Forest Conservation in Fiji

WWF and its interest in Kabara

WWF-Fiji Country Programme is one of the few NGOs in the country to take an active interest in the conservation and management of native plants of ethno-botanical (cultural) significance to indigenous communities in Fiji. 2 of its most recent successes include a first ever published document on the Trade of Medicinal Plants of the South Pacific and the restoration of Kuta Wetlands in Nakasobu, on Vanua Levu.
Reconnaissance highlighted unsustainable dependence on vesi
The selection of Kabara as a project site is the result of a reconnaissance survey conducted by the organization in 1996, with regard to the islands local woodcarving industry.

The major outcome from this survey was to highlight the heavy dependence of locals on vesi trees for the generation of income and that the demand was leading to an unsustainable level of extraction.

Detailed survey demonstrated sole dependence on vesi tree for carving
A more thorough socio economic and biological survey under the Peoples and Plant Initiative was conducted between 2003 and 2004 on Kabara. The results demonstrated 96% of the islands communities depended on the vesi tree for carving as their main or only source of income.

Alternative sources of income were poorly developed or not lucrative and the woodcarving effort by the community members did not match sale earning attained in urban areas resulting in a non ending cycle of rapid harvest to achieve higher earnings on the island.

Possible collapse of the islands carving industry in the near future
The biological assessment of existing stock established that the existing natural strand of vesi was delimited to the center of the island (8% of the islands total forested area). Most of the central island being inaccessible, the harvested areas showed poor regeneration in sample plots. The standing stock suitable for future woodcarving activities was very limited suggesting a total collapse of the islands carving industry within the next 10 to 15 years.

Local community open to conservation solutions
The local community expressed willingness to implement conservation measures if it addressed issues such as
  • sustaining this culturally and commercially valued resource,
  • effective, and
  • sensitive to the needs to the local community by not hindering economic gain.
This led to an overall acceptance through educational awareness the benefits for on going conservation of such resources.

Developing a suitable community management plan
WWF assists the people of Kabara in effectively developing a suitable community management plan and facilitating suitable vesi conservation interventions (replanting, seed banks, wood skills diversification, effective marketing of sustainable handicrafts etc).

As a starting point, WWF has initiated activities to gauge the community’s knowledge, interest and concerns with regard to the resource.
Remaining Forest Areas in Kabara. / ©: WWF
Remaining Forest Areas in Kabara. Click on the map to enlarge.
© WWF

Major Implications Generated from the Study

  1. Loss of household income for majority of families due to projected loss of usable vesi on the island
  2. Cultural: People of Kabara are considered the focal community for producing wood artefacts during major ceremonial and traditional gatherings in the Province of Lau. Depletion of vesi on the island would mean they would be unable to fulfill their millennia-old cultural/traditional obligations .
  3. Biological/ecological: Many Pacific trees are diminishing causing a possible loss of genetic diversity. Vesi is amongst the top 10 priority species for immediate conservation and proper management due to its presence in ecologically sensitive ecosystems such as littoral forests and mangroves.

The Vesi: a threatened species

Bright green foliage of the vesi tree. / ©: R. DeMeo
Bright green foliage of the vesi tree.
© R. DeMeo
The native tree species vesi (Intisia bijuga) has been identified as seriously overexploited in many parts of Fiji, due to both the commercial timber and carving trade.
The species faces the possibility of imminent disappearance as an economic and cultural plant resource due to a number of factors which include
  • unsustainable and poorly planned logging and tree harvest,
  • lack of awareness to which the diversity of value these trees provide, and
  • the failure of recent generations to protect and facilitate the regeneration of native trees due to an overemphasis on commercial exotics such as Pine and Mahogany.
The species is classified as "Vulnerable" to extinction on the IUCN Red List.

Interventions

The current activities being undertaken on Kabara by WWF-Fiji and partners such as the Department of Forests to assist the community to redress this concern include:

Community Forest Reserve and Management Plan

A Community Resource Principles Workshop was undertaken on Kabara in June 2005, to begin developing their broad community natural resource use principles and guidelines and to also begin the consultation process on demarcating certain areas of their forest as reserves for protection and zones for replanting. The main output from this workshop was a Draft Community Resource Use Plan (Forest and Marine) and a demarcation of 5 community reserves, covering 5km<sup>2</sup> or roughly 1/6<sup>th</sup> of the island. The information is not confirmed as it is still under the consultation process.
Alternatives to the Tanoa: finished products made from offcuts. / ©: WWF
Alternatives to the Tanoa: finished products made from offcuts.
© WWF
Capacity Building
Part of the project aim is to assist the community diversify their skills in terms of woodcarving, as the survey on the island demonstrated they only carved one specific item, the tanoa (wood basin used for traditional yaqona ceremonies), and the carving of this item has resulted in a lot of wood offcuts being wasted. A community woodcarving skills workshop was conducted from the 13-23 of September, to train 20 community members to utilize the offcuts from vesi to carve other items and hopefully reduce overall wastage of vesi wood on the island in time.

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