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.

Women find sustainable, alternative livelihoods in Fiji

Women find sustainable, alternative livelihoods in Fiji

Dried kuta stems ready for weaving in Nabalebale village, Cakaudrove Province, Fiji.

WCS Fiji has just received funding to develop sustainable, alternative sources of livelihood in Bua and Cakaudrove Provinces of Fiji. We were very excited to choose weaving round kuta mats as a central part of this project. Kuta is the water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis. We feel that there is a need to take up the challenge on kuta weaving since traditional knowledge is slowly slipping away – this would be a significant loss to future generations who are ignorant of the value of this tradition. This project is a chance to revive these skills, preserve this knowledge and retain part of the identity for women from Bua and Cakaudrove who are renowned for their skills in kuta weaving. At the same time the project will create essential opportunities for women to generate additional income within their communities.

Kuta is a sedge, which resembles a tall, cylindrical grass, and inhabits lowlands and marshlands. The ‘chestnuts’ that give this marsh plant its name are not actually nuts, but the swollen underground stems that acts as a storage organ for the plant. In Bua and Cakaudrove, the stems are harvested, dried, and woven into soft sleeping mats, decorative round mats or traditional funeral waist mats (ta’ovala kuta) sold to Tongan people.

Unfortunately, viable habitats that support kuta are now under increasing threat from anthropogenic activities and climate change. The protection of wetlands and marshlands is important to ensure the survival of species like the water chestnut. Establishing kuta weaving cooperatives will give an economic value to these threatened wetland areas which are so important for biodiversity. This economic value will therefore give communities a concrete reason to preserve and manage these areas into the future.

With the help of Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF) and WWF one of our staff will be visiting  the districts of Wailevu East and West, Kubulau, Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu to collect information on kuta weaving. PCDF has already conducted training on kuta weaving in early 2011, when they taught some of the ladies in the district of Wailevu and Kubulau to weave round kuta mats. Cross-site visits and to share knowledge will be an important part of the project, since the weaving skills differ across the districts. It may be possible for villages to sell their kuta to weavers in other villages. We expect to have the first sales of kuta mats before the end of the year!

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.

Ecosystem-Based Management is taking shape in Nadi and Solevu

Two more districts in Vanua Levu are establishing Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to safeguard their natural resources.

The districts of Nadi and Solevu, situated in the province of Bua, rely heavily on natural resources to meet their subsistence needs. In November 2011, they sent representatives to a management planning workshop in the nearby district of Wainunu, where they found out more about environmental issues and Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM), which fuses scientific principles with local and traditional ecological knowledge to promote sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine, coastal and marine habitats. These representatives took part in a conceptual modeling exercise which identified conservation targets, threats affecting those targets and strategies through which the threats could be addressed.

Participants at a workshop in Nadi devise management rules for their terrestrial & marine protected areas.

In January 2012, WCS Fiji has facilitated further consultation with each village in Nadi and Solevu. Recent district-wide workshops have further defined networks of freshwater, terrestrial and marine protected areas and sets of rules to govern the management of natural resources. These rules and protected area network will provide the basis for Ecosystem-Based Management Plans to maintain healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems in order to overcome pressure from population growth and climate change, enhance local quality of life and meet the needs of future generations.

WCS Fiji’s Director Stacy Jupiter stated “We would like to thank the leaders and communities of Nadi and Solevu. They should be congratulated on their progress and we look forward to supporting the development and implementation of their management plans.”

Children of Solveu will reap the benefits of the new protected area network.

WCS Fiji has applied EBM in working with communities in adjoining districts of Kubulau, Wainunu and Wailevu along the south of Vanua Levu. The expanding reach of this approach reflects its success (particularly in Kubulau where the approach has been established for longest), associated growth in demand from communities and WCS Fiji’s focus on the Vatu-i-Ra Ecoscape, one of Fiji’s last great wild places.

New Fish Wardens for 2012

In order to maintain sustainable resources for future generations in the Provinces of Cakaudrove and Bua in Vanua Levu, the communities of Wailevu, Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu have selected some members of their communities to be trained as fish wardens. These fish wardens will be empowered to see that their resources are use in an appropriate way.

This project was kindly supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two 3-day training sessions for the 2012 fish wardens were held: first in Natuvu, Wailevu district, and then in Navatu, Kubulau district. The training in Wailevu was officially opened by the Provincial Administrator Mr Uraia Rainima, and the Roko Tui Cakaudrove Ro Aca Mataitinihad was our chief guest who gave the certificates to the participants on the final day of the training and also officially closed the training.

There were 42 participants that attended the training in Natuvu, 30 participants were from the district of Wailevu and 12 participants were from the neighbouring districts of Somosomo, Saqani, Nakomo, Nanuca and Lekutu. WCS Fiji’s Waisea Naisilisili and Sirilo Dulunaqio were delighted to receive the training to become fish wardens themselves. In Navatu there were 27 participants, 15 from Kubulau and 12 from the neighbouring districts of Wainunu, Nadi and Solevu.

The Kubulau fish warden training was officially opened by Tomasi Cama; in his opening speech he addressed the importance of our connection to our environment through our totem fish, plants and animals. The fish warden training was conducted by Joji Vakawaletabua (Fisheries Department Nasavusavu), Tomasi Cama (Fisheries Department Bua), Nanise Kuridrani Tuqiri and Epeli Tawake (Fisheries Department Labasa) and a police officer from Nasavusavu.

To end the workshop on a positive note, on the final day of the training we managed to tag a male Hawksbill turtle and the participants named it Tui Navatu. Tui Navatu was tagged and released by the two heads of the tribe (yavusa) in Navatu, as the participants looked on. This was a memorable day as we also celebrated the reef enrichment initiative which was launched in April. The training in Kubulau was officially closed by Joji, who reminded us that we are inter-dependent with the environment: we depend on our resources and our resources depend on us.

Go West! Community-based management spreads in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape

Participants from Solevu district map out their protected areas at the management planning workshop in Daria village, November 2011.

The WCS field team left behind the familiar villages of Kubulau to travel westward to seven villages in Nadi and Solevu Districts, Bua Province, Vanua Levu. Their mission was to find out about some important decisions made at recent village meetings, regarding proposed protected areas and district-wide rules—for the seas, the mangroves, the rivers and the forests of these two districts. These areas and rules were originally proposed by workshop attendees from Nadi and Solevu districts, who joined the Wainunu Management Planning workshop which was held in Daria village, Wainunu District, in November 2011.

 

Solevu has identified seven tabu areas in their qoliqoli and along the coast, including the whole of Solevu’s outer reef as a district marine protected area. Three terrestrial and freshwater tabu areas have been identified, which aim to protect Solevu’s main water catchment. Similarly ambitious, Nadi has proposed twelve marine and coastal tabu areas, also including their whole outer reef in a district marine protected area. Nadi’s forests and rivers will also be protected with five freshwater and terrestrial tabu areas.

At the Bose Vanua meeting for Solevu on 16 March, all tabu areas were finalised. A signing ceremony for Solevu will be arranged to formally launch the network of protected areas. In Nadi district, the village tabu areas are already in place, while the district marine protected area is awaiting confirmation.

Both districts have urgently requested awareness-raising and education on nature conservation issues. As well as this, the districts will form resource management committees who will then be able to develop draft management plans with the support of WCS Fiji. These draft management plans will include the finalized maps and rules for protected areas as well as the wider district, information about enforcement of protected areas and—importantly—a list of agreed steps which will be taken to make sure that the aims of the management plan will be met.

These new tabu areas are an exciting addition to the existing network of community-managed protected areas, that started in Kubulau and is currently being expanded into Wainunu and Wailevu districts. By acting together, the benefits for the whole Vatu-i-Ra Seascape will be the greatest. Communities of Bua and Cakaudrove provinces are taking the right steps for the health of their natural resources and for their own livelihoods—now and for the future.