Consulting with clans and consuming kava

We’ve been out in the field again, this time consulting with land owning clans (mataqali) about setting up Community Forest Parks and River Buffer Zones to safeguard the ecosystem services that forests and rivers provide to the communities, such as clean water and flood protection. The 23 clans on our list were selected as a high priority for this work, because of the threats to their natural resources. Our schedule was packed, so our consultation had to be really focused as we set off on the next stage of engagement with these remote areas of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.

The first stop was Nakawaga, where we were joined by the acting Roko Tui Cakaudrove, the Mata ni Tikina Koroalau and the Provincial Environment Officer – great support from Cakaudrove Provincial Office! There was great interest in sharing knowledge and experiences from different mataqali, particularly in relation to establishing nurseries for a range of trees and plants.

Next we travelled across Savusavu bay to Natua village. With Viliame from the Forestry Department and Solomone from iTaukei Land Trust Board, we discussed plans to generate income from logging to help their church. This highlighted a newly proposed protected area that many mataqali members were not aware of. This just shows the need for more consultation and the mataqali leaders will facilitate this through their next village meeting.

Further west in Kilaka, the mataqali Nadicake had identified an area that they are keen to establish as a Forest Reserve. Viliame advised them on options to achieve this, providing the basis for more local consultation as they decide how to take this forward.

Much of Vanua Levu is covered in forested mountains and valleys

Landowning clans are planning how they can manage terrestrial and freshwater habitats sustainably

Next we entered Wainunu, where approximately 53% of the district (148 square km) is covered by logging concessions. Viliame and Solomone assured the mataqali that logging in these areas will be monitored to ensure compliance with Fiji’s Logging Code of Practice. They also encouraged local people to help by reporting any non-compliant logging activity they see on the ground.

We move on through Nadi and Solevu districts, adapting our plans to in light of several funerals and the relocation of key mataqali members who have left their village to live on farms and relocated to work in Labasa, Savusavu and even Suva.

As usual plenty of kava was consumed along the way – an essential ritual that helped us get to know the people whilst developing our understanding of their issues and building trust. We may have taken this too far after our final consultation in Naruwai, when the kava drinking almost caused us to forget our bags! We’ll be back again soon for follow-up consultations with all the mataqali once they have had a chance to discuss with all their members ……….Vinaka vakalevu to everyone and see you all again soon.

This project is kindly supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint program of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Inspired by kuta-weaving women

On the 18th of November Ged and I departed Nausori airport for Labasa to conduct kuta weaving training sessions in Bua and Cakaudrove. I have been really excited about this project, which hopes to revive the traditional Buan craft of making mats from Eleocharis dulcis, the freshwater reed known locally as kuta. It will also help women to generate income for their families and communities, reducing the pressures that contribute to unsustainable fishing, farming and logging practices.

The main objectives of the workshops were:

  • to enhance kuta-weaving skills amongst local women
  • to encourage women to pass on their kuta weaving skills within communities
  • to explore opportunities for a co-operative to generate and manage income
  • to raise awareness about good practice in managing kuta plantations

At our first workshop, the participants were mostly young mothers from the districts of Lekutu, Nadi and Solevu. They were keen to establish an alternative source of income and had good access to kuta growing in nearby villages.

It got even better at the next workshop at Namalata in Kubulau, where the ladies had organized the men to cook and serve all the meals!  This let them focus on the weaving and the results were really impressive.   Some young mothers even brought their children to the community hall – they were so determined to finish their mats by the end of the 2nd day.

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Our third workshop in Valeni was for the ladies of Wailevu district (in Cakaudrove) and showed that weaving skills are not confined only to Bua.  As we reached Savusavu at the end of a wonderful week I was even more positive that this project will take off. It had been great to see women of different ages and from different communities working together for a common cause.  They were so talented and grasped everything really quickly.

I texted a special thanks to our specialist trainer Edith Whippy, who not only taught the weaving techniques but motivated us all with her own story. Kuta mats are now Edith’s major source of income, so she told the ladies that if she can do it – so can they!

I even got a round kuta mat of my own (thanks Edith) and am looking forward to seeing the ladies make their first sales in 2013. Vinaka vakalevu to the Flora Family Foundation and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund for supporting this work.