Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alternative Indicators for Well-being for Melanesia: Vanuatu pilot study

Alternative Indicators for Well-being for Melanesia: A Vanuatu Pilot Study has revealed that: 79 per cent of Vanuatu citizens (ni-Vanuatu), including 92 per cent for rural dwellers, can access their customary lands; 90 per cent of ni-Vanuatu have knowledge of the boundaries of their customary land; 88 per cent believe that this land is sufficient to meet their needs; 95 per cent of those with access grow their own food to eat and build their own homes.

How many of us in the rest of the world can point to the sources of our livelihood with such a direct and profound sense of right and responsibility?

Jamie Tanguay co-ordinated the study seeking indicators for well-being in Melanesia. While Vanuatu is a Least Developed Country (LDC) according to the World Bank, which focuses on the potential labour force, training, and vulnerability to natural disasters, it has little of the environmental, social and political problems endemic to many LDCs.
This study was released by the Malvatumauri National Council of Chiefs, Vanuatu National Statistics Office, and Vanuatu Kaljarol Senta (VKS) supported by the Christensen Fund and Secretariat of the Pacific Community and endorsed by leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). It sought to follow the lead of the New Economics Foundation and Lonely Planet definitions of Vanuatu as the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ to produce non-monetary indicators of well-being. In a recent press release drawn on for an article by Bob Makin, 5 September 2012, in the Vanuatu Daily Post — which informed this post — Tanguay said:
Vanuatu still has a vibrant traditional economy that has served it well for thousands of years. It has supported a population several times larger than the present one with enough healthy organic food for all men, women, and children, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. It supported living conditions for extended family units — with housing, cooking and sanitation facilities — supported community organizations by providing places for congregation and interaction, and continues to do so for most ni-Vanuatu today. The traditional economy is culture. It is how society organizes itself to provide for the livelihoods of its members.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding from this study on ni-Vanuatu well-being is that of TORBA Province, the northern most province in the country with the lowest GDP per capita and least access to markets ... in effect the most 'economically handicapped' and, coincidentally, the Province with the highest subjective well-being (or, happiness) of any other province by a significant amount. It is also the province with the highest perceived equality, highest levels of trust in neighbors, most positive assessment of traditional leaders, highest rates of community interaction, and the list goes on.
I have coupled this item with a photo (below) of a talk I gave last weekend (Saturday 8 September) at the sustainability Footlight Festival at North Katoomba Primary School in the Blue Mountains NSW (Australia). The talk was about the non-monetary and food-focused Blue Mountains Fruit and Nut Tree Network. Living as we do in the disadvantaged group of Western, so-called developed, nations we have a long way to catch up with our neighbours in Vanuatu, but our network promotes local fruit and nut plant growing, local simple processing and sharing of the surplus. Earlier this year, after some years coordinating the network, I handed on the task to Kat Szuminska. All the real work is done by the over 200 local community members who share their skills and knowledge through the network's sharing economy activities.

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