By Derek Mane
DESPITEa the arguments and debates on the type of development approach to adopt, Solomon Islands continue to implement the SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) policies influenced by the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
Although in some countries, the miracle therapy induced by the SAP has increased their national GDP, people’s livelihood and standard of living, their rural areas remained stagnated or have further deteriorated.
This brings the attention on development scholars to review the effectiveness of the mainstream development model and its goals.
The discussion on alternative development emerged in the early 1970s due to the unsatisfactory level of modernist development prescriptions and its impacts on Latin America, Africa and the rest of the developing countries.
Alternative development theorist believed that the mainstream development (economic growth model) has failed and should be reassessed.
Inspired by the 1975 Dag Hammarskjold Foundation report-“what Now”? A Development alternative proposed by development scholars is to be ‘people centred’ than ‘growth oriented’.
As a concept, this alternative development focuses on ‘alternative development practices’ and the ‘redefining of development goals’.
In the Pacific, particularly in PNG and the Solomon Islands, there are interesting cases of how indigenous communal systems have merged effectively alongside the capitalism framework to enhance rural livelihoods.
In West New Britain, Oro (Popondeta) (Papua New Guinea) and in the Guadalcanal Plains (Solomon Islands), the palm oil companies instead of acquiring land through land alienation processes, they have encourage tribal groups (to register community/communal association-land trust boards) and to retain their land but engage them as out growers of palm oil. By doing so, both the multinational company and customary land owner’s benefit.
However, a more radical version of alternative development practices is seen in Latin America with the Andean Indigenous Buen Vivir (living well or collective living) movement.
The Buen Vivir movement which gain both political and legal status in Ecuador and Bolivia, is grounded on Manfred Max-Neef and Amartya Sen’s development perspectives that put emphasis on ‘integral’ and ‘sustainable’ human development.
Buen Vivir emphasises development through the individual than the society nor is it reliant on or related to the transformation of its institution.
In broad terms, Buen Vivir focuses on the interconnectedness of economics with the political, social, cultural, and environmental sphere, as well as necessities, capacities and potentialities of human beings.
The key elements of this new framework are; equity, democracy, participation, protection of bio-diversity and natural resources, and respect for ethnic-cultural diversity. Buen Vivir envisages a new social, political, economic, and natural-based mode of development that is distant from capitalism.
Nonetheless, alternative development scholars believed that development at the rural level can only be successful, if rural people themselves participate or take control of their own lives.
Furthermore, rural areas need democratic decision-making system, social policies that foster equality as well as social security suitable for local conditions, and sustainable rural livelihood that encourage financial support and approaches that empowers the most vulnerable people in poor societies.
For traditional and closed societies, the alternative development also pays close attention to the nurturing of informal social networks, community cohesiveness or cooperation which are seen as social capital to drive community development.
Community best practices and successful home-grown development initiatives that promote good governance and opportunity for all are hailed as the way forward to develop. In fact, alternative development approach has led to the proliferation of non-governmental organisations throughout the developing world.
In Melanesia and in particular the Solomon Islands, informal social networks and social capital are common and relied upon by many to mitigate their hardship.
Although modernisation, dependency and alternative development theories may assist explaining why our rural areas are not developing, we need to really understand and seek solutions to some very important questions.
These include ‘How do we appreciate the difference between the diverse tribal civilisations and communal attributes that exist in the Solomon Islands? ‘Does communal arrangements, tradition and kastom promote good governance, rural development and eliminate poverty?
‘Is the wantok system as a social capital at the village level immune from such negative impacts? ‘Does the wantok system actually foster stability and livelihood well-being at the village level? ‘What type of wantok system promotes peace and prosperity?
In the Solomon Islands, social relations (can be individuals and groups-tribe) and group arrangement (can be a village to village or other institutions) are key to stability and prosperity. How these relationships are established and managed dictates individuals or households’ access to resource, market and livelihoods.
Although answers to these questions are yet to be investigated, these questions are relevant to the social construct that could be used to critically reorganise local level development models and networks.
The interest here lies on the wantok system as an alternative development practice to alleviate poverty at the village level in the Solomon Islands.