US$ 500 for Bruno Idioai of Bougainville

Bruno Idioai has developed, put into practice and promoted, through hands on training and awareness programs, an indigenous model of environmental restoration and self-reliance for the people of war torn Bougainville, in the south west Pacific. Hundreds of families have adopted his model which focuses on sustainable agriculture through stabilization of shifting cultivation, reforestation using diverse indigenous species, integrated animal farming systems and a clan based approach. This has been achieved in a period of civil war under a total humanitarian and economic blockade. With peace on Bougainville, these experiences of Bruno, and those he has taught and continues to teach, have the potential to be building blocks in a new autonomous Bougainville that can be a model for a new form of development for this increasingly unstable part of the world in the South West Pacific.

Bougainville is a rugged and mountainous wet-tropical island in the south west Pacific located on the border of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. The 150,000+ inhabitants are mostly indigenous Melanesians. More than 30 languages are spoken which reflects the cultural diversity of the island. There is a similar ecological diversity with a range of environments from coral reefs and coastal mangroves, tropical lowland rainforests through to high altitude cloud forests.

The island of Bougainville has experienced a long history of colonial occupation, environmental exploitation and civil unrest culminating in the Bougainville crisis that stretched on for almost ten years from 1987. During this period an estimated 30 000 Bougainvilleans died from the direct and indirect results of the conflict. The resilience, determination and negotiating skills of Bougainvilleans for their own self determination and freedom has surprised many.

After a series of aborted attempts a peace agreement was finally signed in 1997 leading to a UN supervised disarmament process. In 2003 this process is nearly complete with international peace keepers to withdraw in June.

The environmental consequences of the BCL Panguna Copper mine have been severe. For those close to Panguna, and those who survived in the bush through the conflict, the war has become a war for the environment, for their mother the land. Bougainvilleans have fought hard and suffered immensely and they are now struggling to transform their revolutionary ideas into the wide scale application of a way of life in harmony with their culture and their environment.

Bruno Idioai is one of a small group of visionary indigenous people from Avaipa district, (the neighboring district to Panguna), who formed the Paruparu Education Development Centre (PEDC) during the crisis. PEDC aimed to provide basic services to the rural population while constructing models of development that worked at a pace, scale and cultural approach appropriate to people in the villages. During the crisis PEDC had 14 departments ranging from electrical engineering, health, carpentry, agriculture and environmental management. Village volunteers were trained at the main PEDC centre and at bush 'out stations' and then returned to their home villages to assist their own people.

Bruno was responsible for agriculture and environmental education which was integral to all the courses at PEDC. He formed the Agriculture Science Department, coordinated from a remote bush camp at Ipa deep in the mountains. With concerns for food security for the thousands of internally displaced people during the crisis, and holding a vision for the long term environmental management, Bruno established models of reforestation, fixed site food gardens , aquaculture, and improved free range animal farming systems. Over 120 rural extension officers were trained in 1-2 year courses during the war who then returned to their communities to work with their clan groups.

Village schools set up by PEDC in Avaipa district installed an environmental and agriculture component developed by Bruno. Village health workers were also trained in agriculture and environmental management by Bruno so that they could spread this message in their primary health care work in the community.

Bruno listened to and reflected on radio programs on his short wave radio and then disseminated information he gleaned on global environmental issues to rural communities. He did this using community meetings and hand drawn tokpisin posters. The result is that today communities in these remote areas, where many young people have never been to formal schools, are well versed in environmental issues and many understand the relationship of their local struggle with the global struggle for ecological sustainability.

Over the years Bruno has continued to develop strategies for agricultural and environmental management focusing on culturally relevant clan based models. His approach concentrates on workable alternatives to the potentially disastrous broad scale and externally controlled cocoa plantations. His emphasis on livelihood generation using high value and low volume crops is considerate to the social dynamics of Melanesian culture as opposed to individual gain.

In Avaipa district a new form of agriculture has developed that is more sustainable with a growing population of Rural Extension Officers spreading these ideas to other parts of Bougainville. Fixed site gardens are stabilizing and reducing the forest clearing that had been common under shifting cultivation. Many clans are creating small forest reserves and others are actively reafforesting their lands by collecting and planting useful indigenous tree species. All of this was achieved under Bruno's visionary with no outside assistance.

The Agricultural Science Policy of PEDC, developed by Bruno provides strategies to address a wide range of major environmental concerns including the reduction of lighting fires particularly in open grasslands and mountainous areas, conservation of traditional and sacred sites, replacement of traditional housing, medicinal and food plants, the establishment of quarantine stations and plant pathology labs as well as the general education and awareness of environmental issues and the risks of exploitation of the natural resources of that area.

The PEDC Agriculture Science Department has established a permanent school for agriculture training. In the tradition of Melanesian learning of "seeing is believing", and recognizing the importance of demonstration, the school is located amid a network of well established family models of reafforestation and sustainable agriculture. Bruno is facilitating the development of a Bougainville Food Security Network that is working with local organizations all over Bougainville to promote environmental awareness, self-reliance and food security.

With Invitations and requests for awareness tours in villages, training and attendance and meetings continue to be received by Bruno from all parts of Bougainville. Bruno has also had the opportunity to share his experiences with rural people in Solomon Islands and the Southern Highlands of PNG as well as a regional meeting of Pacific Countries organized by the UN FAO.

The lack of funding and support for PEDC in general including the Agriculture Science Department run by Bruno has caused immense hardship. After working as volunteers through the crisis they are now faced with harsh economic realities and difficult decisions on whether to continue with their vision and their dissemination of their practical models or seek paid employment elsewhere. Demand is high for the training but Bruno and others run the risk of burning out.

Slow evolution of the new government due to protracted negotiations has meant that international aid agencies have been able to set agenda, often without involvement of Bougainvilleans and largely ignoring the indigenous organizations such as PEDC that formed during the crisis. The result has been inappropriate, top down aid projects. For example UNDP is promoting the planting of 20 million cocoa trees in thousands of small holder plots that will eventually form a vast monoculture. This will expose Bougainvilleans to fluctuating commodity prices and cause environmental stresses that will no doubt lead to increased use of agro chemicals. The indigenous, diverse models developed and proven by Bruno and his supporters during the crisis has been largely ignored by consultants and simplistic development plans.

Development at the pace of, and using a process developed by, Bougainvilleans themselves has been the objectives of PEDC. Bruno and PEDC have successfully developed indigenous models of environmental restoration integrated with traditional beliefs and clan based social structures. Western models of conservation have met with very little success in Melanesia. The more practical and utilitarian approach of Bruno, fused with environmental understanding and traditional wisdom has much more likelihood of success in the Pacific.

Instability in the region has refocused decision makers on the need for self reliance. Subsistence 'security nets' have become increasingly important and prevented larger humanitarian disasters in PNG and Solomon Islands. The need for village based models of development is critical to prevent the rising disparity between town and rural areas and the increasing conflicts over dwindling resources. This is very relevant in other parts of PNG, Solomon Islands and even Fiji.

Bruno Idioai is currently the Head of the Agriculture Science Department of Paruparu Education Development Centre.

Bruno was an agriculture teacher at a Mulbi Vocational Training Centre, Bougainville, for many years. Prior to the crisis he decided to return to his home village to put into practice sustainable living and environmental restoration as he could see big problems for his people in the future if they continued on the path they were on.

Bruno has been recognized by Joseph Kabui, President of the Bougainville Peoples Congress as a leader in Sustainable Agriculture and Environment for the Bougainville people.

Bruno Idioai
Paruparu Education Development Centre (PEDC)
P.O.Box 304
Papua New Guinea

C/- Bougainville Interchurch Women's Forum (BICWF):