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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Meet the chief coordinating community-led management in Bua

As he welcomed us into his village, I was again struck by the friendly and down-to-earth manner of the Tui Wairiki (chief of Wairiki village), Akuila Qio Turaganiqali.

We first met in November, when Akuila accepted his nomination to become the Coordinator for newly formed Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST). Since then he has also become the Northern Division representative for the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area network (FLMMA). Very much active in each of these roles, Akuila quickly became a regular correspondent, a close ally and a good friend.

Akuila was born in Wairiki, but spent most of his childhood in Suva where he attended school, Fiji Institute of Technology and the University of the South Pacific. Following a career in public service, working for the Department of Agriculture, Land Transport Authority, the Ministry of Health, Public Works Department and Fiji Military Services, Akuila and his wife Teresea resided in Suva until the death of his father (the former Tui Wairiki) in 2011. As is customary for the oldest child, he left his life in the city and returned to take on the chiefly role in the village.

“I had visited regularly over the years, so I knew that things had changed in Wairiki since I was a boy.” remembers Akuila. “After I returned I got a better understanding of the challenges we face here. Our culture, traditions and natural resources are being eroded. Developments like the new road, woodchip mill and logging can help us by providing employment and income but we need to protect the environment we rely on for our daily needs. We also want our grandchildren inherit a bountiful vanua (incorporating the natural resources of the land and ocean).”

Quickly recognizing the scale of these challenges, Akuila set about linking with other communities and partners to address them. “That is why I became active with BYMST and FLMMA.” he recalls “They provide a way of accessing knowledge, support and resources from NGOs whilst helping communities to plan and act together. It is an honor to play a role and I encourage everyone to contribute towards our shared goals.”

With five children and eight grandchildren whom he visits regularly in Suva and New Zealand, one question remained unanswered as Akuila returned from an early morning at the plantation to help lead our workshop – just where does he find the time?

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Village adventures in Vuya

Accompanied by the BYMST (Bua Yaubula Management Support Team) Coordinator and the Assistant Roko Tui, we received a warm welcome and a big bowl of kava as we arrived for the first time in Vuya Village. This was the start of a week of village workshops across the district of Vuya, at the southern tip of the province of Bua. It was also an early step in a process to help develop an ecosystem-based management plan for the district, supporting communities to work together for sustainable management of their natural resources.

We had been well briefed by Brooke, a locally-based Peace Corps volunteer, so knew the village had already developed a management plan and delivered some impressive projects (including its recently-established mangrove nursery!). Attended by 38 local men and women, the workshop identified ways they can build on their plan and achieve even more.

Our plans to visit Navave were scuppered by unforeseen circumstances, so next stop was Nabouwalu Village, overlooking the jetty that takes people and goods (including truckloads of taro) to and from Viti Levu. Presentations, discussions and conceptual modeling explored the threats to local ecosystems and strategies through which these might be addressed. More kava followed as we talked and got to know each other into the night.

Finally we arrived in Wairiki Village, the chiefly home of our companion Akuila Qio Turaganiqali, the BYMST Coordinator. Workshop participants showed great enthusiasm to learn more in order to safeguard their resources for future generations. The local development agenda includes major road building, mining, commercial forestry and development of Nabouwalu into a town – so there are plenty of challenges and opportunities.

The icing on the cake was lunch at Wairiki, where villagers prepared a feast of the highly poisonous moray eel to test me. Knowing the traditional ties from my mother’s side (Kavula village) to the natives of Wairiki, I was torn over whether to tuck into this dish with its potentially lethal effects. I trusted my instincts and took the advice of my trusted colleague Didi, who said that ‘if the flesh is as white as milk; there is no reason to refuse.’ It was a great relief to finish the bowl and I must say that it was a memorable and tasty meal!

We are already looking forward to returning, working with our new friends and enjoying many more bowls of kava.

[Editor’s note: While KK survived his moray meal unscathed, a man from Nakodu village was not so lucky recently where the WCS Marine Team were working to assess the impacts of harvests from tabu areas.]

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News from Bua

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqali

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqali

Bua Yaubula Management Support Team (BYMST) brings together representatives from the 9 districts Bua (the rural western province of Vanua Levu) for sustainable management of natural resources.

Thanks to funding from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program, BYMST representatives met up with government officials and NGOs in Nabouwalu on 19-20th Feb to plan and coordinate activities.

BYMST Coordinator Akuila Qio Turaganiqale introduced the Roko Tui Bua, who opened the workshop by outlining Provincial priorities for 2013. He highlighted imminent development of the new road from Nabouwalu to Dreketi (reducing travel time to Labasa and Savusavu) and urged communities to take advantage of opportunities arising from this.  The Provincial Administrator from the Commissioner Northern’s Office provided further detail on this and other big projects including the plans for Nabouwalu to become Bua’s first town!

The people of Bua are looking to achieve a difficult balance between economic development and maintaining the ecosystems upon which they rely. BYMST will surely play a vital role.

Having heard what different NGOs are delivering (and identified ways we can link up), the BYMST reps drafted their own plan for 2013. This will start by developing the BYMST structure (enhancing their influence through better links with chiefs and government officers) and operational guidelines, obtaining funding and raising awareness. With ongoing support from Bua Provincial Office and talk of hiring a Conservation Officer to help implement plan it could be a busy and exciting year ahead.