For approximately 2000 years, the people of Awak have lived on, cultivated, and managed the lands in the Awak River Basin, as well as the important forest area above the basin. They developed a highly complex and ecofriendly agroforestry system. That system has kept the area intact and provides clean drinking water to the community that lives below. Traditionally, farming was not allowed above the Awak waterfall.
In recent years, however, community members have begun to grow sakau (a root beverage with mild narcotic properties) above the waterfall. An increase in demand for sakau has put pressure on Pohnpei’s upland forests. The Awak Youth and Traditional Leaders see the need to stop sakau planting by declaring the area above the waterfall area as part of the Pohnpei Watershed Forest Reserve.
Working with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, the community is setting aside the 308-acre Awak Valley Important Watershed Conservation Area. In exchange, Seacology is funding the refurbishment of an existing building into a community and youth center. The community will use the building for workshops on watershed management, aquaculture, and other sustainable livelihood opportunities. The center will also serve as a tutoring and research center for students who need help and mentoring.