| The Courier N°149 - Jan-Feb 1995 - Dossier : Urban development - Country reports Kiribat, Tuvalu, Vanatu |
|Kiribati: Far from the modern world|
For a visitor unused to the Pacific environment, there is something daunting about the islands sprinkled thinly across the surface of that enormous ocean. None are so few and far between as the groups which form the Republic of Kiribati. On the map they look like a handful of pepper scattered carelessly over the page; from the air, as the atolls come into view they seem like the rims of ancient volcanoes just protruding above the sea - which is in fact what they are. On dry land, the ground is as hard as rock yet the footing seems precarious. Islets round the edge of an atoll can be so narrow that a single glance takes in the lagoon inside and the ocean outside. At many points the waves eat away at the shore, and tropical storms throw down floods of rain which only heighten the uneasy feeling that one may be swept overboard at any moment.
Luckily the coral of which the islands are formed has withstood many centuries of battering by the elements. Its Micronesian people are just as resilient, and take their position in the world's geography with a stoic calm for which the unrelenting equatorial heat can only partly account. Using traditional navigational skills, they sail unconcernedly through gaps in the jagged reefs and out onto the open ocean in light craft just like those in which their distant ancestors first arrived three or four thousand years ago. In the modern world of global markets, a more routine concern for them than any fear of being engulfed by the sea is the range of practical, especially economic, problems created by the vast distance which separates the islands from each other and from the outside world.
A census in 1990 put the population of Kiribati at some 72 300 (with a current rate of population growth of 2.24% per annum). These are spread across 33 coral islands and atolls forming a land area of only 823 square km, 103 of them uninhabited, and in some places the population pressure is high. Ninety-six per cent of the population lives at one end of the country, in the Gilbert Islands, seat of the capital, Tarawa. Elsewhere, the emptiness of both land and sea is staggering. The distance from Tarawa to Kiritimati (or Christmas Island) at the other end of Kiribati is such that it takes the jet planes which fly that route over four hours nonstop to make the trip, and over the whole stretch not a single dot of land, boat or other sign of life can be seen on any horizon. The archipelagos which form the country - the Gilbert, Phoenix and North and South Line Islands - all lie in an immense curve far out of view. En route the flight crosses the International Date Line, so that the traveller who sets off in an easterly direction today lands yesterday. Tarawa is actually much nearer, at roughly 2540 km, to Australia, New Zealand and Japan, but there are no direct flights to any of those. All this empty ocean gives Kiribati an astonishing sea to land ratio of 4000 :1 and an exclusive economic zone of 3.5 million square km, a resource which might make the country rich if it could be more thoroughly exploited for Kiribati's own good.
As it is, most of the population (over 80%) lives by artisanal fishing and subsistence farming on some of the most infertile soil in the world. There is a growing rural to urban drift, however, and one third of the country's total population now lives on the tiny islets of one atoll, South Tarawa, where the administrative centre, Bairiki, is situated. Urbanisation is starting to create social problems as people are uprooted from traditional lifestyles and, through the extended family system, there is a tendency for people on outer islands to rely on the earnings of their family members employed in South Tarawa rather than survive by the traditional, sustainable livelihoods. Remittances also come in from l-Kiribati emigrants working in the phosphate mine on the nearby Pacific island of Nauru or as merchant seamen around the world. The economic pressure to earn a living starts at an early age, too: average life expectancy at birth is only 53 years, and the median age of the people is 20.
Efforts to encourage a market orientation of the economy have met with only limited success, and there is little by way of a private sector or of a capital base from which private enterprise could be built up. Government is therefore left with the responsibility of providing basic services, and 70% of the workforce in the formal economy is employed in the public sector, which, in addition to administration, carries on such activities as electricity generation, communications, printing and even the running of a hotel on South Tarawa and guesthouses elsewhere. The government wage bill and other outgoings are consequently high, while revenue-generating resources are low.
Trying to balance the two sides of this equation is naturally the top priority of any Kiribati Government. To look at revenue first, the country's production base remains very narrow, and the only exports are fish and copra, neither of which has performed well in recent years. Sea slugs and seaweed are now being developed as export products, but do not yet account for a significant proportion of GDP. Phosphate deposits on Banaba island were once the main resource but were exhausted just after independence from British rule in 1979. With foresight, revenue surpluses from the mining sector had been deposited in a Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund, the interest on which has been drawn on since that time to cover the fiscal deficit, together with generous aid grants from donor countries and organisations. In fact cautious husbandry of the Fund has increased its value from approximately AUS $70 million at its establishment in 1979 to AUS $260 m at the end of 1991. Thanks to a tight fiscal policy, the economy as a whole is, though undiversifed and vulnerable, stable and there are hopes of modest growth.
Another revenue source is the sale of fishing licences to foreign vessels, mostly from the USA, with smaller numbers from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Federated States of Micronesia. Since Kiribati has only one patrol boat to monitor what is happening in its vast sea area, however, checking catch sizes is problematic and poachers also get in and out uncaught. A great deal more deep-sea fish could be caught without harming stocks, and encouraging the country's own fishermen to expand their operations is high on the government's list of priorities, not just in order to keep fish as a foreign exchange earner in l-Kiribati hands but also to create employment and savings on the outer islands and thereby encourage their inhabitants to stay and work there.
This will involve training fishermen in improved practices, and the same needs to be done for farmers, whose productivity could be raised significantly if they were introduced to better planting and fertilising methods. The lack of productive skills usable for development is a deep-seated problem in many sectors of the Kiribati economy. Going back to reduction of the public-sector wage bill, like many other countries trying to apply modern recipes for development Kiribati has been trying to cut down the numbers in government employment and encourage redundant civil servants to set up as entrepreneurs on their own account. In practice, with the lack of practical expertise among members of that group and the modest amounts of capital available for start-up, this can only mean creating small businesses. One quarter of the country's National Indicative Programme for the first five years of LomÃ© IV is being devoted to setting up a project to streamline the 2500-strong civil service and train its personnel in skills appropriate to their likely future, whether inside or outside the public sector.
The long-term aim is to raise standards throughout the education system and fit every l-Kiribati citizen who wants it for productive employment. At the moment there is a serious job shortage outside subsistence activities. Two thousand young people leave school each year, and the public sector can only take a quarter of that number; if the rest want to enter the labour market they must turn to the private sector or become self-employed, either of which means further training. The Technical Institute on Tarawa is, for example, teaching civil servants and private office staff computer skills for career advancement, and gives courses in rural development and sustainable technology as well. Making this kind of scheme self-sustaining is difficult, however, for as soon as l-Kiribati nationals have been trained by expatriates to a level where they could act as instructors themselves, they are recruited by skill-hungry employers outside, thus perpetuating the dependence on foreign expertise.
Development of natural resources will have to be properly controlled, as the natural balance of the islands is frail and already under severe strain in densely populated areas. There are no controls on pollution or proper waste management systems. As the officials of the Government's Environment Unit put it: 'Everything that comes into this country by ship stays here.' Solid waste is dumped on the beach", and there are no facilities for recycling glass, plastic and oil waste. On South Tarawa scrapped buses, lorries and cars are simply left on wasteland to rust.
The lagoon inside Tarawa atoll is contaminated with refuse, and a causeway built recently to link two islets round the edge together by road, without regard to the environmental impact, has blocked off an inlet from the open sea through which the lagoon waters used to be naturally regenerated. In some parts of the capital the underground freshwater supply - the only kind there is in Kiribati - is in danger of being made undrinkable by seepage of human and animal waste, and the level of gastro-intestinal disease there is the highest in the Pacific. As for environmental degradation by coastal erosion, that is part of the dynamic cycle of the growth of atolls and, if it cannot ultimately be stopped, a way of living with it would be to move out of its way, except that the traditional land tenure system keeps the families in affected areas clinging on to their vanishing property because, when they are finally forced to migrate, others will be reluctant to let them occupy new land. For some years, therefore, there has been a policy of moving people from the overcrowded Gilberts to resettle deserted islands in other groups, while traditional knowledge of natural resource conservation is being exported back from the outer islands and studied by development planners in the capital.
Politically, Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, is a sovereign republic which achieved independence from Britain in July 1979. Traditionally, authority was exercised by the older men in island communities, younger men and all women being excluded from political power, but the Constitution now provides for a democracy with a 41-Member House of Assembly and a President elected by universal suffrage. Local government is carried on by two urban and 17 island councils, whose members are publicly elected. The bedrock of social life in rural areas, nevertheless, is the traditional custom of deciding community matters by public discussion in the maneaba or meeting house. In national politics the issues are dictated more by the interests of different parts of the country or clan groups than by ideological differences. In 1994 the 1 5-year rule of the National Progressive Party was brought to an end amid allegations that members of the Government had misused public funds, and in elections in October Teburoro Tito of the Maneaban Te Mauri Party defeated three rival candidates from his own party to become President. The new Administration is continuing its predecessor's policy of friendly relations with foreign countries and is active in many regional bodies and selected UN agencies. Mr Tito's priorities include reducing dependence on overseas aid, particularly by obtaining a better return on fishing licences in the EEZ, so by gradual steps the arduous battle to win economic as well as political independence will continue to be waged.
'It is not sufficient to aspire for improved standards of living when this cannot be sustained in the long run'
Under the Constitution of Kiribati promulgated in 1979, the Beretitenti or President is both head of state and head of government of the republic. The present incumbent, Teburoro Tito, came to power following elections in October 1994. Mr Tito, who was one of the three candidates standing for the Maneaban Te Mauri Party, won by an outright majority in a hotly contested poll. The Courier asked the President for his view of the present political and social situation in Kiribati now that the election process was over.
- I regard the present situation as calm, stable and progressive. I accept the fact that prior to the recent elections there was excitement among the people as to who should be their leader. The elimination of the candidates of the previous Government for the Presidency (which included the former President) called for a change in Government. As one of the four candidates for the position, I had every confidence that the people knew best who should be their leader, in spite of the legal battle brought against me by the former President to discredit my candidature. All attempts by the former President and his supporters to downplay my candidature failed and, God willing, the elections have been completed, my colleagues and I in Cabinet and in Parliament have immediate tasks ahead to reconstruct and prepare Kiribati for the 21st century.
· What are the difficulties of governing a country with Kiribati's combination of isolation, long distances and scattered population ?
- The coordination role of Government is affected greatly by Kiribati's isolation, compounded by the long distances and scattered population. Politically, it is essential that the population is unified and that Government has access to its people wherever they are located. The scattered population on widely dispersed islands with long distances in between demand greater resourcefulness on the part of Government in the provision of essential services. Administratively, there are bound to be delays in the implementation of government policies given the circumstances, but I have every confidence that we will overcome this problem in the not too distant future.
· What are your main economic concerns in Kiribati and how do you intend to address them ?
- Our main economic concern in Kiribati is our ability to improve and sustain the living standards of our people. It is not sufficient to aspire for improved standards of living when this cannot be sustained in the long run. We must have the necessary infrastructure and the productive sectors developed to support what we want to aspire for. At the same time, our human resources must be trained and our civil servants paid sufficient remuneration. On other islands, where most of our population live, the price of copra has been raised so that they get a better return and produce more. This also means that Government must work hard to identify copra markets overseas so that we get a better return from our exports of copra. Similarly, local handicrafts and local produce will be promoted with a view to exporting these on a regular basis.
As a small nation, Kiribati will have a difficult task addressing these concerns. But I am confident that with our own political commitment and the continued support of the international community, we will achieve what we aspire to. I want to emphasise that the primary task is with us as no one will be willing to help if we cannot even help ourselves.
· What are the main steps which you intend to take in your first months in office ?
- Let me list some of the immediate major tasks required in order to achieve our desired goals. The price of copra had to be increased, and this has been done. We aim to increase the salary of Government's civil servants to keep pace with the increased cost of living. We must establish two new Ministries, one to be responsible for international trade and the other for social welfare, Unimane (old men's) associations, women, youth, sports and nongovernmental organisations. Financial support will be injected into government-owned companies whose financial status is critical and stringent measures will be applied on the management side to boost the output of those companies. We will strengthen our international relations and consider the establishment of Kiribati diplomatic missions overseas to complement domestic efforts in our aspiration for improved living standards. And we need to create large export and import-substituting industries, including tourism.
· Kiribati has developed a strong cultural identity and sustained itself economically at a certain level since time immemorial. Is there a risk that a push for western-style development will disrupt society, throw the economy off balance and jeopardise what has been achieved ?
- I should perhaps say that no country can isolate itself from the rest of the world. It goes without saying therefore that the influence of western-style development will continue to be felt and it is important for Government to identify those western styles of development that will be useful to Kiribati and disregard those that have the potential to affect the cultural identity of the people of Kiribati.
The risk that I see in the western style of development is where such developments do not help us to secure a better quality of life and at the same time do not conform with our culture and identity as l-Kiribati people. But in saying this it is important to realise that it is not always a good idea to insist on maintaining a certain cultural aspect for the sake of maintaining our identity if this would undermine all other efforts to achieve our desired goals, including our aspiration for improved living standards.
· Are the extended family system and traditional land tenure patterns a help or a hindrance to development ?
- A family system in our traditional sense is important for us. The fact that Kiribati has been a peaceful society is attributed to the coherence of the family system in villages and on different islands in this country. The extended family system together with strong religious activities contributes to a peaceful society.
The situation with regard to our traditional land tenure system is a little different. At the moment, there are numerous lands undeveloped and underdeveloped for reasons relating to our traditional land tenure system, whereby parents do not immediately allocate or distribute their land plots to their children until they get old to see who, among their children, has cared more for them. This is one example where our traditional land tenure system may hinder our development.
· Is Kiribati's primary need more money or more skilled manpower ?
- Our primary need is the development of our manpower resources. We must have skilled manpower. We will not be able to achieve our desired goals without the appropriate skilled manpower. Money is, of course, needed to get things started and it is essential that we have the financial ability to support all our activities. But the development of our manpower resources should be given priority.
· Have you plans to involve women and young people more fully in public decision-making ?
- The involvement of women and young people more fully in the public decision-making process is an area which received little attention from the previous Administration. In fact, we should not blame anyone for this, because the root of the problem is with our tradition and custom whereby the place of women and youth is not in the Maneaba where village and community decisions are made. This is the kind of problem that we are facing continuously and which requires urgent attention, especially in view of the potential contribution of women and youth to society. In recognition of the potential of these groups to Kiribati society as a whole, my Government has also agreed to the establishment of a new Ministry to be responsible for social welfare, including women, young people, unimane associations and nongovernmental organisations. This will be operational in 1995.
· What is your view on the scope for greater regional cooperation in the Pacific ?
- I view regional cooperation in the Pacific as a vehicle to help each Pacific island country develop towards achieving its desired goals in the Pacific context. Regional cooperation would not serve its purpose and meaning if certain Pacific island countries lost out more from any regional undertaking while others enjoyed the benefits. This is what has happened in the past and to a certain extent it is still happening. We must ensure the benefit from any regional undertaking is equitable and the members are satisfied.
I believe there is scope for greater regional cooperation in the Pacific but this has not been fully explored yet because individual countries are more preoccupied with their own interests and would not be prepared to accommodate the interests of others, especially those who may be more disadvantaged. There may have been certain improvements in this direction but more attention should be devoted to the promotion of intra-trade and intra-shipping, and other regional cooperation activities.
· How do you regard your country's relations with the European Union through the LomÃ© Convention ? What changes, if any, would you like to see to the Convention now that it is being revised ?
- Our relationship with the European Union through the LomÃ© Convention is one which is normal, friendly and helpful. In the past, we have had difficulty with the procedural requirements of the EU, especially for project funding, under the Convention. At one time the Delegate of the EC (as it was called then) for Kiribati was based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and communications were quite a problem. Later, the Office of the delegate was moved to Suva, Fiji, and this relieved some of the problems as flights to and from Fiji are more frequent. The recent establishment of the small EU office in Kiribati to look after all EU matters in this country is a positive development in our efforts to streamline our operations with the EU under the LomÃ© Convention.
As the Convention is being revised, I feel it is important that the concerns of countries under the Convention should be incorporated in the changes to be adopted. In the first instance, I feel the Stabex kind should be increased with a view to increasing the allocation for countries such as Kiribati which are heavily dependent on copra. Further, I would advocate the need for the establishment of a separate Stabex kind for marine resources, particularly seaweed. My Government is presently engaged in the identification of appropriate markets for these commodities, to produce better returns, and I believe the EU, through the LomÃ© Convention, will have an important role to play in this regard.
Interview by R.R.
'Kiribati should adopt a mutual benefit approach with aid donors,'
Kiribati's Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is, among other things, responsible for developmeet, aid administration and relations with the country's overseas development partners. At its head is Beniamina Tiinga, a member of the new Administration appointed after the elections in October 1994. The Courier asked the Minister how far Kiribati depended on aid for its recurrent and capital expenditure.
- Strictly speaking Kiribati does not depend on aid for its recurrent budget. Kiribati can finance its recurrent budget from its own resources. There have, however, been aid funds used to finance activities which are recurrent in nature, such as operating our cargo and passenger shipping services, running our fishing vessels and renovating public buildings and houses.
Kiribati capital expenditure is generally funded with aid funds. Every year over 90% of the development budget expenditure is financed with aid money.
· Do you consider that the country is overdependent on foreign donors and lenders ?
- Given the very narrow resource base of the country and the generous aid funds available one can argue that Kiribati has to be dependent on foreign donors and lenders. The word 'overdependent' is rather extreme and difficult to justify given the fact that foreign donors and lenders are more than geared to provide assistance. I think the issue is: why should we use our scarce resources when there are grants readily available? Following this, one could then ask a question on the effective use to which aid funds are put. This is an important question and Kiribati has been trying to ensure that such grants are used effectively in order to reduce our dependency on external aid in future.
When we gained independence in 1979, the UK agreed to support our recurrent budget. By the mid 1980s, Kiribati unexpectedly decided to do away with UK budgetary support. With this event, I think Kiribati should do away with the old concept of aid being a charity of the rich towards the poor for their development efforts but should adopt what I call a mutual benefit approach with aid donors.
· What are the main potential areas for development in Kiribati ?
- The areas identified by the current plan are resource-based small industries with greater private-sector involvement; tourism, particularly in the Line Islands; and fisheries, especially on a joint-venture arrangement.
· What is Kiribati's current international trading position, and what comparative advantages does the country possess which it can exploit to secure itself a place in the world economy ?
- It is true that Kiribati has been importing more than it exports and the country's comparative advantage would lie mainly in the fisheries sector.
· The copra producer price has recently been substantially increased. What are the financial implications and how will they be covered ?
- It is estimated that additional sum of AUS $800 000 to 1 million per annum will be required to subsidise the increased copra price of 40c per kg. Initially the subsidy will come from the Government Special Reserve (which is Stabex money) saved from last year's payments. Current projections expect raw copra prices in Europe not to improve in future and that could mean continued subsidy until better markets are located and more local milling established to improve the price. We have not yet decided to use the Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund for this purpose.
· Do you have any plans to cut down the size of the public sector ?
- This Government is to establish two additional Ministries and it would be most unlikely that the public sector will be reduced.
· In what sectors are you encouraging privatisation and with what results 7
- The Government encourages privatisation only in those areas which can be handled by local businessmen. The policy is not to sell public companies completely to foreign investors. Foreign investors are encouraged to establish their own businesses and to assist in improving the performance of existing public companies through management contracts.
· Are you concerned about the effects of development, both in Kiribati and in the wider world, on the country's environment? What action is Kiribati taking to protect its environment ?
- This Government is very concerned about the effects of development on our environment. Internally, Government has undertaken various awareness programmes, revised existing legislation and actively participated in regional workshops, training sessions and seminars on the environment. On the international scene, Kiribati is a party to several conventions; for example, the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by the Dumping of Wastes, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the UN Framework Convention on Climatic Change. Kiribati was an active participant at the World Conference on the Environment and Development held in Rio and at the Barbados Meeting on the Development of Small Island States which took place last year.
Interview by R.R.
Since as far back as the records go, the I-Kiribati have subsisted largely on coconuts and fish. Nature has provided their islands with a supply of both that can be drawn on almost indefinitely and with practically no effort. An occasional treat of pork or chicken, generally at a religious or social ceremony, virtually completes the traditional diet. Large quantities of imported rice, flour, sugar and canned food are modern additions and are appreciated because they both vary the choice and are easy to prepare.
Breadfruit, banana, pandanus, fig and swamp taro, a green leaf plant grown in flooded pits and of low nutritional value, are the local fruit and vegetable crops.
The effects of this fattening fare on the physique are all too often apparent to the mere layman, but it has taken modern medicine and nutritional science to detect the hidden dangers to health. Obesity brings the risk of cardiovascular conditions, and an unbalanced diet undermines the organism in other ways: the vitamin A shortage produced by the absence of green vegetables in the local food, for example, has left 14% of all children in Kiribati suffering from night blindness.
As an attempt to find solutions to these problems, a regional programme financed from the European Development Fund has been set up to promote greater nutritional awareness and dietary variety in Kiribati and several of its Pacific neighbours. On Tarawa, the main atoll, a programme called Sustainable Systems of Food Crop Production in Atolls researches and develops plant varieties and planting methods from all over the South Pacific to produce better crop yields, greater disease resistance and higher nutritional value.
In the five years since it started, the University of the South Pacific research centre where the programme is being carried out has found that several varieties of vegetables, root crops, tree fruits and traditional plants can be grown successfully by planting them in trenches, drums and pits rather than straight into the generally infertile ground. They include vegetable crops such as beans, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, gourds, melons and tomatoes, root crops like taro, sweet potato, cassava and tannia, as well as fruit crops like pawpaws, mangoes, guavas, citrus fruit, custard apples and grapes. Traditional Kiribati crops also showed a marked improvement. Moving onto field trials, further discoveries were made. For example, a reclaimed area of swampland near the airport was planted with coconuts, but in the unfamiliar environment .. their roots became waterlogged and the trees died. Experimental intercropping with swamp taro successfully aerated the saturated roots and subsequent plantings of coconuts have thrived. Pigs and ducks are now being raised at the same site and feed off the plant waste generated, producing meat and manure themselves.
A new tomato variety which flourishes in the sunbaked atoll climate has been developed and christened, appropriately enough, Tomatoll. In Kiribati's equatorial climate, a sour kumquat variety (citrus mytis) has been found to produce fruit all year round, a very useful botanical curiosity. The drumstick, a large green leaf plant, produces nutritious leaves for salad, stewing and mixing with fish, as well as acting as a sturdy boundary marker when planted in rows - hence its nickname, the living fence post. Experiments with Pacific ferns have produced a powerful fertiliser which also improves the taste of the bacao plant, a type of mangrove, round which the rotting fern leaves are placed as compost. A soil improvement mix has been developed out of vegetable and animal waste, cutting by three quarters the amount of compost traditionally required for planting in trenches. Empty oil drums sliced in half lengthwise and filled with this mix have also turned out to make good substitutes for beds dug into the ground, which everywhere consists of hard coral with a thin topsoil.
Many members of the public cultivate home gardens to supplement their diet, and they have been familiarised with new ideas and varieties very effectively through field days at which hundreds of plant cuttings and seeds are distributed. Instructors are being trained, and workshops have been carried out on almost all the country's many islands. Women's organisations have helped devise recipes using the new plants. As word of these new and sustainable crops and growing methods spreads, it can only have a positive effect on public health - and increase the pleasure of eating.
Growing plants as a cash crop, not for consumption, is also getting encouragement through European Union funding - but this is gardening with a difference. The traditional agricultural export earner is copra, the dried flesh of the coconut, but competition, mainly from the Philippines, has hit producers hard, so some are now turning their attention from planting the land to harvesting the sea. The shallow offshore waters of the lagoons inside Kiribati's atolls are ideal for cultivating seaweed, and a programme now under way with EU support of ECU 1.1 million aims to introduce improved varieties of the plant and turn it into a major export product. An agency called the Atoll Seaweed Company Ltd is working with the government ministries responsible for commerce, industry and employment, foreign affairs and international trade, and finance and economic planning, to exploit the important market which exists in the EU for Kiribati's native seaweed type, euchema cottonii. This species is refined into carrageenan, a fixative used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food processing industries.
To the northwest of Tarawa and separated by a treacherous channel of open ocean lies Abaiang, an atoll with a population of 5000 people living in 14 villages. One in ten of its inhabitants now lives on the proceeds of seaweed growing, which has become the community's most important economic activity. The seaweed is planted in the seabed at a distance from the shore where it can be easily tended at low tide, and the plants are trained along string slung between stakes. When harvested, it is taken and dried onshore and then sold to visiting buyers from the Atoll Seaweed Co., who pay AUS $0.35 per kg for the dried product.
Farmers in one village, Nuotaea, have planted the whole lagoon-side shoreline of their islet with seaweed and say they can earn AUS $100 a week for their community, double their previous earnings from other activities. The money goes to buying extra food plus such imported conveniences as outboard motors, large cooking pots, sewing machines and thermos flasks and to paying school fees. The villagers are Christian believers and contribute to building projects run by the atoll's Catholic and Protestant churches. They have also invested collectively in a video recorder and cassettes for the public meeting house. A deeper though less visible change in their lives is that they are no longer forced to beg from their relatives in paid employment in Tarawa to pay for anything beyond the mere necessities of life. And if the scheme works in the long term, there can be some hope of economic self-sufficiency without exile to the capital or abroad.
Production levels for the whole of Kiribati stand at some 1200 tonnes per annum at present, and the export value of the seaweed accounted for 25% of the total value of the country's exports in 1990. Looking to the future, the Government's hope is to secure funding for a processing plant in Kiribati itself. At the moment the seaweed is all shipped to Denmark to be processed there, and the overseas freight charges are understandably high. Part-processing at source would reduce these costs, add value in the country itself and create more employment. And Kiribati could process for its neighbours, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which have also shown considerable interest in seaweed production. So both the local and the regional economies would benefit.
Developing telecommunications and natural resources
The European Union is a significant donor to Kiribati. EDF assistance over the years has mainly been concentrated on infrastructure, particularly telecommunications, and on marine resource develop. meet. Stabex transfers, too, have played a key role in supporting the copra sector.
Kiribati was allocated ECU 3.5 million under the LomÃ© I National Indicative Programme (NIP), which was used principally to provide a telephone system on South Tarawa, the island where the capital is situated. In addition, airstrips were constructed on two outer islands, and an 80-hectare fish farm was established to provide baitfish for the local tuna fishing industry.
Under the LomÃ© II NIP, Kiribati was allocated ECU 4 million, of which a significant proportion was utilised for the construction of two 26-metre pole and line tuna fishing boats. Remaining resources were used to complete the South Tarawa telephone system and for a multiannual training programme. A microprojects programme was also undertaken, covering copra sheds, water and sanitation, seaweed cultivation and fish ponds.
The grant element of the LomÃ© III NIP consisted of ECU 6.5 million, of which almost 90% was utilised for the further development of the telecommunications sector. Under this programme, new telephone exchanges were installed on Tarawa and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), together with a new air and marine guard radio system. Remaining funds were used to finance the overseas training of telecommunications and public-sector personnel.
Under the LomÃ© IV NIP, signed in April 1991, it was agreed that 90% of the programmable resources managed by the Commission, totalling ECU 6 million, should be concentrated on two sectors, natural resources development and communications. The remaining 10%would be used for technical cooperation, training and cultural cooperation.
Since 1991, a number of preparatory studies have been undertaken which have resulted in one project already being approved and three other projects being identified for possible EDF support. A seaweed development programme was approved in late 1994 and ECU 1.1 m allocated to it. The project seeks to expand the production of seaweed for export, together with the introduction of new, higher-value species. The three other projects which have been identified comprise a training programme, which aims to increase skills in certain key sectors, mainly through in-country training; an airport development project to upgrade facilities at the country's three main airports (Tarawa, Kiritimati and Kanton); and an environmental programme to remove the large number of vehicle wrecks on South Tarawa.
The considerable distance between Kiribati and the Delegation of the European Commission for the Pacific, based in Fiji, poses day-to-day problems in respect of communications and the management of the EDF programme in Kiribati. To help overcome these problems, a technical assistant has been supplied to the National Authorising Officer since 1992. Up to the end of 1993 the post was held by a European, but since then the task has been undertaken by a local l-Kiribati national employed under contract. The presence of the TA to the NAO has certainly facilitated the implementation of the EDF programme in the country.
Since 1975 Kiribati has received 10 Stabex transfers totalling almost ECU 7 m, all relating to copra exports. These funds have been used by the Government to support the copra producer price during periods of depressed world prices. This has enabled rural incomes to be safeguarded and helped to stabilise copra production.
The European Investment Bank has financed one risk capital operation in Kiribati, covering additional shareholding in the Pacific Forum Shipping Line, at a cost of ECU 200 000. The EIB has also agreed to provide a minimum allocation of ECU 1.5 m in risk capital to Kiribati under LomÃ© III and IV.
Under the EU AIDS programme, Kiribati was supplied with blood testing equipment at a cost of ECU 50 000 in 1992.
Kiribati has participated fully in the various projects financed under the Pacific Regional Programme, notably in the areas of agriculture and fisheries, telecommunications, energy and tourism.