About the Author
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Ged is our Stakeholder Engagement Officer - working to ensure that a wide range of stakeholders are taken into consideration, from the communities to national level. Ged is great at drinking grog, but still working on being comfortable while sitting cross-legged.

Reviewing the Management Plan in Fiji’s largest District

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It is almost a year since the Tui Wailevu (district high chief) stood with other chiefs, community members and government officers on the beach beside Wailevu Village to launch the Wailevu Ecosystem-Based Management Plan.

Two Resource Management Committees (RMCs) for Wailevu West and Wailevu East that oversee implementation and monitoring of the management plan recently came together in Urata Village with government officers and NGOs to review progress. They highlighted growing and emerging threats to local ecosystems and reviewed the management rules, protected area boundaries and management activities. Coastal communities discussed increasing fishing pressures from local artisanal fishers, commercial vessels and poachers. Concerns were expressed about new mining elements and increased levels of commercial gravel extraction from local rivers and creeks.

Success stories included progress in waste management and sustainable income generation, particularly community eco-tourism projects, which benefit from increasing numbers of tourists coming through the nearby town of Savusavu.

Participants stressed the need to further raise awareness and support within their villages. Using the ‘message box’ methodology provided through Seaweb Asia-Pacific, participants undertook training to distill key messages and plan how they will be delivered to specific audiences. This was mapped against village communication and decision-making structures to enable targeted awareness-raising and optimize their influence on key people.

The RMCs reviewed their structures and protocols to increase flexibility and engagement across Fiji’s biggest district (home to 28 villages and over 6,000 people). This led to the development of new ‘cluster groups’ in remote Wailevu West, where neighbouring villages will meet regularly and only come together with the wider committee once a year.

The Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team, a group of volunteers committed to help site-based management implementation around the province, provided updates on what is happening elsewhere in the province and the RMCs also adopted monitoring templates developed in neighboring Kubulau district in the province of Bua.

Words by Ged Acton & Images by Dwain Qalovaki
WCS – Fiji Program

Village representatives enhance communication for conservation

Ecosystems are linked, so what happens in one place can have an impact elsewhere. For example, the health and resilience of coral reef ecosystems may be affected by the clearing and burning of forest in coastal catchments. To promote an integrated approach to the management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, WCS is facilitating a collaborative planning process with communities in districts across the province of Bua.

Each village in Vuya and Dama has nominated 3 or 4 representatives (including a young person and a women’s rep) to take part in district management planning workshops. Their role is to raise awareness in the village and facilitate the input of local people in order to build the understanding, consensus and support required for community-led management. As well as identifying strategies for their management plan, workshops in October included communication and facilitation training to help them fulfill their role.

Seaweb, experts in the use of communications science for community-led conservation, introduced key theories and tools for participants to distill and convey fundamental messages to different target audiences. We explored how villagers process, retain and apply new concepts and how communication can appeal to the heart as well as the head to affect motivations and realize change. Participants were highly engaged and there was plenty of constructive feedback as they demonstrated how they would feedback to different groups. The consensus was that oral and visual messages are more effective than written information and that the status of the person delivering a message can be as important as the message itself.

It was great to see teamwork developing among village representatives as they identified who would deliver messages to different groups. I was even more encouraged to see different villages discussing structural barriers to communication, such as the lack of representation at village meetings or dysfunctional village sub-committees. Some went beyond encouragement and advice to offer practical support, with representatives from two villages discussing tactics for using traditional ties to influence key decision makers.

Village representatives connect top-down and bottom-up processes for effective ecosystem-based management, providing the vital link between district-level planning and village-level implementation. Working with Seaweb, we will continue to focus on understanding and enhancing local communication networks for better outcomes in Bua. With my appetite whetted, watch this space for upcoming research into social networks and communication as well as rolling out communications training through district representatives on the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team.

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A village with a lot to offer

I recently helped facilitate a workshop in Vuya village, about 5km from the port of Nabouwalu (in Bua Province on the south-west of Vanua Levu). Having met people from Vuya at various workshops over the past year, I was always impressed with their enthusiasm for conservation and their organized approach. I had seen their Village Development Plan, heard about their projects and am also developing a research proposal with Brooke McDavid, a Peace Corps volunteer based in the village. It’s fair to say I was excited to be visiting and keen to find out more.

After the traditional ceremony (sevusevu) to introduce ourselves and ask for acceptance, our guide Mateo showed us around. With a chiefly bure at its centre, the village rises up a hillside overlooking the Vatu-i-Ra Passage, a hot-spot for cetaceans and an important breeding ground for the endangered humpback whale. As well as taking in great views, our tour included a detailed explanation of local challenges and insight into why and how a range of recently established projects were developed, including: a local marine protected area; a mangrove nursery and replanting site; and vegetable gardens dotted around the village.

Chickens are the animal with which the Vuya villagers traditionally associate and they are not supposed to cook or eat them. They recently built an impressive commercial chicken coup (selling the eggs and using the waste as fertilizer) and we awoke each morning to the sound of roosters.

As we drank kava in the hall each evening, villagers wanted to find out more about what is happening around the province. They shared experiences with visitors from across Bua and expressed interest in working together. Maria and Tupi, two ladies from the village development committee, requested to attend and made great contributions to the workshop. Jaoti, a local farmer, sought interest in forming a local cooperative with an emphasis on sustainable farming methods.

We’ll certainly miss Vuya and its people (if not the rooster alarm clock). Their input will be essential to developing an effective district-level management plan and I hope we can return some day.

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Road building gathers pace in Bua

Our recent trip to Bua highlighted the speed at which construction of the Nabouwalu to Dreketi highway is progressing. Following a good spell of weather, extensive roadside clearing and leveling had been undertaken along the stretch between Nabouwalu and Dama, which was a hive of digging and landscaping activity.

The project represents a major upgrade of the former road, creating a tar-sealed highway that will improve connectivity and access to markets as a part of the Fijian government’s Look North Policy that seeks to encourage economic development on Vanua Levu.

Speaking with the Provincial Administrator for Bua in the course of management planning workshops, local people acknowledged that their access to services will improve and sought to identify further opportunities for local development. They also highlighted gravel extraction from local creeks and rivers as a concern, questioning whether requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments were being met.

We experienced another issue in the village of Wairiki, where the tap water was visibly discoloured by soil particles after a night of heavy rain. The village chief took us to their water source, a borehole around 20-30 meters below a sloping area that had been cleared for the road. He spoke to the foreman, who set off to investigate further.

Big changes are bringing new opportunities and challenges to communities in Bua. This visit certainly showed how vital and immediate these are, and how important it is for communities to understand and address them in order to protect the local ecosystems on which they rely.

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District management planning in Vuya and Dama

We boarded the ferry at Natovi and set off for Nabouwalu just after dawn, embarking on a week of workshops to help develop community-led management plans in the districts of Vuya and Dama in the province of Bua.

The ferry seems to get busier every time, with a notable range of digging, drilling and other machines as well as the returning trucks having swapped their cargo of dalo for a range of goods from Suva. Seats were at a premium with four full buses aboard, many returning from the ordination of the new Archbishop of Suva. I was too excited and distracted by the scenery to sleep anyway.

The workshops were the first of their kind in Vuya (hosted in Wairiki village) and Dama (Dama village) and followed on from our recent village awareness sessions. They were well attended by a range of men (including chiefs and district/village headmen), women and young people. This included Ratu Semi, Assistant Roko Tui from Bua Provincial Office, and Pita the National Trust Ranger from Yadua island, which is also a sanctuary for the critically endangered Fiji crested iguana.

Following the sevusevu (formal presentation of our intentions and request for acceptance into the village) and introductions, the Provincial Administrator for Bua outlined local development projects and opportunities including a range of potential tikina-based income generating activities. Ilia Nakoro from Fiji Museum then provided an overview of cultural heritage conservation issues, giving the workshop a holistic focus in the context of local sustainable development.

Participants mapped local water sources, land uses and threats as well as existing and proposed community protected areas. Conceptual modeling exercises helped them identify targets, threats and strategies for ecosystem-based management. Initial activities and local management rules were then proposed in relation to some strategies as people became enthused to take action.

On our second night in each village, they lifted an ongoing church tabu on drinking kava. Sitting around the kava bowl in Dama, the talatala (minister) explained that he was happy to see the social instincts and cultural norms prevail, suggesting that such occasions are central to the collective spirit which makes communities strong. These were great social occasions, establishing friendships, reaffirming traditional relationships as well as cementing commitment and sharing knowledge.

Ilia and KK were especially happy as they left, protectively cradling the precious yasi (sandlewood) samplings they had been given to take home.

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