Mapping tribal owners to benefit Bina landowners and cannery

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Verification has begun of the people who have claimed tribal ownership of the land where the Bina Harbour tuna cannery will be built, and nominations for positions as tribal trustees opened on Monday, 24 August.

Elections for trustees will be held in the next two weeks.

These are important steps in ensuring the building of the Bina Harbour tuna cannery is not disrupted by landowning disputes, which have halted other projects in Solomon Islands.

Verification is part of the process of formally mapping the tribal owners of the land. Its importance has been underlined by the estimated cost of the project and the level of private investment in it.

The project is likely to cost at a little over SB$2 billion dollars, with an external investor to contribute about 40%. 

Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, a local adviser to the Malaita Province Premier, said the cost of the project meant the government of Solomon Islands needed to be “very careful” to build the right foundations for success — and that meant mapping the tribal beneficiaries before the project started. Mapping entails identifying and registering people from the tribes acknowledged as tribal owners by the Solomon Islands High Court.

Mr Talifilu heads the Premier’s Advisory Research Unit (PARU) for the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG). He said it was important to establish who the resource owners were before site preparation and building began.

“These exercises are pillars for a sustainable project,” Mr Talifilu said.

He said those who intended to invest their hard-earned cash in the project would not do so if they believed the land-settlement process was inadequate. 

dispute over land was settled in 2016–2017. In July, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to commence work on the Bina Harbour project was signed. It included agreement to map tribal landowners as beneficiaries of the project. Mapping was conducted over eight days in July.

Bina Harbour women, men and children wait inside open-walled room to have names recorded as beneficiaries, Solomon Islands
Tribal landowners waiting their turn to have their names recorded as part of beneficiary mapping at Bina Harbour

In a statement, PARU said: “The beneficiary mapping exercise is a critical part of the land-settlement process for the Bina Harbour tuna processing plant project. This exercise ensures the resource owners are rightly identified and recorded. It is also the basis for a clear beneficiary scheme for the landowning groups.

“The MPG participation is crucial as a partner in the development of the project under the newly signed MOU. It is also a good exercise for the province so that the province can help with messaging of the new scheme that is more such sustainable.” 

Man uses a tablet to take a photo of a young woman who is a tribal landowner at Bina Harbour, Malaita, Solomon Islands
Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons goes through the formal process of identifying and registering a tribal landowner as part of the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Mapping means formally agreeing who the landowners are

The mapping exercise involves formally registering all living people among the landowning tribes. The record of each person includes a photo of them, and the names of their parents and grandparents. The list of names is then verified by the group elders. After verification, the list is given back to the group for final checking. The checking might take two weeks. 

After the final list has been approved, the groups seek nominations for the election of their trustees.

Pacific Horizons Consultancy Group is mapping the beneficiaries. It conducted the same exercise for the Tina hydro project. 

New approach means representation should be fair

Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons said the consultancy used a new approach to mapping the benefits for landowning groups. In the past, disputes over land ownership had brought projects to a halt. 

Mr Benisi said the approach taken at Bina Harbour would benefit all landowning groups. 

“The approach taken now is different from logging, which normally leads to unfair distributions of benefits to landowners,” Mr Benisi said.

“For this approach, there will still be trustees overseeing the tribal group who are parties to the development, just as with current logging and mining operations in the country. 

“But the trustees will be working for tribes as representatives only, and not deal with benefits and such.” 

Man sits at table writing in book while other tribal landowner applicants look on, Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping, Solomon Islands
Another step taken in recording the details of tribal landholders during the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Because trustees would be elected, they stood as the choice of the tribes. Representation would be fair. In the past, those who were close associates of the land would be automatically qualified to be a trustee.

“One of the good things about this approach is every single member of the tribal landowning groups, from infants to elderly individuals, will be the beneficiary of the Bina Harbour cannery project,” Mr Benisi said.

He said that mapping would be completed for both primary and secondary rights holders of Bina land, and that everybody would have the same benefits from the cannery once it was fully operational.

Any company that runs the cannery will need to buy shares directly through the bank accounts of the individuals registered under the tribes. Young people would be eligible to receive their shares when they turned 18.

The cannery is due to start operating in 2023, and process about 27,000 metric tons of fish a year.

Positives of COVID-19 for the WCPO tuna supply chain

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HONIARA – Despite the threat of COVID-19 to global tuna production, production chains in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean have continued to operate efficiently. Credit is due to the measures the industry has taken to keep up normal tuna production.

As the world continues to focus on the deadly coronavirus, fishers and others in the fishing industry are working around the clock to continue providing healthy and safe wild food like tuna to the global market.

A spokesperson for the Fong Chun Formosa (CFC) fisheries company in Taiwan, Ray Clarke, said COVID-19 had brought positives to the tuna industry in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The industry had at this stage remained relatively stable, organised and efficient. 

The WCPO tuna industry, and its associated supply chain, had so far proven to be relatively robust, and without sacrificing important sustainability and social transparency requirements, he said.

However, Sancho Kim, the Operation and Sales Manager at the Korea-based Silla fishing company, said that travel restrictions and the forced closure of most PNA ports had had an impact on tuna fishing in the region.

“I fully understand those measures are to ensure their safety and life. However, as fishermen, due to those measures, we are having many difficulties with transhipment, crew issues, supplying provisions, et cetera,” Mr Kim said.

The CEO of Silla, Tuna Lee, said that canned tuna was one of the best emergency foods to have because tuna was wild-caught, healthy food and also kept for a long time when canned.

“I think not only fishermen, but also all stakeholders such as canneries, brand owners, can sellers, PNA, FFA, and RFMOs should do their best to supply healthy and safe food to all peoples continuously,” said Mr Lee.

All eyes on canned tuna 

“People started to put their eyes on canned tuna products, as it has longer validity to keep and consume, as well as being rich in nutrition at a comparatively cheaper price than other food categories,” Mr Lee said.

“Taste will last for a while for canned tuna, and it will help to promote tuna consumption overall on a long-term basisfor Silla.”

The CEO of the Frabelle fishing corporation in the Philippines, Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jnr, said demand for retail packs of canned tuna would increase, but demand for catering packs would drop.

“One positive thing is that our industry will continue despite COVID-19, as people have to eat and canned tuna is one of the healthiest foods for people that is shelf-steady. It can be kept for many years, unlike other foods in other industries that are forced to shut down at this time,” Mr Laurel said.

Thai Union’s General Manager, Narin Niruttinanon, said there had been a marginal increase in global demand for canned tuna. 

Composite of two images of canned tuna, one SolTuna and Solomons Blu cans, the other Bumble Bee can
Left: SolTuna cannery products (photo Intra Fish). Right: Bumble Bee canned tuna.


“All the increase has been in retail or supermarkets, while food-service and restaurant orders have largely been delayed or cancelled,” Mr Niruttinanon said.

“The experience from the previous disasters would suggest that people largely bought canned food to give themselves a sense of security. How quickly they actually consume those cans is an entirely different question. 

“Although COVID-19 may continue for months to come, as long as the global logistics systems are still functioning quite normally – and this is surely a top priority of all governments – I still cannot imagine a serious food shortage that will force people to only eat food from emergency stock. 

“On the other hand, once the world comes out of this COVID-19 episode, I am concerned about a serious drop in demand for canned tuna in retail and supermarkets. But, hopefully, the food-service and restaurant markets may come back to add some cushioning for the industry,” Mr Niruttinanon said.

Mr Niruttinanon said the company had implemented health assessment and hygiene practices for its 40,000 Thai workers to maintain operations as close to normal as possible. It has also donated product worth 1 million Thai baht to Bangkok communities that had been affected by COVID-19.

Ray Clarke of the FCF fisheries company in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, said they had seen considerably increased demand for their canned tuna products as consumers stocked up to sit through periods of social distancing. 

“The demand for canned tuna is especially strong at the moment. Fresh-fish operations were initially hurt considerably, and we have had to take actions to ensure the health and safety of all of our crew, officers, employees and staff,” Mr Clarke said.

Man standing next to flat table-like area that has empty cans for tuna sitting on it in factory with corrugated metal walls. Photo Francisco Blaha
Proud tuna worker, Solomon Islands. Photo: Francisco Blaha

Fishing companies monitor the situation closely

He said FCF was closely monitoring the situation – a challenge, as monitoring involved several countries. 

“For instance, here in Kaohsiung, things have been relatively safe, thanks to early action by the government of Taiwan, which took actions including requiring masks in public, and initiating COVID-19 testing. So here we seem to have controlled, to the degree possible, the spread of the virus. 

“We are closely monitoring the health and safety of our vessels, captains and crew, as well as the health and safety of processing-facility workers, especially in places like Wewak, Papua New Guinea. We are making sure that all of the captains and crew either stay on the COVID-19-free vessels – at their concurrence – or we ensure they return to their home countries in a manner that reduces any exposure to the virus,” Mr Clarke said.

“We are working with our customers to ensure all their needs and concerns are addressed. At this point, other than in a few minor instances, I believe we have been successful in this regard.” 

Mr Clarke said he had come to appreciate much more any face-to-face interactions he has had with people since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Chiefly, the outbreak has emphasised the importance of interpersonal interaction. Although video conferences, telephone calls and emails provide useful communication platforms, it remains important to interact safely with colleagues, staff and customers. 

“I have come to value those human-to-human interactions even more.”

Local management means operations kept at near-normal

At Noro in Solomon Islands, operations at the SolTuna cannery are normal, despite the scaling down of workers. Even though it is partly owned by the United States-based Trimarine, most managers are locals, unlike the management of some other tuna companies in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

The cannery is supplied solely by the National Fisheries Development purse-seine fleet; and in the absence of the expatriate workers, the operations at the cannery are normal.

Joe Hamby, a board member of SolTuna Fishing Company, said they had learnt a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Because SolTuna’s management and staff are almost all Solomon Islanders, we can continue to operate during periods when expatriates have had to evacuate back to their home countries,” Mr Hamby said. “By contrast, despite COVID-19, SolTuna has continued to safely produce badly needed food for both the domestic and export markets.”

Aerial photo of Noro, Solomon Islands, with inset photo of can of Ocean Naturals skipjack tuna. Photo Solomon Star
The tuna township of Noro, Solomon Islands, with (inset) one of the products it exports to the US market. Photo: Solomon Star.

Solomons’ second tuna cannery at Bina Harbour a government priority

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HONIARA, 27 March 2020 – Solomon Islands may soon have its second tuna cannery as initial work on the Bina Harbour project takes off.

The harbour project is a government priority for 2020.

The cannery is due to start operating in 2023. It is understood that the proposed facility would process 26,950 metric tons of fish a year. The project will be complemented by a large commercial wharf suited for international exportation, and a significant fuel depot to support the fishing fleet that will provide fish for the cannery.

The project has faced several challenges from different sectors over the past years during the early planning phase. Now, a cross-sectoral approach with a strong notion of “working together” with all relevant stakeholders is being undertaken.

This week, the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DGCA) said it is committed to the successful implementation of the Bina Harbour project in Malaita Province.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s press secretariat said that this commitment was evident, as significant progress had been made so far.

Counting the positives, there was a successful reconciliation ceremony held in 2019, identification of the ideal site for a water source, identification of the landowners of the harbour access, a study on financing options, and the identification of a project office site.

“DCGA is serious in taking on board the many challenges faced by past successive governments in moving this national project forward,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Currently, consultations are being held between the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC), the World Bank Group, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Malaita Provincial Government, and the resource owners.

While the MFMR remains the leader and focal point of the national project, consultations to progress the project now involve all sectors and parties directly and indirectly related to it.

The government believes the positive impacts this national project will have on the country is huge.

When operational, the tuna factory is expected to employ more than 1,000 employees.

“Ideally, we want our Pacific athletes attending the games in 2023 to eat fish products produced in Bina,” the statement said.

“Apart from employment, the positive trickle-down impacts of this factory are that many local businesses and local farmers in the country would benefit in supplying food produce and basic needs to the factory and its employees.”

Landowners, disputes and reconciliation

Bina Harbour in Malaita Province was earmarked by the national government in its priority projects to establish a fish-processing factory, but land issues have delayed progress on the project.

Former Minister for Fisheries & Marine Resources (MFMR) John Maneniaru said land disputes over the proposed site in Bina Harbour had been dealt with by the High Court.

The High Court ruling in 2017 has settled the land issue, clearing the way for the government to pursue the project.

During his term as the minister, Mr Maneniaru said the ministry took the lead in the work on the project and had identified two plots of land on the site that should cater for developing the infrastructure needed.

It was obvious that the ministry had tried everything to progress the project, one of which was finding the best ways to accommodate all land-owning groups as the number of tribes claiming ownership keeps changing. However, in 2017 a milestone was achieved with landowners, when plots of lands and their rightful owners were identified.

In May 2019, a reconciliation ceremony was organised between the national government, Ministry of Fisheries, Malaita Provincial Government, and the resource owners of Bina in West Kwaio.

The reconciliation took place in West Kwaio, where representatives from the four groups signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow Bina Harbour development to go ahead without any further disputes. 

West Kwaio MP Titus Fika speaking to the people of Bina during a delegation tour to Bina. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for West Kwaio, Mr Titus Fika, thanked the landowners for signing the MOU, and described the event as a welcoming sign for development in his constituency. He said the MOU would allow Bina Harbour development to go ahead, and any dispute claims would be solved outside and would not disturb the development.

“I want to thank the national government for taking a leading step by revisiting the Bina Harbour project,” Mr Fika said.

“I think the government has demonstrated willingness to continue to develop Bina Harbour.”

The West Kwaio MP admits that he admires the way the current government is taking a leading role in ensuring the Bina Harbour project rolls on.

While he called on his people of West Kwaio to respect the MOU to allow development to continue, he also encourages the government of the day to continue to push behind the project to see it fully develop.

The development partners: Australia, New Zealand, USA

In November 2019, a hydrographic survey was conducted to determine the depth of the harbour.

The survey, which was conducted by the Australia navy, is a major step in the development of Bina Harbour project. The survey is vital to gauge the depth of the water so that action can be taken on other considerations needed, especially the size of ships and the depth of their hauls.

Australia survey vessel Leeuwin surveying Bina Harbour in November 2019. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.
Australia survey vessel Leeuwin surveying Bina Harbour in November 2019. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.

Through its navy, the Australian Government is helping to map the underwater topography to determine what needs to be done to satisfy international maritime harbour requirements.

The Solomon Islands Deputy Prime Minister Manasseh Maelanga said that the national government is doing everything it can to get the harbour project operational. He thanked the Australian Government for supporting the project and assured it that the DCGA government is committed to pushing the project forward.

The Deputy Prime Minister also took time to thank the people and the trustees of Bina land for their cooperation, and encouraged them to keep up the good work to see the project through.

Visiting delegation and trustees took a group photo aboard Leeuwin. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.

MFMR’s Nesto Ghiro reiterated to the people of Bina and Malaita Province that the government is committed to the project. 

Meanwhile, Malaita Province Premier Daniel Suidani said that his government was looking forward for the completion of the project, and he whole-heartedly thanked the Australia Government for stepping in and moving the project forward.

 “This is welcoming news to my people of Malaita province, and I must thank the national government for its support towards the project and I urge the government to follow through on its promise and commitment to the people of Malaita,” the Hon. Suidani said. 

“The province has been duly informed that the New Zealand Government has been helping out with the project alongside Australia. IFC and USA are also expressing their willingness to support the project. This is good news to the most populated province of Solomon Islands,” he said.

Premier Daniel Suidani addressing the visiting delegation and the trustees at the project site in Bina. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.

During a meeting with local journalists last September, the United States said it was also considering working in Bina Harbour with other donor partners under the USAID program.

When confirming her country’s assistance, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Ann Marie Yastishock unveiled some infrastructure development the US would step in to fund.

“We are looking at developing the Bina Harbour area and also the possibilities of building the wharves in Bina Harbour,” she said.

Ms Yastishock said that, under the program, USAID would be looking at possibilities to provide clean energy that ensured rural areas far from the energy grid would also have access to energy.

“Some other areas will be the constructions of schools and health centres, as well as some areas on clean water supplies,” she said.

Ms Yastishock said that these were types of “soft” infrastructure because they had to understand those things like maintenance issues and how to procure them online.

“The issue here is we are looking at the governance type of issue,” she said.

IFC the main financier

Early this year, a team from the IFC, the private business arm of the World Bank, made a historic visit to Malaita, during which they met the premier and officials. The team which of six is putting together a project proposal to attract the investor best suited to the Bina Harbour project.

Members of the IFC team with Malaita Province Premier and officials. Photo: Wilson B. Saeni.

ICF, a triple-A rated organisation, has continued to play an important role in the project since signing an agreement with the Ministry of Fisheries last yearn. 

It is also welcome news for Malaita that IFC will take steps to invest in the project itself.  This move is cordially welcomed by the Premier and his provincial executive because of its potential to grow the provincial economy.  IFC says it will ensure that the Bina tuna-processing plant is subject to the best global practices, and that the investor selected would be among the best in the world. 

The aim is to meet international standard requirements, and that needs a lot of careful work on the part of IFC. The targeted market would be the European Union (EU). The province and IFC are well aware of the EU’s market, which includes requirements for high standards of production, processing and hygiene. 

Premier Suidani said that the province was ready to assist in whatever way it could to make sure the project was up and running for the betterment of the people of Malaita and Solomon Islands. 

The Malaita Provincial Government (MPG) noted that the World Bank-funded road-improvement project now set to roll from Gwaunaru’u to Bina would boost the Bina Harbour project via improvements in accessibility and movement of materials and people alike.

“With the involvement of IFC, MPG is very confident that the development of the Bina Harbour tuna-processing plant is in good hands,” Premier Suidani said. 

“The spin-off from the project would surely bring development to Malaita Province.”