Parrotfish help research traditional knowledge

I joined up with the research team on a Friday in Namalata village in the district of Kubulau. I have always had a keen interest in traditional knowledge, which is in danger of draining away, so this trip was my chance to help investigate whether and how it is being passed on to the next generation.

Team “Bubute” (named after the parrotfish that our interviewees were asked to identify) included Rachel (collecting data for her PhD thesis), Lai and Seini (graduate researchers from USP) and me trying to use my local connections and experience to explore traditional knowledge in these parts.

As Lai was wrapping the waka (kava root used to make the drink for traditional ceremonies), I worried that it would be turned against us – used for an early morning drinking session. This proved right next morning when we presented the sevusevu on the island of Navatu. As soon as Buli Navatu (the local chief) accepted our offering, he ordered for it to be pounded and served to us in the village hall – at 9.00 am on Saturday morning!

When we escaped the drinking, my first interviewee was a man who hailed from Ono-i-Lau in the Lau group of islands. He had married a woman from Navatu and lived there for most of his life. We talked about the different plants and their uses for medicine, food, to sell and for special occasions. I noticed he used most plants at home, rather than selling or donating them to village functions. My traditional links meant I was duty bound to joke that as he is not contributing to the village, maybe they should send him back to Lau without his wife!

The elders relate closely with seasonal weather patterns and know which crops to plant where and when. They will plant a certain species of uvi (yam) in certain weather at a certain time of year to ensure it is perfect to harvest for a feast at Christmas, New Year or a big i-sevu (presentation of root crops to the vanua or church). I now know that planting in July and harvesting the following March will give me the biggest yams (I made a note to take back to my village).

The next stage is to analyse the data and assess the links between traditional knowledge and natural resource management. Hopefully the results will help enhance the effective transfer and application traditional knowledge to meet current needs as well as providing for future generations.

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Launching the Wailevu Ecosystem-Based Management Plan

In beautiful Wailevu village, overlooking the stunning blue waters of Savusavu Bay, a formal ceremony took place outside the home of Tui Wailevu, Ratu Kinijoji Rarokoqica Maivalili (High Chief of the District) to launch the Wailevu District Ecosystem-Based Management Plan.

In front of assorted Chiefs, representatives of government, NGOs and community members, the Tui Wailevu spoke of his support for the management plan and the need to safeguard precious local environmental resources. “This is a historic occasion for the people of Wailevu” he stated, “I thank the Provincial Office, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other partners for their support as we take steps to manage our resources for future generations”.

The management plan, developed by communities over the past two years, includes management rules for a network totaling 67Km2 of marine, freshwater and terrestrial protected areas, as well as additional regulations to protect local resources within the district and its customary fishing grounds (iqoliqoli).

It was great to see so many partners and community representatives present as High Chiefs signed the document and it was blessed in a ceremony on the beach.

Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji Country Program had flown in to take part. “This reflects a community-driven approach that is informed by extensive scientific assessments alongside local ecological knowledge”, she stated. “I congratulate the people of Wailevu on the management plan, which provides a focus for them working together to maintain healthy ecosystems that benefit all communities.”

Wailevu is the largest district in Fiji, with 27 villages and over 6,000 people. Considerable coordination is required for effective management across its large terrestrial and marine areas. Two resource management committees have been established (for Wailevu West and Wailevu East) to deliver the plan and report progress to traditional leaders through the Bose Vanua. The management plan also includes communities in the Upper Nasekawa River Basin area of neighbouring Koroalau district, demonstrating a commitment to cooperation across boundaries as part of an Ecosystem-Based Management approach.

The Roko Tui Cakaudrove, Bulutani Mataitawakilai also offered his support. “The Cakaudrove Provincial Council Office congratulates the people of Wailevu, who have recognised the importance of working together to protect their natural resources for future generations. Working with Cakaudrove Yaubula Management Support Team, the Provincial Office will continue to support the Vanua Wailevu and encourages other Tikina in the Province to adopt their approach. We thank the Tui Wailevu and his Masi ni Vanua for adopting and supporting sustainable natural resources management”.

So much work has gone into the planning process, but this is only a starting point. With plenty to be done in raising awareness, implementing and monitoring the plan, I guess this is where the real work begins!

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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.

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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.

Sea cucumber harvest provides church roof

Holothuria scabra collected in Natuvu village

On the 24th September 2012 the communities of Natuvu village in Wailevu district started harvesting sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra, or dairo in Fijian) from the shallow waters outside their marine protected area. Sea cucumbers are being cultured in Natuvu village through a joint project with Fiji Department of Fisheries, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and James Cook University. The dried animals fetch a high price for sale in Asian markets – up to $100 per kilo. Around 1,200 of the valuable animals were collected on the first day of the harvest and 1,000 individuals on the second day. We are waiting to hear the final catch figures for the harvest from the communities.

During the harvest I saw first-hand the long drying process to prepare the catch for sale. First the communities cooked the dairo then buried them in sand for 24 hours. After this, they cleaned them and cooked again for 10 minutes and then dried the cooked animals using dryers. Finally, the sea cucumbers are cooked again for 15-20 minutes and then sun dried until they are sold.

It was very encouraging to see the community come together as the women of the village cleaned the dairo while all the men helped out in the cooking, cleaning and drying. Harvesting will continue until enough money is collected from selling sea cucumbers to purchase new roofing material for their village church.

Catch information collected from this harvest will contribute to a study by the University of Georgia in the US. In August, WCS Fiji staff assisted Professor Mark Hay and his team to carry out surveys inside and outside the marine protected area owned by Natuvu village, for example gathering seabed sediment samples and assessing the density of sea cucumbers before the planned harvest. These data are now being analysed by Professor Hay, before he returns to Natuvu for a post-harvest survey. The research hopes to answer questions about the effects of large-scale harvests of sea cucumbers on ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling.