By Bishop, Robert V.


While a relatively new term in most of the world, “ecosystem services” is an ancient concept in the Pacific Islands. Moreover, in many Pacific cultures, it is considered a “deep” concept; one that addresses and/or supports core values and is multi-layered and multi-faceted. To illustrate, while the generation of economic capital is dominant in many cultures, Pacific cultures give equal importance and in many cases greater importance to social capital, cultural capital and ecological capital.

In the Palauan context, the economic, social, cultural and ecological or the four forms of capital are cornerstones of community development. You may not chip away at one capital at the expense of the others without creating a lop-sided ill-balanced community thereby endangering all within the community. At the individual level, “selfishness” is a vice and as such severely censured. 

The Pacific culture's values of reciprocity, deference, “nurturement”, stewardship and obligation to future generations support ecosystem services. There is a strong enabling environment for ecosystem services in the Pacific Islands.

Palau context
To elaborate, many references to ecosystems services are found in the “Traditional Practices and Adaptive Methods” in the Palau Training Module. The sample below shows the sociocultural values of ecosystem services in Palau:

  1. Agriculture and food are intricately tied to cultural identity. All Palauans need a garden to understand their culture and to be “Palauan”. Palauan foods nurture strong Palauans and are suited to Palau's environment. Agriculture in Palau is not just concerned with plants for food, but also plants for healing, ceremonies and the prediction of cycles.
  2. Our experiences in Palau also teach us how traditional practices in family farms can strengthen cultural identity, build solidarity among farms and assign greater value to traditional ethics.
  3. Family farms in Palau are not juvenile commercial farms rather they are the wise elders of sustenance, provision and “provision” (a positive outlook and philosophy on relationships and life). Farming Family's customers are in the true sense of the word “custom”ers, that is they share and participate in the same customs.
  4. Family farms are viewed as social capital rather than commercial assets. Family farms are cultural/social learning centres. The family farm is used to instil responsibility, stewardship and industry, i.e. positive values of working hard and utility formation, as well as to demonstrate and inoculate reciprocity, reverence, deference and teamwork.
  5. Traditional foods and other local produce validate Palauan customs, while imported produce adulterates Palauan customs.
  6. Agriculture (primary production) is the thread of the traditional safety net. It enables relationship building through sharing, and relationships are the knots that bind the traditional safety net.
  7. Traditional knowledge of agriculture, microclimates and ecology is strong. There is a tradition of agroforestry in Palau. Many experts have concluded agroforestry is the form of agriculture most suited to Palau.
  8. “Sharing and caring”: a team of farmers providing labour to farms through rotation and market mutuality.
  9. Farm'acy: The planting of health-promoting plants; healing plants; medicinal plants and “first aid” plants.

The sample below shows the ecological values of ecosystem services in Palau:

  1. Carbon sequestration through planting numerous plants.
  2. Climate regulation through the cooling effect of water (e.g. multiple water paths in taro patch) and shade (e.g. nurse trees and other trees).
  3. Soil formation through copious additions of green organic matter, e.g. taro patch.
  4. In situ preservation, adaptation and multiplication of diverse varieties of taro, sweet potato and cassava.
  5. Nutrient recycling through utilizing nutrient run-off from uplands: taro patch and banana buffers.
  6. Natural hazard mitigation through precise timing of water flow controls, including gates and flags, and intentional flooding to suppress and dilute tidal surges, e.g. taro patch and typhoon mitigation through topping and dwarfing and “trimming the sail” (i.e. removing the wind catching surface of plants through trimming).
  7. Water purification through sedimentation trapping and utilization, e.g. wetland taro patches, semi-wetland taro patches and dryland farms near rivers.
  8. Another soil-related ecosystem service provided by taro patches is run-off prevention: women often clear the water paths and the taro field as sediment accumulates; the accumulated sediment is
    commonly piled on the sides of the taro field creating an embankment that divides taro fields, essentially creating a barrier that prevents further run-off from entering into the taro field. Clay occasionally found in the taro patch is removed and added to the embankments/pathways.
  9. Reducing greenhouse gas mitigation by encouraging local production for local consumption of both farm inputs and outputs.
  10. Maintaining needed pollination through avoidance of most intensified agricultural practices.
  11. Conservation of semi-natural habitats onfarm through retention of native useful species.
  12. Utilization traditional knowledge for pest control and plant health promotion.
  13. Soil stabilization and bank stabilization by planting palms, Casuarina sp., Polynesian chestnut, bamboo and other plants with dense root mats, deep-rooting grass swards, rock walls and trash barriers from natural biodegradable materials.

Pacific context
In the wider Pacific context, many references to ecosystems services are found in Chapter 3: Organic Farming Systems of “Mainstreaming Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity into Agricultural Production and Management in the Pacific Islands – Technical Guidance Document”. A short selection of these services may be found below:

  1. Carbon sequestration and climate regulations and climate change mitigation through microclimate generation or modification gravel/stones/nets and dew/mist/fog collectors
  2. Natural hazard regulation and moderation/resilience of extreme events through nurseries designed for quick disassembly; wind breaks/shelterbelts and riparian zones, and white washing with ash, lime and coral silt to reduce scorching due to sun.
  3. Water and air regulation, purification, conservation and retention through: filtration strips, enhancing pasture management, dry litter livestock management system, reforesting catchments, bunds, seepage areas, rills, terraces, living fences; in riparian zones: enhancing mangroves and wetland production systems, e.g. taro patches, redirecting road run-off, cover crops, building “constructed wetlands”, retention ditches, check dams.
  4. Greenhouse gas mitigation by mitigating non-point source pollution, conservation cover and prescribed grazing.
  5. Fire mitigation through fire breaks, dense plantings of succulent plants, catchment with pump stations, reduction of fire load
  6. Contributions to customs, first harvest to elders, donations to widows, etc.

Organic agriculture
Organic agriculture seems particularly suited for enhancing ecosystem services. It provides many ecosystem services through its philosophy, culture, orientation, practices and prohibitions.

Organic agriculture's use in the provision of ecosystem services offers much potential. Some particularly promising examples are given below:

  1. Incorporation of legumes in crop rotations, alley crops, cover crops, riparian zones and inoculation of soil/crops of beneficial organisms. This may be done by the collection, multiplication, and dissemination of open pollinated land races of legumes, inoculums of beneficial indigenous organisms and corresponding extension efforts funded through duty on imported seeds, plants and organisms.
  2. Local production of farm inputs through an incentive programme including technical, financial, management and marketing assistance and five-year tax holiday funded through a duty on imported synthetic agrochemicals and fines for possession and utilization of prohibited substances.
  3. Water harvesting and water conservation through on-farm, on-school, on-university and community health centre modelling of water harvesting and water conservation practices funded through voluntary contributions from commercial water bottlers, commercial soda bottlers and breweries.
  4. Mulching through on-farm, on-school, onuniversity, community health centre modelling of various forms of mulching (e.g. lasagna and deep layer) and mulching materials (e.g. cardboard, palm leaves) funded by duties on plastic and other nonorganic packaging and pallets.
  5. Multi-level composting through on-farm, on-school, on-university and community health centre modelling of composting plus establishment and implementation of composting facilities (such as in the Cook Islands) at hamlet, village, municipal and national levels funded through levies on solid waste.
  6. Diversification in species, varieties and patron base, i.e. the people served and products (especially value added, certified and geographic/culturally identified) through an incentive programme for this diversification including technical, financial, management and marketing assistance funded through duty placed on imported foods which may be produced locally.