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Old 20-04-2003, 01:12 PM
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WWF Working Locally with Indigenous and Traditional Peoples'

Community Land Care in the Ambunti District of East Sepik Province :

Sepik Community Land Care Project (Sepik CLC) was established by WWF as a major programme of support to local communities and government for integrated conservation and development in the Ambunti District of East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

This followed five years of background research and small-scale activities with partner organizations in the Ambunti District between 1993 and 1997. The six-year project, funded through WWF by the Dutch Government, started 1998.

With bases in Wewak and Ambunti, Sepik CLC aims to help communities and government agencies manage and conserve community-held land, forest and wetland resources; develop resource business ventures; and bring about integrated planning for sustainable development, cultural conservation and biodiversity protection. It works by supporting initiatives by local communities and individual landholders through diverse means such as technical assistance, training, information processing, analysis, demonstration, facilitation, and communication. Many of these initiatives involve other NGOs, government and private sector agencies, engaged as partners in the project.

The project is currently working with nine communities in three language groups to identify projects and activities that will help them develop while at the same time conserving their natural resources and protecting their biological diversity.

The high species count and endemism of PNG has put it in the world's top ten countries for biodiversity. In terms of forest cover, PNG has by far the largest area of tropical rainforest in the Oceania region. Indeed, the forests of the island of New Guinea (PNG and neighbouring Irian Jaya together) make up the world's third largest block of tropical rainforest after the Amazon and Congo forests. PNG is home to high alpine meadows, coastal lagoons and abundant coral reef systems. It also has exceptional marine biodiversity with all significant marine ecosystems and island types represented, from reef systems to seabeds, mangrove deltas and deep ocean trenches.

The Sepik CLC project area is located in northern Papua New Guinea and covers some 1 million hectares, which takes in the upper reaches of the Sepik River and the relatively untouched tropical moist forests of the Hunstein Ranges (known locally as the Sepik Hills).

The Sepik River, with a catchment of 77,700 square kilometres, is the largest river system in Papua New Guinea and drains most of the northern half of the country. Unlike other rivers in PNG, it discharges to the sea through a single outlet. The Sepik River is recognized as one of the greatest river systems of the world, its catchment area containing over 1,500 lakes, dozens of major tributaries and landforms ranging from lowland swamps and tropical rainforests to frost-covered mountain peaks. According to a WWF study, the region holds some of the most diverse and least described ecosystems on Earth.

The Sepik is probably the largest uncontaminated freshwater wetland system in the Asia-Pacific region. There are no large mining projects, no industrial plants, and no large timber extraction projects operating within the region and, compared to other areas of New Guinea, much of the area has a low rate of population growth.

The Upper Sepik (which includes the river and the ranges) is recognized as one of the most important areas of forest and wetland biodiversity in the Pacific. There are extensive tracts of diverse tropical lowland and mountain forests, swamp forest, important lake systems and some of the finest wetlands and bird habitats in PNG. The Hunstein Range is home to the klinki pine and contains perhaps the world's largest stands of kauri pine.

Some of PNG's rarest plants are to be found in the Sepik area, where the vegetation in the catchment varies from mangrove forest to grassland to dense montane forest. Some 55 per cent of the region's plant life is considered to be endemic to the area.

The Sepik's tropical habitat has contributed to the richness of its fauna with possibly 120 of New Guinea's 200 mammal species to be found there. The Sepik is similarly rich in bird life: of the 725 species of birds in New Guinea, at least 387 species have been recorded in the Sepik catchment.

Papua New Guinea is unique in having traditional land tenure entrenched with legal and constitutional guarantees. Ninety-seven per cent of the country's land area is now held in traditional ownership. Cultural identity is very much bound up with land and is expressed through stories and myths linked to particular parts of the group's land. The relationship with land bears heavy obligations of care: more in the form of custodianship, it is not so much that land is owned by a person, as the person being owned by the land.

Who are the people of the Sepik ?

The Sepik basin has the distinction of being perhaps the most linguistically diverse area in the world, with nearly 300 languages (six times the languages of Europe) in an area the size of Austria. Almost a third of the more than 800 languages of Papua New Guinea are found in the Sepik region. In the Sepik, language is important not simply as a means of communication, but also as a signifier of group identity and of place. Each local language or “tokples” is a statement about the land itself held by the speakers of that language.

Communities associate fiercely with their tokples. The language group is the largest unit of political organization in the Sepik and the most important unifying principle. Within this unit, communities are further divided by village, clan and residence.

Ambunti District where the WWF project is located, is the largest of the four districts of the East Sepik Province. It is the least populated with 31,000 people (1990 census) compared to 254,000 in the whole province. This is the area known as the ‘Middle Sepik’, containing much of the catchment area that feeds the Sepik River.

The social structure in Sepik villages remains rural and village-based and is heavily grounded in tradition and culture. The vast majority of people live in remote and rural areas where traditional subsistence agriculture, fishing and hunting dominate their lives.

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