Sharing Knowledge between One Community and Another
In some respects, Stephanus Mandagi’s project on local knowledge and coastal communities, supported by the United Board’s Bamboo Grants Program, resembles a tale of three communities. In Baturapa, a village in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi Province, residents have been protecting 50 hectares of mangroves along their coastline for years. Yet in Sorong, the largest city in West Papua Province, mangroves have been cleared to make way for development and are used for construction materials. Meanwhile, on the campus of Sam Ratulangi University in North Sulawesi’s capital of Mandano, Dr. Mandagi has been using his classroom to help students understand the science of coastal conservation. He designed this project with Gaspar Manu, a lecturer at Sam Ratulangi University, and Roger Talabessy, a lecturer at Papua Christian University in Sorong so that students could try to bridge the different outlooks found in places like Baturapa and Sorong.
“This project was part of the course I teach on conservation of marine resources in the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science,” Dr. Mandagi said in a recent interview. He and his colleagues adopted service-learning as the teaching method so that students could connect the knowledge they were developing in the classroom with an appreciation for the local knowledge found in coastal communities. Documenting their newfound understanding of the value of mangroves, and sharing it with others through a video presentation, would give the students a concrete way to participate in Indonesia’s national mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change.
In Baturapa, students learned that the process of restoring mangroves began in 2005, when concerned residents began to realize that mangrove clearing had caused a reduction in the stock of small fish bait and left their homes exposed to winds. They began to restore the mangrove habitat and, eventually, even those who were reluctant to replant mangroves were persuaded. Protecting mangroves also protected the livelihoods of fishermen, their homes, and the outlook for future generations.
In Sorong, where Dr. Mandagi and his students worked in collaboration with Papua Christian University, students encountered a sharp contrast. “Huge mangrove areas were cleared, and mangrove poles were sold on the main streets and used as construction materials for buildings,” Dr. Mandagi recalled. Given these circumstances, his students at first were nervous to talk about mangrove conservation in front of the community. But when they explained the purpose of their project at a community meeting, they found that the Sorong residents were open to learning more. The video proved to be an effective way to share knowledge and experience between one community and another. The residents were eager to ask questions, and the students gained confidence in their role as informal teachers as they talked about management issues and solutions.
That interaction also helped the students understand the complex nature of social, economic, and environmental change. “Most community members are willing to change their practice of cutting and selling mangrove if alternative income-generating activities will be available to them,” Dr. Mandagi observed. But how can new, environmentally friendly livelihoods be created in communities like Sorong? How can sound regulations and organizations be put in place to manage mangrove protection? What steps can be taken to build the capacity of government officials so they can become better stewards of coastal resources? With those questions and others in mind, Dr. Mandagi’s students will bring fresh eyes to their classroom and library studies, their lab research, and their field work, enhanced by the local knowledge shared with them in Baturapa and Sorong.
To view a video about this Sam Ratulangi University project click here.