AQUACULTURE | Navigating hope: SMK’s transformational journey in empowering Pohnpei through aquaculture practices

Picture-01 Seaweeds collection from the Sea | Photo source: Sokehs Menin Ketengesed (SMK)

In the western Pacific Ocean, the idyllic small island of Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia is home to a rich diversity of marine life. However, this diverse ecosystem is under threat from climate change and other human activities. Recognizing the urgent need to protect these invaluable natural resources, Sokehs Menin Ketengesed (SMK), an NGO based in Pohnpei, embarked on an ambitious initiative to implement sustainable seaweed harvesting and marine conservation practices.

They were able to embark on this journey with the help of funding from the UNDP-Adaptation Fund Climate Innovation Accelerator (AFCIA), a programme that aims to foster and accelerate innovative technologies, practices, and business models for local adaptation through tapping into the incredible potential of NGOs, civil society, women and young innovators.

Their guiding principle, “Tuhken Wahr Tipwitipw, Wahr Seisei” translated to “Sticks of the canoe are breaking, but the canoe continues to sail”, highlights their determination as they continue to work with coastal communities driving change. We interviewed Mark Johnny, the President of the Sokehs Menin Ketengesed Board.

Rooted in community engagement, SMK has been making an impact in the community through targeted awareness campaigns on sustainable management of resources, and adoption of traditional fishing techniques. This has successfully shifted locals to focus away from mass fishing for the market, to taking ownership of the preservation of natural resources. Additionally, they have provided employment through the creation of sustainable blue jobs, particularly the appointment of community conservation officers. This has empowered individuals to take ownership of their work and thus has been instrumental in contributing to the overall success of marine protection efforts. They continue to fortify Pohnpei’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) against the consequences of climate change while simultaneously uplifting local communities.

Moreover, The UNDP-AFCIA grant has been instrumental in amplifying SMK’s footprint. They have made incredible efforts to harness local knowledge to implement sustainable seaweed management practices that prioritizes preservation over extraction. The initiative serves a dual purpose, not only does it provide a sustainable source of income for local communities, but it also acts as a critical element in the broader strategy to build resilience against climate change impacts. Seaweed serves as a powerhouse of essential nutrients, fortifying local diets and supporting indigenous and culturally significant foods.

Photo source: Sokehs Menin Ketengesed (SMK)

One of the standout achievements has been the creation of a seaweed farm, a departure from traditional farming methods. This venture was not without its challenges as SMK had to navigate the complexities of working in government jurisdiction and creating market linkages. However, after persistent efforts and consultations with the esteemed traditional chief of the community, SMK was ultimately able to obtain the necessary approvals from the government.

“One of the standout achievements has been the creation of a seaweed farm, a departure from traditional farming methods”

This was a major victory for the project as it paved the way for the establishment of a sustainable seaweed farm that would have a positive impact on the community. They also worked to educate the public about the benefits of seaweed farming, which helped to create demand for the product. These processes highlighted the intricacies of navigating through government-backed traditional structures, underscoring the complexity of our undertaking.

SMK’s approach has been holistic and hands-on. The initiative relies on a multifaceted aquaculture approach including growing different species of fish, seaweed and sea cucumbers (a delicacy on the island)). As SMK has actively aligned their efforts with the state’s strategic development plan (agriculture and the fisheries rationale while safeguarding natural resources and cultural heritage), focusing on exporting and expanding seaweed cultivation they are now being endorsed by the government. Furthermore, to enhance the project’s viability, SMK has collaborated with a fellow from Oxford University (engaged via the UNDP AFCIA programme) to develop comprehensive business plans. This strategic partnership aims to optimize the project’s potential and ensure its longterm sustainability.

The proceeds from seaweed sales contributed to the establishment of a revolving fund, which in turn compensates Community Conservation Officers who are dedicated to enforcing MPA conservation measures. The grant has elevated the role of local conservation officers and enabled them to conduct critical fish counts and provide invaluable data for MPA monitoring. Specialized training programs have been implemented to enhance their proficiency, ensuring they remain at the forefront of conservation efforts in Pohnpei.

The grant has facilitated 120 climate monitoring sessions, fostering heightened vigilance and equipping fishermen and farmers with the information needed to make informed decisions. They serve as a bridge between traditional knowledge and modern conservation practices. Through their work, they have rekindled generational wisdom, teaching skills such as net mending, knot tying, and utilizing moon cues for optimal fishing times. This revival of traditional knowledge is instrumental in fostering a more sustainable approach to resource management.

A noteworthy mark of this initiative is its commitment to women’s empowerment through ensuring women’s active involvement in the harvesting and production of marketable goods. Notably, a significant portion of the value-added businesses such as pop-up restaurants and local businesses and shops, particularly those specializing in seafood, are under the management of women. This not only signifies a thriving economic opportunity but also underscores the project’s commitment to women’s empowerment. The success achieved in this aspect serves as a compelling model that can be replicated in other communities, promising increased economic support for women, as well as for individuals identifying with various gender identities, and those from communities most impacted by shocks and stresses. SMK is not only creating equitable opportunities but also catalyzing a shift towards enhanced nutritional diversity.

“A noteworthy mark of this initiative is its commitment to women’s empowerment through ensuring women’s active involvement in the harvesting and production of marketable goods.”

The UNDP AFCIA grant has not only provided crucial financial support to SMK’s projects but has also catalyzed a range of additional benefits and has expanded their influence and impact. It models that, through communities working together to protect their natural resources, sustainable development can be achieved. The grant has amplified awareness, strengthened partnerships, and equipped local stakeholders with the knowledge and tools to address the intricate challenges posed by climate change and unsustainable commercialization.  Through these efforts, SMK is sailing towards a future where Pohnpei’s marine ecosystem thrives in harmony with its coastal communities, a path towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

About this story:

This story has been co-created with the support from ICCCAD, UNDP and Sokehs Menin Ketengesed (SMK), in the framework of the UNDP managed – Adaptation Fund Climate Innovation Accelerator (AFCIA). The UNDP AFCIA programme counts with the financial contributions from the Adaptation Fund and the European Union, and has awarded 44 micro and small grants to locally-led organizations across 33 countries worldwide, accelerating their innovative solutions to build resilience in the most vulnerable communities.  UNDP-AFCIA, is one of the funding windows anchored under the Adaptation Innovation Marketplace (AIM), a multi-stakeholder strategic platform that promotes scaled-up adaptation at the local level, launched by UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner at the Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021.

Authors: Rukhsar Sultana is working as a researcher and development practitioner at an NGO based in Dhaka.