Every now and then, governments and communities around the world come face to face with the challenge of having to weigh choices while seeking to strike a delicate balance between pursuing certain courses of development actions and conserving the finite natural resources that are available for the people and businesses to meet their needs and support their wellbeing. Building up a reliable base of evidence that can facilitate such decision-making in an informed way is not only difficult but is also a kind of complex process that mixes the need for technical and analytical skills with the need for agencies with the relevant mandates to work together in collecting and packaging environmental data and information in a way that makes it known, available and accessible to all. Unfortunately in Samoa, the collection and collation of environmental data and information has been marked by ad-hoc, siloed and disjointed effort, resulting into the data being held in scattered repositories, which makes it rather obscure and less accessible to people and businesses in the country to use for decision making.
In response, the UNJP on Ecosystems Services is enabling the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) and the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS), which are the two key governmental agencies with environmental data collection, compilation and custodian mandates, to heighten their interaction and collaboration as well as their joint engagement with other governmental and non-governmental actors with regard to the sourcing and management of data and information on the country’s natural wealth and the benefits it provides to people and the economy. When in 2022 the UNJP on two occasions facilitated conversation between MNRE and SROS to discuss the common but differentiated interests in the bio-medicinal research and water quality monitoring activities that the Joint Programme is supporting, the two agencies were able to jointly identify ways to better share the information and human resources that are in their possession in order to support the achievement of the outcomes that the JP aims to deliver to the country.
These conversations involved engagement with other actors including the Samoa Conservation Society (SCS), Conservation International (CI), National University of Samoa (NUS) and IUCN, which revealed the potential to leverage the marine plant sampling exercise that was undertaken by CI in 2022; the potential to use the support of the School of Medicine at NUS in conducting trials of any biopharmaceutical products that might be identified through the bio-medicinal research that is being done by SROS; the possibility to partner with Peace Gardens initiative of NUS to engage youth in supporting the collection and transplanting of plants that will be identified to be of bio-medicinal value into the botanical gardens where the plant species will be conserved; and the potential to broaden MNRE’s ongoing collaboration with IUCN to include sharing of data that will support the development of ocean accounts which will record the status and social and economic value of the natural resources contained in the coast and ocean. Moreover, through the support of the UNJP, MNRE was able to engage a wide range of people through the consultative and technical working groups that were created to review and validate the draft of the country’s 4th State of Environment Report (SOER), thereby the allowing MNRE to harness the power of stakeholder engagement to gain input on the SOER in a way that reflects the environmental realities of the country from the perspective of various people and sectors.
As a result, the Joint Programme is helping actors in Samoa to build the kind of connection, rapport and mutual understanding that they need to be able to share information and resources and to jointly forge holistic approaches to the identification of natural resources of value that need to be protected; put together and spread information and knowledge that will help the population to understand the need to protect those natural resources; and develop measures to enhance the conservation and protection of the resources, both for the sustainable use of today’s society and businesses and for future generations. In this way, the UNJP is enhancing institutional strengthening at SROS and MNRE in a way that enables the two agencies to attain and benefit from shared leadership in the generation and stewarding of environmental information, by leveraging each other’s competencies and both improve their ability to collect, collate and make environmental data open and available and to interact constructively with other actors and stakeholders who could play the important role of knowledge intermediaries to provide access to that information in ways which are valued and used by policymakers and practitioners to guide decisions.
Looking forward, this step was taken in 2022 towards ensuring the utility of the data portal, policy toolkit on bio-ethics and ocean accounts that will be developed, the accessibility of ecosystem data, and incremental change to the evidence-based decision-making agenda and in the way individual and organisational actors think out, make, present and frame the case for strong policies and investment in ecosystem conservation demonstrates a positive change and a movement along a pathway towards the intended overall impact of the UNJP which is designed to break silos and set the ground for activating evidence-informed policymaking and practice by development actors which will ultimately contribute to improvements in the decisions that government and people will make with regard to the conservation of the country’s precious and revered natural wealth.