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Hoteliers and Communities Boost IKI Project Progress

The Yasawa and Mamanuca islands are popular tourist destinations, and like other islands in Fiji, they are vulnerable to climate change-related risks such as cyclones, storm surges, sea level rise, coastal erosion, transport and communication, and decreased water supply.
With support from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germanys International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Ministry of the Environment, the Yasawa (Naviti district) and Mamanuca (Malolo district) islands were chosen to pilot the Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR) project. The intention of this Project is to promote joint mitigation and adaptation approaches towards global and national restoration targets and provision of major carbonand non-carbon benefits such as water, biodiversity and livelihoods. 
Under this project, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as the project executing agency, is working in partnership with the Government through the Ministry of Forestry, the Mamanuca Environment Society (MES) and the Vinaka Fiji Yasawa Trust Foundation (VFYT), the project's implementing agents. They have so far restored 62 hectares (ha) of degraded land in the two districts through the initiative using various restoration options.
10 of the 62 ha that were restored are community conservation areas; 40 ha are remnant dry forest conservation areas; 10 ha are for the protection of water sources; and two ha are for the establishment of household and mataqali woodlots (to be confirmed after the survival assessment).
The IKI Project Technical Working Group (TWG) that met at Somosomo Village in Naviti last week was informed of this when they discussed the status of the project's major deliverables in the two districts. The IKI FLR project's national and community component is implemented under the special supervision and guidance of the TWG.
The project focus includes the following:
·         Establishing an enabling environment for forest and landscape restoration in Yasawa and Malolo;
·         Restoring 240 ha of degraded lands in Yasawa (however, they have now dedicated an additional 260ha for restoration) and 160 ha in Malolo;
·         Enhancing community monitoring capacity for both socio- economic and environmental benefits.
Fiji FLR Mechanism national project coordinator Maika Daveta said the project, which started in 2020, introduced forest and landscape restoration as an integrated landscape management approach for multipurpose benefits. 
The FLR approach is based on four principles:
a) balancing ecological functions with human developments; 
b) enhancing the resilience of ecosystems/populations; 
c) continuous learning process; and 
d) engaging multiple stakeholders.
Mr Daveta informed the TWG members at the meeting that the progress during the two-year period was challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and movement restrictions, as well as other factors like prolong dry months and balancing priorities, i.e., restoration efforts with other developments such as tourism development or restoration efforts and the water needs of communities.
The project partners, which include Government agencies, non-governmental organisations, provincial councils, research institutions, the Natural Resource Committee (Yaubula Committee) of the respective villages and districts, and, most importantly, the combined efforts of communities, tourism operators and tourists, have stepped up to help the initiative gain momentum this year.
VFYT is implementing the project in Naviti district, while the MES is implementing activities in Malolo district, both of whom are being supported by the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture respectively.

Support from tourism operators

Fiji continues to advocate for climate action and ambition in the major global discussion forums, not only on behalf of Fijians and other Pacific islanders, but also for everyone who is vulnerable to climate change.

Tourism operators all over Fiji, particularly in the Yasawa and Mamanuca islands, are helping build a sustainable tourism industry by greening their operations and supporting conservation and community initiatives.

IKI Project TWG chairperson and Ministry of Forestry Forest Resource Assessment and Conservation Division director Mr. George Vuki stated that while they appreciated these operators' help, they now more than eve, required it to boost the project process and upscale restoration efforts to other sites.

"With the tourism industry resuming after the pandemic, labour availability for tree planting has been impacted as villagers are now reemployed in hotels. Visitors to these hotels can also help plant trees to protect some of Fiji's most popular tourist destinations in the Mamanucas and Yasawas," Mr Vuki shared.

"Village elders are encouraging youths and schoolchildren to participate in tree planting for their future benefits," he said.

Mr Vuki said that because water accessibility was an issue for raising seedlings on the islands, the communities were collaborating with hoteliers to use hotel nurseries to raise seedlings for their reforestation project. 

MES senior project officer Ilisapeci Narube said that they continued to work with resort staff to plant mangrove propagules to help increase carbon sinks and other trees in support of Fiji's landscape restoration initiative, which aims to plant 30 million trees in 15 years.

She acknowledged the role of tourism operators who have supported the project by providing nursery space for their seedlings and including their staff and visitors in planting efforts. 

"Our primary project for MES is to plant 160 hectares of native trees, fruit trees, and mangrove propagules in the Malolo area. We haven't yet reached our goal due to COVID-19 and lockdown constraints, but that hasn't stopped us from communicating with the Yaubula Support Management Team in the four villages of Malolo District, who have been working with us in our efforts," Mrs Narube said.

"As of now, resorts have been very supportive in terms of including staff in the tree-planting initiatives. Some of the resorts will ask us to set aside a date so that their workers can participate in our planting initiative there."

Involving communities to take ownership

According to Mr Daveta, involving the communities in all project phases has provided them the opportunity and given them the ability to take charge of the effort to protect the environment for future generations.

"By building the capacity of the Yaubula Committee at the community and district level, from planning to hands on practical training such as seed collection, seed processing and propagation, nursery management and data collection on survival percentage and growth dynamics, we are letting community members take ownership of these activities, ensuring sustainability and upscaling of restoration efforts," Mr Daveta said.

"In addition, with ‘communities at the heart of restoration’,  income generation projects like beekeeping would ensure that revenue generated would finance upscaling of restoration projects as well as financing other village development priorities." 

Mr Daveta added that such other income generation programmes are being planned, which they hope would improve food and nutrition security while also boosting the local economy in these project sites.

For MES, Ms Narube said that they have IKI plots in the four villages that they look after, with fortnightly monitoring of progress.

"With the capacity building programme, we conducted the awareness programme with communities, schools and even resorts in terms of spreading the gospel of terrestrial conservation and forest landscape restoration in the Mamanucas," Ms Narube said.

Naviti District's Women’s Representative to the TWG, Asenaca Ratudradra, said the women in the eight villages of her district were serious about planting more trees on degraded land because they were concerned about the effects of climate change and especially clean water sources for the future generation.

"The awareness brought by the FLR project has opened our eyes to the importance of trees and their functions and how we must plant more trees to save our environment, protect our water sources, and protect our food sources," Mrs Ratudradra said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Miriama Tubi, Malolo District's Women’s Representative to the TWG, who also said that raising seedlings from nurseries, planting trees, and guaranteeing their survival were all crucial aspects of making sure this effort was successful and enjoying doing this in the process. 

Meeting domestic and international commitments

Ministry of Forestry permanent secretary Pene Baleinabuli said the IKI Project supported Fiji’s commitment to forest landscape restoration for both carbon and non-carbon benefits and that involving local communities must be central to developing equitable benefit sharing systems for forest stewardship and restoration.

"The project is aligned with strategies developed to reach the goals for sustainable development defined by Fiji at the international, regional and national levels. As more investment goes into forest conservation and restoration, social justice and equity approaches can secure long term prosperity for forests and people."

The IKI project is expected to end in June 2023. 


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