Traditional Fijian leaders back natural ways to curb climate change

Traditional leaders on the island of Taveuni in Fiji are discussing ways to restore and protect their natural ecosystems as a viable way forward for their island.

At a multi-community workshop on 'natural solutions to climate change' in Somosomo village organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) through its Pacific Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change Project (PEBACC), the traditional leaders recognised the importance of using natural solutions to curb climate change and the negative impacts of unsustainable development and farming practices on the island.

Fijian traditional leaders and partners at the SPREP workshop on natural solutions to climate from 23-25 AugustFijian traditional leaders and partners at the SPREP workshop on 'natural solutions to climate change' in Taveuni Island, 23-25 August. Photo: PEBACC Project.

Speaking on behalf of the traditional leaders, Ratu Jone Ganilau of the Mataqali Valelevu (Ai Sokula) clan and the representative of the Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu said "This is long overdue. We must now reforest the island and go back to organic farming to maintain our environment for future generations. Excessive chemical use in farming for monetary gain and chopping down of trees right up to the mountains have impacted negatively on the environment. We have concerns for our water table and also salinity in the soil has become a problem resulting in smaller dalo (taro) yields."

"It is a blessing that the traditional leaders are in Somosomo this week. A key first step is to get everyone on board and that includes our farmers, the tourism sector and other developers on the island. It is not going to be easy but it is the best and most sensible approach for the preservation of our environment and livelihoods." Ratu Ganilau added.

Traditional conservationist and Coordinator of Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni, Mr.Sipiriano Qeteqete agrees and explains that Taveuni was earning up to 20 million dollars each year from dalo exports but the figure has dropped dramatically recently.

"In the past, the boats would ship up to ten trucks full of dalo to Suva per shipment. Today, we can't even reach that number and the trucks go half empty. The farmers are moving inland to source better land because land closer to the coast is getting drier and not favorable for dalo planting. But moving inland means that they have to farm on very steep land and spend more money to transport their harvest down to the markets."

Fijian families continue to rely on the ecosystems for their livelihoods Somosomo village Taveuni 2016Fijian families continue to rely on the ecosystems for their livelihoods, father and children at Somosomo village, Taveuni, 2016. Photo: PEBACC Project.

"When dalo planting for export was first introduced, earning money was the priority without consideration of the impacts on the environment. Trees were cut down and chemicals were used. Today we see and experience poor health of the soil resulting in lower yields, water shortages, landslides, soil erosion, and flooding in different parts of the island," Mr. Qeteqete said.

Reforestation particularly coconut planting, streamside and shoreline planting and creating buffer zones along the rivers are some immediate next steps for the work on the island.

The three -day workshop this week is an initial get together of community leaders in Taveuni Island and is part of an Ecosystem Resilience, Analysis and Mapping (ESRAM) study for Fiji commissioned by SPREP through the PEBACC project, and led by Watershed Professionals Network (WPN).

An ESRAM study is a mapping and analysis of social economic resilience to climate change associated with goods and services provided by ecosystems.
Project Manager of the SPREP PEBACC Project, Mr. Herman Timmermans is thrilled that the traditional leaders are taking a lead role in driving the natural solutions to climate change approach on Taveuni.

"I am very pleased with the positive way PEBACC has been received by the traditional leaders in Taveuni. Their support provides a strong foundation to carry the project forward. We look forward to strengthening our relationship in ensuring effective implementation of Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) activities in the 'garden island," said Mr. Timmermans.

The workshop participants during a mapping exercise on natural solutions to climate changeWorkshop participants during a mapping exercise, Somosomo village, Taveuni, Fiji. Photo: PEBACC Project

Mr. Chris Heider of Watersheds Professionals Network reflects that - "This is an important time for the people of Taveuni. There is a new and unified resurgence in ridge-to-reef management that fuses both the long-standing traditional values and practices with the modern realities of the 21st Century."

"There is clear momentum and a broader understanding of how ecosystems function, where strengths and weaknesses exist on the landscape, and a willingness to work toward strengthening communities" Mr. Heider added.

The findings of the ESRAM study will guide the implementation of the PEBACC project in Fiji.

The PEBACC is a five year project funded by the German Government and is implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in partnership with the governments of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The Project focusses on strengthening and protecting the role of natural ecosystem services to enhance resilience to climate change.

In Fiji the Project sites are Taveuni Island and the Macuata Province.

For further information please contact Ms. Jilda Shem, PEBACC Communications Officer, jildas@sprep.org or +679 3311382.
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