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Western Samoa Case Study



Source: Fox, James W. and Kenneth B. Cumberland. 1962. Western Samoa. Whitcombe & Tombs, Ltd. Christchurch, New Zealand.

Western Samoa, a group of nine volcanic islands ringed by coral reefs, is located in the South Pacific northeast of New Zealand. Only the largest islands are inhabited -Upolu, Savai' i, Apolima, and Manono. Apia, the capital city located on Upolu, is home to one-fourth of the country's population. Western Samoa was a German colony prior to World War I. At the end of the war, the country was mandated to New Zealand by the League of Nations. Although Samoans had been participating in self-government since 1954, the country did not receive its independence from New Zealand until January 1, 1962.

Western Samoa is a politically stable parliamentary democracy, and has few problems with malnutrition or extreme poverty. Most villagers are engaged in subsistence agriculture, although a few large plantations produce copra, cocoa, and bananas for export. The soil of Western Samoa is volcanic but not very fertile; as a result, much of the country's food must be imported. Because most of Western Samoa's foreign exchange earnings are from three export crops, the country is very dependent upon fluctuations in the world prices for these products. The fluctuations coupled with the cost of importing basic food stuff result in a large balance of trade deficit. The Western Samoan government, recognizing the need to reduce this dependence on imported food and decrease the deficit, requested Peace Corps assistance in developing the agricultural and fisheries potential of the country.

Fisheries in Western Samoa: An Overview

Surrounded by water, the Western Samoans always have been associated with the sea and its resources. Samoans are full-blooded Polynesians, and they have a great pride in the fishing and navigation skills of their ancestors who originally migrated to these islands. Over the centuries, however, the Samoans have lost the skills and knowledge needed to fish in the open sea, and by the 1960's most fishing was done from canoes and catamarans in the lagoons behind the barrier reefs that surround the islands. Much of this fishing was done on a subsistence level with only a few fish reaching the marketplace. However, as the population grew, more and more people came to depend upon fish for the protein in their diets. As a result, the lagoons were being overfished. Fishermen tried to go out beyond the barrier reefs to fish, but their boats and fishing methods had been developed for the calmer, shallower waters of the lagoon, not for the open Sell. Other countries, particularly Japan, were fishing in the deeper waters off Western Samoa's shores and getting large catches, which they processed and sold back to the Samoans in cans. There is a skipjack tuna fishery just offshore that experts believe would allow an annual harvest of 150,000 tons of fish without seriously depleting the population. Western Samoa's government, recognizing the need to reestablish the local fishery capability and to develop a new commercial fishery, set up a Fisheries Division within the Department of Agriculture in 1970. This new Division requested the assistance of the Peace Corps in planning programs for municipal and commercial fisheries development.

Peace Corps Involvement with Western Samoan Fisheries

In 1970, one volunteer was present at the signing ceremony that created the Fisheries Division. He worked with the new Director in setting up programs. The first program they set up was an outboard engine repair training school to teach repair and maintenance to local fishermen. The Government Of Western Samoa previously had introduced outboard motors to fishermen, but few had an understanding of the need for proper maintenance, and many engines had fallen into disrepair. Fishermen had spent many hours trying to fix engines, and time lost in repair or paddling their boats home meant fewer fish were caught. The Fisheries Division hoped that fishermen trained at this school would return to their villages and teach others to maintain their engines. The school was well-liked by fishermen, partly because it included a repair shop which had tools not usually accessible to villagers. A second school was started later on in another location to continue this training. Most of the support for the school was given from the Fisheries Division and from international donor organizations.

The second program that the volunteer and the Director were interested in was the development of a fishing craft that could go out into the open seas to fish. After some research the volunteer found a design that looked promising: a fishing craft used in the islands in the 1880's but forgotten during this century. Called the "alia", this boat was larger than local canoes but more stable. Using village labor and locally available materials, the volunteer supervised the building of several alias, and equipped them with outboard engines. These boats were a great success, and proved to be very useful in the open sea. Fishermen were receptive to the reintroduction of the alia, especially because it was one of their own traditional designs, and not imposed upon them from the outside. This project also was given support from the Fisheries Division in terms of materials and financing.

Based upon these successes, in 1971 the Fisheries Division requested volunteers to work in four projects: the development of fisheries associations in local villages to help in marketing of increased fish catches, the establishment of a turtle hatchery and farm, the development of a skipjack tuna fishery, and the development of a prototype ferrocement boat.

The Second Volunteer Group

Upon receiving the Western Samoan government's request, Peace Corps recruited three volunteers in 1971. All three had either experience or education in marine biology. For example, one volunteer with a degree in marine fisheries biology also had five years of experience in deep sea cruises at an oceanographic institution. As a result, the volunteers received no technical training, but they did receive language and cross-cultural training prior to their arrival incountry.

Two of these volunteers worked in the development of fisheries associations, training local fishermen in new fishing methods and the use of improved fishing equipment. They also taught repair and maintenance of outboard engines. Apparently at this time volunteers also built the first ferrocement boat in the South Pacific; however, it is not clear if this boat was appropriate for Western Samoa, nor if the boat was ever used.

The third volunteer was assigned to design and build a turtle hatchery. Samoans eat the eggs and adults of two species of sea turtles which breed on remote beaches in the islands. The turtles eaten are the green and the hawks bill, both of which are endangered species. Exploitation of these turtles was further endangering their existence, so the Western Samoan government devised a plan to both protect turtles and increase their productivity. The Fisheries Division wanted to build a hatchery where eggs collected on the breeding grounds could be hatched safely, and the baby turtles returned to the beach and released into the sea. The government also hoped that, after doing research on the turtles' life cycles and food habits, it would be possible to farm these turtles on a commercial basis, thus providing the local people with another way to generate income.

The volunteer working on the turtle hatchery idea studied turtle populations to determine their locations, abundance, and food requirements, then designed and built a hatchery with funding from the Fisheries Division, a British fisheries office, and the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific. The hatchery operated as a conservation hatchery -- turtle eggs were collected, hatched, and baby turtles were released into the sea. The volunteer also conducted classes, made a movie, and had radio programs that dealt with the need for conservation of sea turtles. However, the Fisheries Division was not very interested in conservation, as such -- they were more concerned with the possibilities of future commercial production, and did not support this phase of the volunteers work. Little material or technical support was given to this project by the Peace Corps, although they did sponsor a meeting with fisheries volunteers and government officials to discuss problems. When the volunteer left, the hatchery was operating well. Encouraged with this success, the Fisheries Division requested another volunteer to work on the next phase of this project, a turtle farm.

The Turtle Farm Project

In 1972 a volunteer was recruited to conduct the feasibility study on establishing a turtle farm. This volunteer and a Samoan counterpart explored turtle breeding grounds and identified possible food sources for sea turtles. In the course of this work, the volunteer and his counterpart went diving beyond the barrier reef. The volunteer was attacked and killed by a shark, and the project was halted.

Two years later Peace Corps recruited another volunteer to continue this work. This volunteer had a degree in marine biology, and did research before his arrival on sea turtles. He discovered that the green turtle, the turtle they wanted to farm, was herbivorous and would not do well under the prevailing conditions. Conditions were more favorable for the production of the hawks bill, a carnivorous species. However, after three months of study the volunteer concluded that farming of this sea turtle would not be possible because the cost of its food was prohibitive. He recommended that Western Samoa look towards other fishery resources for commercial ventures.

The Baitfish Project

After the turtle farm study, this volunteer began exploring the possibility of producing bait to support the development of a commercial skipjack tuna fishery. Live bait was needed for tuna and many other fish species found in Samoan waters, and the bait fisll available at that time was too fragile and in short supply. The volunteer designed a technical facility for production of bait fish and requested help from the Peace Corps and from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. With the help of an interested Peace Corps staff member, he wrote a project paper and received US $1,000 from Peace Corps in Washington to build his facility; some funding also was received from FAO. After one year of work, he was able to get a lease from the government on a one-acre site. The volunteer did not receive any other material support from the Fisheries Division, although he did have a counterpart who left for Japan soon after the volunteer arrived for a training course in deep sea trawling. Finally, the volunteer was able to set up the baitfish hatchery, test it, and begin operation. The project was a success, as evidenced by the fact that three years after the volunteer left, the facility had expanded to two acres of ponds, had a road and electricity, and was run by several well-trained Samoans. 'the government fishing vessel used the baitfish produced and was able to increase catches substantially.

The village-level Fisheries Extension Program

The next group of volunteers were requested in 1975 to work in the Village-Level Fisheries Extension Program. With previous experience In mechanics or education in commercial marine fisheries, this group of volunteers was trained in outboard engine repair and maintenance, language, and cross-cultural studies in Hawaii. Originally a group of nine, four left during the first year. Of the remaining five, four worked in demonstration teams as part of the Village-Level Fisheries Extension Program, while one volunteer was assigned to supervise the turtle hatchery begun by a volunteer in 1971.

The efforts of the village level Fisheries Extension Program were directed into three main phases: maintenance of outboard engines, methodology of harvesting fish, and marketing. Working with Samoan counterparts, the volunteers in this program went from village to village helping train local fishermen in all aspects of engine maintenance and fishing methods. Several of the volunteers worked closely with the baitfish facility set up by a previous volunteer in conducting fishing trials to determine the usefulness of live bait. As a result of the collective work of this group and the baitfish facility, more fish reached the markets than ever before. During the first 18 months this group of volunteers was in the country, the importation of canned fish into Western Samoa dropped significantly.

This increase in the total fish catch prompted the FAO to develop a marketing scheme to utilize the catch, and several volunteers participated in the scheme. The FAO requested the help of additional volunteers and offered to put up US $500,000 to continue the development of this new commercial fishery. The four volunteers involved recommended that Peace Corps comply with this request. However, with the end of their tours in 1977, these were no further requests from the Fisheries Division. Peace Corpst Western Samoa files indicate that the volunteers and the Fisheries Division felt the need for the fisheries extension project had diminished since the two major workshops were operating successfully and sufficient numbers of village fishermen had learned minor repair and maintenance. In addition, Japan was providing volunteers and aid to the project, thus nullifying the need for continued Peace Corps presence. Since 1977 no marine fisheries volunteers have been requested, although there is some interest in freshwater fisheries at present.

Evaluation of the Project

In an evaluation* done in 1976, the Peace Corps evaluator states that two outboard engine repair stations had been set up and were training Samoans, and that volunteers assigned to the outlying districts were training local fishermen to maintain and operate their engines more efficiently. The evaluation stated that, as a result of these efforts, volunteer assistance would end since there were now trained local people to continue this work. The evaluation further stated that fisheries demonstration teams showing new fishing methods and equipment were established and successful, and that as a result of these efforts there were substantially increased fish catches, although it remained to be seen if this was a permanent change. The evaluation stated that throughout this project there was little support or coordination from the Fisheries Division, possibly because the Director was only an "acting" officer. Most of the support for all of the marine fisheries projects came from outside agencies including the FAO, the South Pacific Commission, the Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, and the Peace Corps.

Successes and Failures

Overall the Peace Corps marine fisheries projects in Western Samoa are considered successful in that the government's original goals -to reduce the amount of food imported and develop a commercial fishery were achieved. Individual volunteers also felt that their projects were successful. Factors that may have led to this success include these:

· Although the Fisheries Division was very new and did not have the staff capabilities or funding to provide direct supervision and trained counterparts to all volunteers, the Division did provide support in terms of well-planned programs with definitive objectives, good job sites, free housing and boats and outboard engines. As the programs developed, the Division increased its support to volunteers, including counterparts with fisheries training and some financing.

· Most of the Peace Corps volunteers were chosen for their experience in mechanics or educational background in marine fisheries. The volunteers were given excellent technical, cross cultural, and language training; those on demonstration teams regularly conversed even with each other in Samoan.

· In the beginning of the program, Peace Corps did not provide any technical support for the marine fisheries volunteers, but as the program developed, a staff member became very interested in all of the projects and was instrumental in getting some of them started. The staff member also served as the liaison between volunteers and the other international organizations that were involved in fisheries development in Western Samoa. According to the volunteers, when the staff member left the country, no one else picked up the marine projects and they simply died.

· In each of these projects, volunteers were used to provide assistance and training to Samoans. As the Samoans became proficient in these tasks, Peace Corps began pulling out. Both the Peace Corps staff and the volunteers felt that the volunteers had literally "worked themselves out of a job" and that Peace Corps assistance was no longer needed in the marine fisheries field.

· The Samoan people had a long history of involvement with fisheries, and were very proud, independent and nationalistic. They were willing to work with the volunteers for their own betterment, and learned quickly. Volunteers often lived in fishing villages and went on all-night fishing trips with local fishermen to demonstrate techniques and equipment. As a result, volunteers were accepted and trusted by Samoans. The volunteers themselves felt this was due in part to the fact that they were able to communicate with the Samoans in their own language.

The volunteers felt that there were some failures in their projects. One failure was the inability of several volunteers to convince the Fisheries Division of the need for conservation education in Western Samoa, particularly concerning the two endangered turtle species. There is some question also as to the long-term success of these projects. Although the importation of fish did go down during the first 18 months of the Village-Level Fisheries Extension Program it was not known if this was due to volunteer activities or to some other cause. However, the development of outboard engine repair schools and the improvement of fishing techniques did help Western Samoa to develop a commercial fishery. Thus, the marine fisheries projects in Western Samoa were successful in meeting the original goals of the country.