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$700K to help maritime communities build back better

The majority of the pine plantations in the maritime provinces of Gau, Kadavu and Cicia in Lau are at their maturity stage and awaiting harvest. Harvesting by the plantation owning communities has been delayed due to both the unavailability of harvesting equipment and the lack of capital to enable harvesting to commence.
Past attempts by communities and private companies to utilise the pine resources were fraught with many challenges, mainly due to exorbitant shipping costs, lack of appropriate skills in, and the inadequate overall community awareness about, the harvesting and processing of pine.
In light of this, the Government introduced the Maritime Pine Package Project in 2014 with the aim of ensuring the sustainable utilisation and management of maritime pine resources through investments in machines, skills training and inventory of pine resources. This work started off with Cicia and Gau Islands as reported in the Department of Forestry 2014 Annual Report.
Since then, the Government has been injecting funding support into the harvesting and processing of maritime pine plantations as a capital project in the annual budget.

Maritime Pine Development Project

The purpose of the Maritime Pine Development Project is to assist the people of the maritime islands to utilise their plantation resources to satisfy their own housing needs as well the funding of other community projects from the sale of their excess timber.  
With this initiative, the Government stays true to the slogan "Leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first" in delivering its services by continuing to invest in providing better housing structures for those living on these islands.
The maritime communities acknowledge Government’s support in allocating $700,000 towards the project in Kadavu, Lakeba (Lau) and Gau in the 2022–2023 financial year that will assist the Ministry in its ongoing operations, supporting communities in harvesting their mature pine resources for housing purposes and for income generation.
The Ministry will mobilise its allocated budget to deliver an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, improve its mandatory functions, and ensure it helps the communities and businesses to build back stronger and better, both in rebuilding houses and the economy.
Prime Minister and Minister for Forestry, Hon. Voreqe Bainimarama in welcoming the allocation of $17.7 million for the 2022–2023 financial year, said that the project was intended to provide a return on investment for pine grown decades ago in the maritime islands.

Maritime Pine Budget
Of the total funding of $700,000, $500,000 has been allocated to support the maritime islands pine schemes, focusing on the harvesting and cartage of sawn timber for pine schemes in Kadavu, Lakeba and Gau in conjunction with Fiji Pine Ltd and the Fiji Pine Trust. The balance of $200,000 will fund activities in support of other pine maritime operations around the country.
"This will allow continued assistance to maritime pine resource owners through the provision of appropriate harvesting machines and equipment with related training and capacity to economically harvest, process and market their mature pine trees," Mr Bainimarama said.
Mr Bainimarama said that, “Since 2020, Government had assisted the maritime pine schemes by re-purposing trees that were damaged by tropical cyclones for housing rehabilitation.
"A total of 765 house frames worth $4.5 million were prepared. The surplus timber was sold to generate revenue for the resource owners. The budget will ensure the Government’s continued rehabilitation work in the maritime and rural communities, rebuilding homes and restoring hope in people’s lives," Mr Bainimarama said.
To date, the Ministry has helped with the production of more than 800 housing structures in the maritime islands since the budget announcement in June.
The Ministry hopes to continue this work of assisting maritime communities through this budget allocation.

Purchase of machines to boost operations

Since 2015, the Ministry with support from various donors, has procured a total of 21 portable sawmills, which are currently stationed and in operation around the country. Vanua Levu has three portable sawmills, the maritime islands have nine, and Viti Levu has nine. The portable sawmills purchased have a maximum working life of five to seven years; however, other factors that affect its efficiency and lifespan include the rate of daily production, operator competency, constant relocation, and payload.
Some of the machines in the maritime islands have recently been shipped back to the main land for servicing and maintenance before they will be returned to the islands to start work for the new financial year. 
Executive Director Operation and Services Tevita Bulai said most of these machines had been over-utilised in the past few years, especially during the height of rehabilitation work after a series of tropical cyclones that struck Fiji.
According to the Ministry’s Planning Division, three of the 21 portable sawmills that had been made available to communities around the country have been declared uneconomical as they would be costly to repair. Therefore, to continue its assistance to maritime communities and to meet the increased demand for housing assistance, the Ministry proposes to use $200,000 to procure three new portable sawmills with an estimated total cost of $173,000. The balance of $27,000 is proposed to be utilised in the repairs and servicing of existing machines including the transportation costs of these machines back to the islands.

How funding will benefit communities
Lessons learned from this project will enable the Ministry to replicate the project on other maritime islands in need of similar assistance. 
Mr Bulai said the concept was introduced to support maritime communities to utilise their mature pine plantation resources for the construction of their houses, including renovations. Since logging contractors from the mainland found it unprofitable to barge logs/timber across to the mainland and sell them, the Government has stepped in to support by subsidising part of the operations through the purchase of portable sawmill machines.
"We have received an increase in requests for housing projects in maritime islands, especially after the recent provincial council meetings. For example, after the Lau Provincial Council meeting, we received new requests from Oneata, Moala and Moce coupled with existing ones, Lakeba, Totoya, Gau, Cicia and Ono-i-Lau group and Kadavu. These small islands' pine plantations are now mature and ready to be harvested and processed. Three new portable sawmills will be purchased as well as the servicing of a number of machines to cater for the demand."
Mr Bulai said the new budget would complement the Government’s housing rehabilitation in the islands and accelerate efforts to re-purpose the timber. 
"The ultimate outcome for this project would be to assist pine resource owners with timber and other needed building materials for building new or upgrading existing houses," he added.

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