RRRC’s work in southern Papua New Guinea started in 2009 when CEO Sheriden Morris visited the region to investigate the potential for turtle and dugong management, looking for linkages with RRRC’s work in the Torres Strait of Australia.
South Fly District, just a couple of kilometres from Australia, is a world away in so many respects. It is an extremely difficult environment in which to operate, due to lack of infrastructure, roads, transport and security, and there are multiple serious challenges for sustainable development. There was a quick realisation that any kind of nature conservation work would depend on building the capacity of local people to manage their own natural resources, and that developing sustainable livelihoods would be key to this.
The RRRC partnered with INLOC, whose hand-on, practical team focused on building local capacity and governance. We decided to trial the same community-led approach that had been successfully applied in Northern Australia, leading to the first community ranger program in South Fly District. What started as a small trial in the Treaty Villages has grown to a ranger program with 180 trained rangers across the District, of which 38% are now female today. In stark contrast to the customary norm, gender equality flows through the program, both in training and responsibilities of rangers, and it is not uncommon to see a male ranger learning how to sew and a female ranger fixing a boat.
The South Fly Resilience Plan was fully funded by the Australian government through the PNG-Aus Partnership from 2014 to 2023 and jointly implemented by the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea and their implementing partners and agencies. The aim of the South Fly Resilience Plan (SFRP) was to assist the communities of the South Fly District in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea to transition out of food insecurity and develop resilient, sustainable livelihoods and inclusive governance. In 2023 the SFRP transitioned to a new program under the PNG-Aus Partnership, the Western Province Program. The ranger program will continue to be driven by RRRC’s on-ground partner, INLOC in PNG.
The South Fly District is extremely susceptible to flooding, drought and climate impacts, including the regular threat of king tides. The long-term and ongoing training programs undertaken by the project through the rangers have resulted in significant improvements in food and water security, womens’ leadership and community governance.
In addition to this ongoing skills-based training, in 2022 RRRC led the development of the South Fly food security plan in close consultation with PNG partners, agricultural experts and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. The rangers continue to collect data monthly on the food and water security situation from the villages in South Fly to inform planning towards a more food and water-secure future.