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Korovou crafts his way to teach others value-adding skills at Ministry

Business had been thriving for Mikaele Korovou, who worked closely with his father in a small wood carving family business in Nadi.?
But all that changed in April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shutting down international tourism and hurting the economy, particularly small niche enterprises that relied on it. The pandemic created new challenges for Mr Korovou, who went on a quest in search of a secure future for his young family.
He clung to his creative ability to carve a marketable product out of wood. This was his strength that landed him a job with the Ministry of Forestry.
This week we profile Mr Korovou, who joined the Ministry in October last year and has been thriving in his area of work.
Mr Korovou, 35, is from Muanaicake, Fulaga in Lau, and works as a wood turner/carver at the Ministry's Timber Industry Training Centre in Nasinu. He is in charge of teaching trainees the skills they will need to add value to their crafted product and make it marketable.

Humble beginnings
Mr Korovou started carving at the age of 10, following in the footsteps of his father, Laijia Leuta, who is a master wood carver based at Maqalevu, Nadi. He said they were a major supplier of woodwork products and art to nearby hotels and retail stores, including Jacks of Fiji.
"Once I held the traditional carving tool and started carving, following my father, I did not have to think twice as carving came naturally to me," Mr Korovou shared.
He dropped out of school in Form Five, swayed by the money he was making selling woodworking products at such a young age on the streets in Nadi.
"My greatest source of inspiration is my father, whom I adore. He taught me all I needed to know about the trade, and he was quite knowledgeable. Most of our younger generation learn the skills just by watching the older men do it," he said.
Mr Korovou worked briefly as a mechanic at a resort in the Yasawas after earning an Automotive Engineering General Class III qualification from the Centre for Appropriate Technology Development (CATD) in Nadave. He didn't feel at ease in the profession, so he returned to his father's workshop. Than he tried out other jobs, but yet he found no passion and kept returning to wood carving. This made him realise that woodcarving was his true calling and that he needed to devote more time to it. 

Ministry’s contribution to GDP

The Government, through the Ministry of Forestry, is focusing on bringing some of the country's informal industries, such as wood carving and artifact production, into the formal sector and fully realising their potential in adding to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
At the training centre, landowners are being taught to make use of wood residues from logging operations and timber processing facilities to ensure zero waste from harvesting.
According to the Acting Director of Forest Product Trade and Training, Taniela Whippy, cottage industry trainings empower forest-based communities to generate revenue and contribute to economic recovery while reducing harvesting residues from forests. This is particularly for high value wood such as our native trees which take close to 100 years to mature and with mahogany which is among the most sought-after wood finishing products in the world.
Mr Whippy believes this cottage industry, which also generates revenue for the Government, has a promising future.
“Harvesting residues is another alternative to primary raw material or even an export commodity in the not too distant future. Parts of these residues are branches, stumps and even roots which are not fully utilised,” Mr Whippy said.
This is where Mr Korovou’s role in working with the Ministry under the Wood Utilization Programme comes in. He guides trainees through the basic wood-turning skills to an artistic level as well as how to maximise the value of wood products while also reducing waste.
Currently, six participants who are mahogany landowners from the district of Vugalei in Tailevu and are part of the cottage industries programme are under his supervision. For precise design and patterning of finished products, he uses a combination of old carving processes and modern tools.
Mr Korovou is a descendant of skilled Fulaga wood carvers who are recognised as some of the most skilled in Fiji, with their crafts highly sought after.
"I am grateful for the Ministry's job opportunity, which has allowed me to put food on the table for my family, especially during this difficult period," Mr Korovou added.
"It's gratifying to pass on knowledge to individuals who are eager to learn, and I strive to assist them in any way I can. I am confident that if I can assist one or two trainees in mastering the value-adding aspect of their products, it will benefit them socially and economically," Mr Korovou said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Pene Baleinabuli said they would continually embrace community empowerment through the provision of appropriate training and assistance to Small Micro Enterprise (SME) and identification of alternative livelihood schemes that would further increase profit margins of small income generating business such as wood carving and artifacts.

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