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!

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer


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

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.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

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.

Sharing traditional Fijian weaving skills

Mrs Edith Whippy and her beautiful round kuta mat

Edith Whippy is a skilled lady. She is capable of weaving all kinds of mats from kuta (Water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis), but she loves most of all to make round kuta mats. Usually she collects kuta from Muanicula estate which is just down the road from where she lives. When she travels there by boat to collect the stems and she used to pay F$20 per day, but these now with the high demand for kuta the cost has increased to F$30 a day. Kuta harvesting is a job for all the family – the Whippys set off at 8am to make the trip worthwhile, and spend the day wading in knee-deep water to cut the plants.

At times Edith has to go to Kasavu village to collect kuta, a long journey past Savusavu town, and she is charged F$400 for the return trip which she shares with the other women. The longer you keep dried kuta the better it is, because it softens and becomes easier to use – often it is kept under the mattress to keep the brittle stems soft. Kuta weaving is done only on rainy days or in cooler weather since it tends to break if woven during hot, sunny periods.

Edith’s grandmother taught her the skills of weaving round kuta mats and she has been doing this since 1982 when she married Mr Whippy. Her mats are usually made to order from friends and relatives, providing her main source of income. Round kuta mats are generally charged by hand-span; at around $10 for every hand-span the mats can provide a good alternative livelihood for women. At the same time kuta weaving benefits the environment and local communities: by giving a solid reason to protect the important wetland habitats in which kuta thrives, essential ecosystem services such as clean water will continue to be enjoyed by the nearby villages.

“I conducted training in Natokalau and Dawara villages [in Kubulau and Wailevu districts respectively] last year [2012]. I could see the passion in the ladies to learn the weaving skills quickly, but most of them who came had their small children with them, which made it hard for them to learn as a lot of time was spent attending to the little ones”, said Edith. She is willing to help other women by sharing her special skills and experience from 30 years of weaving round kuta mats, making sure this tradition does not slip away. This will be made possible as part of a WCS Fiji project in Bua and Cakaudrove provinces, which will establish a cooperative selling round kuta mats, therefore giving communities a reason to maintain and manage their precious kuta wetland habitats.

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.

Plunging into Fiji’s rivers

Stretching between Mt Navotuvotu in the west, past Mt Kasi and towards Mt Sorolevu are large tracts of native forest. Beneath these canopies run crystal clear rivers and streams with abundant fish and invertebrate life. I led a small team to explore previously un-surveyed rivers and record the biodiversity found there. The team of 2 Fisheries Officers, aquatic ecology consultant Aaron Jenkins and I (WCS Fiji’s Freshwater Specialist) left Viti Levu by boat before the sun came up on 30th July, bound for the port of Nabouwalu at the southern tip of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu.

The team arrived in Nabouwalu and headed straight to Nakawaga village, part of the province of Cakaudrove. After presenting our i sevusevu to the village elders we were given the thumbs-up to undertake our biological assessments of the river fauna beside their village. The villagers assured us that we would find lot of life there, since the river had been protected for the last 10 years. After 4 hours surveying the river we had to conclude that this was not a healthy site: the impacts of upstream activities were really being felt, even in this protected stretch of river. Over a bowl or 2 of kava that evening, we reassured the village that it is still an excellent idea to have protected area in place, but if the communities cannot control upstream activities, then it would be wise to shift the protected area to somewhere they can restrict the surrounding activities.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

The second site surveyed was the upper catchment of the Wainunu River where we stayed in the upstream village of Navakasali; we were the first visitors that they had had this year! Happily, the sites surveyed were of high water quality with diverse and abundant fish life. There was also high abundance of freshwater prawns; these related well to the traditional methods of catching prawns – the method involves lining up rocks in a V shape along the shallow edge of the stream and placing rotten coconut in the inner part of the V. At night they come and collect prawns by the hundreds from the V.

Our second day from Navakasali was much more disappointing. We surveyed Wailoaloa river near a forestry station. We pulled seine nets and hand nets through the murky water and caught nothing. It was completely lifeless; no fish, no prawns, no mollusks, not even any insects or insect larvae. The local village guides said that inhabitants of the forestry station would often use chemical fishing techniques (i.e. herbicides) to fish here and that is why it was so devoid of life. This was a stark contrast to the previous site we had visited. Further upstream the story was the same – years before herbicides had been used to clear the area before planting mahogany, and chemical fishing had been used frequently in this stretch of river.

We left Navakasali for Daria village – the Wainunu river which passes Daria originates right from the peaks of Mt. Navotuvotu. The site was a protected area (tabu) that stretched for 200m. Despite riverside gardening of dalo (taro), the water in the upper Wainunu was of high quality, with moderate fish diversity. We recorded high abundance of the endemic fish Redigobious leveri, with very large size fishes.

The last village visited was Driti village, in the upper reaches of the Dama River. The forest in these upper catchments was intact and healthy explained the high abundance native fish present. This site was a haven for gobies with four species including the relatively rare endemic Stiphodon isabellae, and abundant prawns.

To conclude, these surveys found the state of upper catchments to be very variable between sites. Often gardening, livestock and forestry have already impacted on the fauna within these upper catchments. The Dawacumu and upper Dama rivers possess the most unique biodiversity and intact fish populations, and the forests are in the best condition of the sites sampled. There is a clear need to do some awareness-raising on the impact of chemical fishing and herbicide use for clearing undergrowth prior to planting of timber trees. Both of these practices are having a severe impact on waterways in Fiji and even in some very isolated and remote upper watershed areas. These results will be presented back to communities in the coming months, as part of a project to identify riparian buffer zones and areas of native forest for protection.

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.