This paper examines Bismarck Ramu Group’s distinct model of community development. After looking at a brief history of the group, its internal workings and its modified approach to conservation, the paper tries to identify possible lessons for other groups. Four broad lessons are suggested: the self-reliant model, indigenous community empowerment, the challenge to ‘desocialised’ conservation and certain elements of the group’s process.

The BRG ‘model’ could be summed up as: firstly, developing indigenous partnerships with villager-landowners; secondly, assisting villager-landowners to develop self-reliant strategies based on customary land tenure; and, finally, assisting villager-landowners in community planing, including resource management and conservation options. It is suggested that this model is contingent on a region where there is secure title to productive land, and is subject to some competitive pressures. On the other hand, the model both counter poses and addresses the wide gap left by liberal policies, which demand intensified investment and commodification, and most often contribute to landlessness and poverty. A ‘Melanesian synthesis’ can be seen in the group’s internal processes, and in its approach to indigenous community empowerment – organised facilitation, and helping communities make their own substantial decisions over development and conservation. Finally the BRG, with some authority through its own experience and practice, rejects ‘desocialised’ conservation projects and plans. It maintains that the leadership of traditional custodians must be reasserted, in future partnerships, for successful nature conservation in Melanesian society. Conservation must be seen as an enduring custodianship issue, and not as a desocialised process.

2005 Challenging ‘integrated conservation and development in PNG: The Bismarck Ramu Group PDF

Pacific Economic Bulletin, 20(1), pp.56-66