Where science & tradition meet: Vuya marks two milestones

In February, members of Vuya Village officially blessed their marine protected areas and launched their natural resource management plan. This special event began with a traditional kava ceremony for the district chief, Tui Vuya, and was followed by prayer and blessings from the church. The community has designated three different marine managed areas to protect fish and invertebrates and to help generate income for the community.

Located less than 10 km from the port of Nabouwalu in Bua Province on the south-west coast of Vanua Levu, the people of Vuya are heavily dependent on natural resources for their health and livelihoods. For this reason, the village created both development and natural resource management plans which focus on ways they can improve the status and well-being of their community. They feel that it is their duty as the “vanua” and as Christians to take care of the land and sea, and that they shouldn’t be reliant on outsiders to do so.

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Their marine protected areas (known locally as tabu) are not designated to be permanent ‘no-take zones’ but traditional temporal closures to help the community use their resources more wisely so there will always be enough now and for the children of the future. They will also help the community generate income through a newly established pearl oyster farm and community plans to sustainably farm beche-de-mer (or dried sea cucumbers).

Acknowledging the connectivity between ecosystems and taking a “ridge to reef” approach, community protected forest areas have been designated surrounding their drinking water sources. Village by-laws have been created to prohibit farming or cutting trees within 10 metres of any watercourse.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring that everyone works together to deliver the plan” said Mateo Rasili, a village elder who has been heavily involved. “There are about 570 people in Vuya including seven settlements and six religions. We try to focus on good governance as the foundation for any work we do.

In the past two years we have been working to try to bring the different community groups closer together and respect each other in spite of any differences. Projects like our mangrove nursery and the women’s chicken coop have helped bring us together and we have been utilizing our cultural ties and traditional community structure to help achieve our goals. ”

Vuya villagers are currently working with other communities to develop the Vuya District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan, incorporating a wider network of protected areas and management rules covering all ecosystems. The Vuya village model shows how relationship building, awareness raising and collective action can inform ‘bottom-up’ community planning and establish a solid foundation for collaborative management.

Words and images by Brooke McDavid, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer

Keeping busy bees in Kavula

A joint blog post by Sirkka Killmann & Naomi Folaukitoga of WCS

As part of our Alternative Livelihoods Project in the province of Bua, Vanua Levu, we travelled on 12 and 13 November to facilitate a beekeeping training for a group of women in Kavula, a small village surrounded by luscious green mountains and countless fruit trees in the interior of Bua.

The Bua ladies in bee suits undergoing training. By Naomi Folaukitoga

The Bua ladies in bee suits undergoing training. By Naomi Folaukitoga

The women involved in honey production belong to a local women’s club selling their produce to buyers in Labasa for a low price, making very little profit out of it. Additionally, the women lack the skills and knowledge to tend to their bees properly in order to get maximum quantity and quality produce.

Therefore, at our last visit to the village, the women had expressed an urgent need for a basic beekeeping and marketing training in order to develop their honey production into a small business that could contribute to their livelihoods and to the food security of the whole community.

Led by the beekeeping expert from the Department of Agriculture in Labasa, Darmend Prasad, we organized a two-day workshop tailored to address the women’s needs in overcoming the challenges they were facing.

After our arrival by ferry at Nabouwalu, one broken down car and a flat tire later, we were warmly received by the Turaga ni Koro for Kavula village, Tomasi Se, who hosted us in his cozy bure. Following a hearty breakfast of dhal and rice the next morning, the workshop started off with hands-on practice at the beehives which are situated on a small hill overlooking the village.

It became clear that the hives had not been inspected since the last harvest three months ago, since a bee colony had already constructed an additional hive in between the boxes provided. This again showed the urgency of this workshop.

Looking for the queen bee during the  workshop. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Looking for the queen bee during the workshop. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Besides lessons on proper maintenance and inspection of beehives, the schedule included efficient ways of feeding the wax, grafting and wiring techniques and maintenance of frames. The second day was filled with information about proper breeding of queen bees, splitting techniques and marketing of honey, amongst others.

Darmend interacted very well with the ladies, challenging them constantly to take initiatives and give feedback and the time spent together was never short of jokes and laughter. The ladies were motivated to take better care of their bees and bring their beekeeping to the next level.

The ladies stated that most of the information was new to them and that the workshop had provided them with invaluable skills. Now it is up to them to put their new skills into practice.

We are very thankful to Darmend for sharing his time and knowledge and for the friendliness and hospitality received from the villagers. Apart from the excellent Buan dalo, we brought back five kilos of delicious organic honey as a sample which hopefully can be enjoyed all around Fiji in the near future!

This work is generously supported by the Flora Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Dharmend Prasad from the Fijian Department of Agriculture demonstrates how to feed the frames with wax using a car battery. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

Dharmend Prasad from the Fijian Department of Agriculture demonstrates how to feed the frames with wax using a car battery. Photo by Naomi Folaukitoga

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 showcase for talent in Bua

It was windy and cold when we boarded the early morning ferry at Natovi. By lunchtime it was sunny and hot as we approached the wharf at Nabouwalu – a good sign for my first trip to my tovata in the province of Bua (traditional allies with my people from Lau) and my first visit to the field as an intern with WCS.

We went straight to Kavula village in Lekutu District, where women are producing honey and weaving kuta mats as part of a sustainable livelihoods project supported by WCS. I introduced myself during the sevusevu (the traditional ceremony to state our business and request acceptance) before visiting the beehives to get a better idea of their honey production process. After speaking to the women I appreciate the skill and dedication required to maintain the hives and extract honey.

In the coming months we will help them to establish a business plan and access new markets. The income generated will reduce pressure on over-exploited natural resources, support local conservation and other community projects and provide cash to help meet their needs.

From Kavula we went to Wairiki Village in the district of Vuya. Responding to the community’s request for support, we facilitated a water management planning session. This involved mapping their water system (from source to disposal), calculating consumption needs, identifying risks and testing for bacteria. Hopefully this has given their Village Water Committee a good focus and everything they need to submit a report to the Water and Sewage Authority requesting further support.

Next we visited the Bua Showcase, which started on the 29th of August in Nabouwalu. There were many stalls with different decorations showing off a wide range of local handicrafts and other goods. It was a great to see the women of Bua showcasing their skills and products – including kuta mats, jewellery, baskets made from wild vine, fans, handbags and much more!

Among the many other stalls was one for the Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST) – a partnership of communities, government departments, NGOs and the private sector with a focus on sustainable management of natural resources. Community representatives from all the districts were highlighting the role of BYMST and their plans to promote good practice across the province. We helped by providing posters and distributing fliers whilst Mateo (the representative from Vuya) spoke to people and answered their questions over several bowls of kava.

I was really inspired by the young people of Bua who were showcasing their talents too by helping to set up and operate the stalls.

Vinaka vakalevu to everyone for a wonderful trip, especially to Cagi for looking after me and my tovata Mateo and Drugu for all the laughs we had.

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Supporting businesswomen as drivers of change

WCS is supporting business women in the province of Bua and the district of Wailevu in Cakaudrove Province. Our recent workshop, held in Naruwai village in the district of Dama (Bua Province) targeted rural women running businesses that promote sustainable use of natural resources. The aim was to help develop their business skills and support networks.

A total of 30 women participated from across all 9 districts in Bua. Starting with limited business knowledge, they were soon defining business goals, identifying challenges and considering how to overcome them. Several were involved in a cooperative producing mats and other products from bamboo spike sedge, the fine-stemmed freshwater reed known locally as kuta. Kuta weaving is a traditional skill of women in Bua and they were motivated to pass this onto the next generation as well as earning income. Others were producing honey, coconut oil (sinusinu) and virgin coconut oil, jewelry, eggs and handicrafts made from pandanus and coconut frond.

Having gained in confidence and more clearly defined what their business is and how they can make it profitable, they targeted further training to address specific needs for marketing and business planning.

I was greatly inspired by these ladies and hope to help grow their businesses, which will in turn help address local poverty, stop unsustainable exploitation of local natural resources and directly support community projects. I also hope to support their engagement in community management planning in their districts. They certainly have the skills and motivation required to drive positive change!

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Vinaka vakalevu to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Flora Family Foundation for supporting this work.