coordinator’s deliberate strategy to target mango trees in this project as the fruit is well-liked by villagers.  The trees and fruits are individually owned and shared amongst family members and friends, however, the spread of the fruits and seeds through sale and long established avenues such as ‘gift giving’ will spontaneously ‘share’ the wisdom well beyond the project site boundaries. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  There is potential for further consensus building and perhaps setting up a ‘multi-stakeholder or wise practice agreement’ regarding environmental conservation and ensuring sustainable harvesting of forest and marine products (for example, tree-friendly activities like replanting after cutting; showing respect to the trees and not using them as spear/machete practice targets, etc.).

8) Do the project activities include an effective and efficient communication process?

Slightly (2)

Background:  The project coordinator is based in Port Moresby and also carries the burden of teaching, researching, and (department) administration at UPNG.  A recent survey of mango trees growth and development was conducted by project assistants, and questionnaires were sent to Port Moresby by post.  The project coordinator generally visits the Trobriand Islands twice a year.

Assessment:  Due to the distance and difficult communication between the project coordinator and the project sites/assistants/villagers, regular contact and dialogue, including follow-up of project activities, are not always possible.  Communication is conducted mainly by letters sent through surface mail or by individual carrier. The project activities were in fact conceived around the background of such communication difficulties, that is, by leaving behind as many activities with the people on the ground which would ensure continuity of the project.  

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  There is a need for strong locally-based coordinators or assistants who are able to act on behalf of the project coordinator and to document project activities and lessons learnt in detail.  In the future, it is possible that graduate students from UPNG who plan to do thesis/field research on the Trobriand Islands and who are willing to be involved may act as local coordinators for the project.  Kiriwina High School could serve as an information center and a central point of intra-island communication as students come from different villages on the island and visit their home villages regularly.

9) Are the project activities culturally respectful?

Fully (8)

Background:  Local identity, wisdom and practices have been the key component of the project from the outset.  Trobriand Islanders are subsistence gardeners/horticulturalists who have retained a self-sufficient economy for several hundred years.  This project builds on their traditional cultural practices and seeks to strengthen the roles of local knowledge in food security assurance and environmental conservation. 

Assessment:  The project is built on the traditional practice of older generations who planted fruit trees in order to provide shade and fruit for the community.  Mangoes, breadfruit, chestnut, and wild avocado are economically useful as well as ecological suitable for the Trobriand Islands.  Therefore, the mango planting activity aims at ensuring food security as well as continuing a traditional ‘wise practice’ which has been neglected by present generations.


Figure 3: Young school children prepare for yam 
gathering during harvest celebration

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC: The role of local knowledge could be further focused in the next phase of the project, linking this to the educational system and the potential role of Kiriwina High School.  Knowledgeable elders should be invited to participate in teaching and field exercises so that traditional ’wise practices’ could be revived and passed on. This is a long term effort and requires innovative collaboration with Kiriwina High School, the ward councilors and their respective villagers. 

10) Do the project activities take into account gender and/or sensitivity issues?

Slightly (2)

Background: The project activities do not specifically focus on gender issues, yet Trobriand’s matrilineal system grants roles and privileges for women, so they are not excluded from project activities.  Mango seeds are distributed at the household level, and female-headed households have the same opportunities to receive seeds as do male-headed households.           

Assessment: The project coordinator is himself a member of one of the Trobriand Islands clans and holds a certain status in the village.  Therefore, some villagers may view his work on the project as a politically motivated effort.  The coordinator has taken this sensitivity into account and as a consequence implemented the project with caution and at a deliberate pace. Another sensitive issue concerns land tenure and ownership of fruit trees. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  The issue of ownership and benefit sharing should be brought up well in advance of the first substantial fruiting season so the villagers have a chance to discuss and come up with an agreement in order to prevent misunderstanding or conflict about ownership of fruit, mud crabs, mangrove building materials etc.

11) Do the project activities strengthen local identities?

Fully (8)

Background:  Local identity has been under full consideration. The project coordinator is a native of the Trobriand Islands and takes pride in his culture and identity.  Trobriand Islanders are proud of their culture and there appears to be little immediate threat to local or cultural identity.  At the village level, villagers also have particular local identities, and actively participate in intra-village and inter-village rituals and feasts.  Another important local identity is gardening and food security represented by large piles of yams kept in prominently placed display/storage houses. 

Assessment:  Local identity expressed in the manifestation of self-sufficiency and food security will benefit the project and facilitate transferring of fruit-tree growing activities.  In the future, neighboring villages that hear or witness the fruitful result of tree-growing are likely to support similar activities in their villages.  In turn, the project enables villagers to maintain a certain level of self-sufficiency.  So the project activities and the strong local identity are mutually reinforcing. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  The fact that households and villages take pride in subsistence gardening and self-sufficiency should facilitate future project activities like mangrove and mud-crab conservation.  As mentioned earlier, local identity, social bonds, and villagers’ eagerness to participate in certain community functions should be the strategic point on which to build in order to ensure success in implementing future project activities.  

 Figure 4: Inspection of the mangrove forests 
fringing Kiriwina's lagoon

12) Do the project activities shape national legal policy?

None (0)

Background:  This is a small project focused on only six villages in the Trobriand Islands.  There has not yet been a connection to the national legal policy, although the project has the potential to influence policies and legislation on environmental care and food security at a local level in the future.

13) Do the project activities encompass the regional dimension?

Partially (5)

Background:  Although the project focuses on food security, resource sustainability, local knowledge and traditional wise practices, it also addresses other issues such as population pressure on a fragile environment, degradation and depletion of resources, gradual loss of local knowledge, increased dependency on cash economy, etc.  

Assessment:  The issues mentioned above are relevant to many Pacific small island community contexts. Therefore, the project activities partially encompass the regional dimension. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC:  While the experiences of the project are of great potential value to small island communities across the region, no great effort has yet been made by the project to foster such contacts beyond participation in regional CSI meetings and workshops. In future, the project coordinator’s position at UPNG should allow for stronger linkages between the project and the wider region.  

14) Do the project activities provide for human rights?

Partially (5)

Background:  The project objectives relate to Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family). 

Assessment:  Attaining a standard of living adequate for health and well-being is in congruence with the food security and self-sufficiency project objectives mentioned earlier.  The project activities contribute to the sense of independence in terms of self-sustenance both at village and at island level.  The activities (replanting and taking care of mango trees) were not compulsory or imposed upon the villagers.  They volunteered their own time and labor to the project. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC: The human rights issue on the Trobriand Islands also involves the rights of the next generations islanders to enjoy the environment and natural resources which are not totally exploited or destroyed by the present generation.  Therefore, the project should stress the obligation of youth and adults of today to secure sustainable future for the next and next generations.*

* The project coordinator mentioned that a middle-aged man (Kwemwai Mlamogwa) rather regrettably related a relevant story in one of the village meetings in 1999.  “After World War 2, the colonial administration distributed coconuts to able bodied men in each village. They were to plant them for copra production in their allocated section on the nearby Bwemapou Island. After each trip, those conscientious ‘fathers’ that returned home with at least one or two sprouting coconuts to plant back in their own village, they now have children that can claim to own fully bearing coconut palms. Those of us whose ‘fathers’ had failed to do so now steal from our fellow villagers. So folks, let us embrace this mango project for our own good.”

15) Have the project activities been documented?

Slightly (2)

Background:  Project documents are listed in the first part of this assessment report.   

Assessment:  The project activities have not been adequately documented.  Wise practice experiences in the project have not yet been analyzed and properly presented.  This lack of documentation and dissemination of experiences has undermined the project’s achievement and value.  The project - which is carried out in a remote and not easily accessible place and whose coordinator is not locally-based - should focus on documentation so that others can follow project progress and benefit from the results. 

Suggestions for strengthening this WPC: There is a need for a comprehensive project report which describes project activities, analyzes wise practice experiences, lessons learnt, problems and obstacles during the project implementation, as well as recommendations for future plans and activities.  This comprehensive report and local knowledge report should then be edited and developed into a full CSI publication. The project coordinator prefers to reflect a rounded view, with the success and failure of the project, after the trees bear fruit.  The comprehensive report would cover the rationale behind the project activities, sources of inspiration, local knowledge, local acceptability and/or rejection, inter-institutional collaboration, capacity building, issues of transferability, the fruits, local and national policies.

16) Have the project activities been evaluated?


The project activities have not been evaluated.  This is the first project evaluation.

Synthesis of main issues from the assessment 

  1. The project is to be commended for its firm grounding in and focus on a traditional community self-reliance practice that has been eroded in recent generations. By seeking to enhance community resilience through means and methods that are both ecologically and culturally appropriate, the project has the potential to serve as a model for community-driven livelihood enhancement projects. 

  2. The project has potential and relevance to reach a much larger group of beneficiaries. While the very small scale of the project can be seen as an advantage in that it retains a strong focus on the actively participating communities, it also means that the potential for transfer of the project to other communities within the Trobriand Islands remains underutilized. Transfer of project activities can be initiated as soon as the first fruits have arrived. 

  3. While the beneficiary communities fully support the project and its activities, there is potential for future conflict relating to the issue of land ownership. The project has made efforts to concentrate tree planting on communal village land. However, due to community interests and in response to initiative shown by community members, trees have to a wide extent also been planted on private land. The sharing of benefits from existing trees, as well as the location of new tree planting sites must be carefully considered by the project and appropriate models – preferably based on traditional mechanisms of resource sharing – must be devised to avoid potential conflict. Conflicts over land whether related to use or access have been around for a long time. 

  4. The lack of documentation of project activities is to the detriment of further development of activities. Without appropriate documentation it will be very difficult to generate research and other interest in the project, which is needed to ensure sustainability of the initiatives taken. The project is encouraged to place a much greater emphasis on documentation of activities in future.

Future project activities   

  1. Writing-up of a comprehensive project report which describes project activities, analyzes wise practice experiences, lessons learnt, problems and obstacles during the project implementation, as well as recommendations for future plan and activities.  This report may eventually be edited and developed into a CSI publication. 

  2. Building a strong project team based on the existing project assistants in each village, including high school teachers and students who might be interested in participating or even implementing some of the future project activities.  Providing capacity building activities like workshops or training events. 

  3. Identifying and implementing activities, which will involve more stakeholders in the project and encourage network building among the stakeholders themselves
  1. Expanding tree planting activity to cover other traditionally cultivated fruit trees and to cover other villages not included in the first phase of the project. 

  2. Conducting a baseline study on island resources and setting up ‘multi-stakeholder or wise practice agreements’ through participatory means - with regards to ensuring sustainable harvesting of forest and marine products (for example, tree-friendly activities like replanting after cutting, etc.).


Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes