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Ministry Introduces Staff Behind Forestry Agenda

The Ministry of Forestry is pleased to introduce its staff and consultants who are helping drive both of Fiji’s specific and broader forestry agenda in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Over the coming weeks, the Ministry will bring to you, our readers and followers, the background of our staff and consultants who are helping make things happen for the greater national good.

We start today with Mr Ilaisa Tulele, a senior forestry executive who is currently a consultant with the World Bank. Mr Tulele is the Programme Team Leader for Fiji’s REDD+ program and works very closely with the Ministry of Forestry.  He has three decades of professional experience in native, coastal and plantation forest development and management, forest harvesting, timber processing, grading, research and marketing, terrestrial biodiversity conservation and protected area development, alternative livelihood programs for local communities, and project development and management.

After serving in the Ministry for over a decade, Mr Tulele ventured into the private sector and then as a consultant. He joined the REDD+ program in 2019 and helped coordinate the remaining requirements before Fiji was able to sign a carbon trading agreement with the World Bank making it the first Small Island Developing State in the world to do so.

1. What work do you do at the Ministry of Forestry? 

I am the Program Team Leader of the REDD+ Unit and managing the REDD+ Readiness Project that is funded through a grant issued to the Fiji Government from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) under the World Bank. The project basically supports the necessary transformational reforms required within the Ministry of Forestry, as the lead agency, in readiness for the implementation of the 5-year national Emission Reduction Program, i.e. 2020 - 2025. The project had started in 2015 and I am one of the many successors, having joined the REDD+ Unit in September of 2019.

I've been blessed and very fortunate to have worked under great leaders, who were visionary and inspiring, and played very influential and definite roles in shaping who I am today.  So, I wish to take this time to acknowledge and thank them. Incidentally, many of my former bosses have passed on, but nonetheless, I thank them.  

2. What motivated you to want a career in forestry? 

Forestry was never my first choice as a career. I had always wanted to pursue a career as an engineer and had done the necessary Bachelor of Science undergraduate training at the University of the South Pacific. In the late 1980's, the Fiji Government, I suppose, was encouraging young professionals to pursue a career in natural resource sector and I was one of four that was selected and offered an undergraduate scholarship to study Forestry at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. Initially, I was on the verge of turning down the offer but it was through my father's insistence and behest that I accepted, and I am thankful.

I went on to study at ANU from 1989-1992 immediately after graduating from USP. 

During this time, my perception of Forestry changed and I realized the diverse nature and vast opportunities that existed within the sector. I've never looked back since then.

The greatest motivation is the changes and the opportunities in forestry in elevating the simple lives of the forest dwelling communities, who really have modest needs. 

Forestry had in no way motivated me but it was a career that grew on me and of which I'm proud to be part of.      

3. What are some of your memorable achievements in this role? 

Prior to leaving the Ministry of Forestry in 2004, I was the Deputy Conservator of Forests in charge of Operations. Joining the Fiji Pine Limited in 2005, I was appointed as the General Manager Operations until 2009, when I was then appointed as the Chief Executive Officer until I resigned in 2010. 

From 2012 - early 2019, I managed the GEF 4 Project, which was really the first development project funded under GEF. 

The memorable achievement during this period was scaling Fiji's highest peak, Mount Tomaniivi (formerly known as Mount Victoria), which took me at least 5-hours to get to the top and even longer to return to ground-level...a feat I promised never to repeat!

I accompanied the scientists from USP during the Bio-Rap Assessment of Mount Delaikoro on Vanua Levu, which was really an education for me, particularly understanding the important functions of Fiji's cloud-forest systems as the primary source of drinking water. Indeed, a marvel to behold and worth the effort!   

Through work, I've been able to tour the world in an official capacity, visiting many countries in Asia, Central and South America, Trans-Tasman countries, New Zealand and Australia including most of the pacific regional countries. The many encounters and experiences are memories that I will forever cherish as it has moulded me into the person I am today.  

4. What have been some challenges you have faced in this role? 

During my career, the main challenge is relocating due to work and this usually means leaving behind friends and loved ones. But I believe it has been good changes, especially for my children, who have had a better perspective of Fiji's landscape and lifestyle. What I often worry about the most is the different schools they've had to attend, making new friends and quickly adapting to new environment.

One of the worst and most devastating experiences for the family was the flood of 2009 in Nadi when our entire home was submerged underwater and we basically lost everything. The biggest lesson though was understanding what the less fortunate families had to endure and to be grateful for what little you have. The experience also taught me about community and how people, regardless of race and social standing, often forged together to overcome a situation that rendered everyone powerless, like this flood.  

Workwise, my current role has been very demanding as ever since I took up my current role, I have been trying to bring the project "back on track" in the shortest possible time available. It has been even more challenging when you're trying to make the transitional and transformational changes from a project framework into institutionalizing a program through the government machinery and within a Ministry. 

To achieve this will require the breaking down of the "silos of thinking and mental attitude" and "pre-programmed work culture" that often exists so that all staff, beginning from the top tier of decision making down to foot-patrols on the ground are aligned, attuned and ready to take out the Emission Reduction Program message and prepared to confront and guide the general public during its implementation. 

If the Ministry's staff are not convinced, then changing the behavioural patterns of the community and the public at large, will be a mammoth and unyielding task.  

5. In your role who are your immediate stakeholders and how well do you work with them in achieving the deliverables for a sustainable forestry sector in Fiji? 

The Ministry of Forestry is blessed to have a very active and supportive stakeholders and partners in the form of Conservation Groups, Non-Government and Civil Society organizations, both locally and internationally based. 

These organizations have been at the forefront of most of the development within the forest sector and should be commended and appreciated for their unwavering support. 

It is also indicative of the global extent of the "forestry family" and the importance of trees, forests and ecosystems, and the various forms and applications through which they impact the lives of individuals, communities and the general public. 

The work of the Ministry is basically about fostering partnerships, building bridges and providing guidance along the "straight and narrow path" of sustainable development. 

We are not expected to carry the entire load, for if we do "no one will be the wiser," that is no one will know what has happened.  

The lesson for the younger crop of the Ministry of Forestry staff is to always solicit the support of these organizations when confronted with a situation that is really beyond you BUT never feel that, because of your limitations, whether it be expertise, time or funding, it can never happen - it can and it will, all you have to do is "shake the tree the right way" and see what fruit you yield".

6. What are some of the activities in which you have worked with communities to promote the forestry sector? 

During my tenure under the GEF 4 Project, we developed the "WAKATU" Awareness Campaign that was co-launched by the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Forestry in 2017. There are lessons learnt during this development: -

a) "Leave the work to the Experts" - I recall that in the past, the Ministry developed its own awareness messages and brands that contained jargons and language that, I've come to realize, only the presenter knew, and in the process, may have confused the audience more than convinced them! 

I wish to acknowledge Mr Scott Radway of cChange (formerly Seaweb) that educated me on the "dos and don'ts" of messaging, particularly for awareness raising. 

cChange guided the development of the WAKATU awareness campaign material and also the training of facilitators on its use.

b) "Use of Local Champions" - this approach involved employing local farmers, community reps and even Sport Icons to champion the campaign, instead of the norm that is government or civil servants. 

The community reps, when understanding the simple but genuine gist of the campaign message, were so enthused that they volunteered to champion the concept themselves.

The impact of campaign was astounding! Within a year of campaigning, we had secured the formal consent of the landowners for the protection of Mount Delaikoro, Mount Tomaniivi and Mount Uluiqalau (Taveuni) under the Protected Area management framework. 

I recall that during the Ministry's Mahogany Plantation Development Program, it took at least 2-years to secure a mataqali/clan consent. So it goes to show that "there are ways of doing things, then there is the right way of doing it!"  

7. In light of the COVID19 pandemic what are some of the new norms or ways of working that you've had to cope with? 

The COVID-19 pandemic is viewed differently by many. For some, changing from the normal way of doing business can be difficult, costly and stressful. But I believe that the only one true thing in life, other than death, is "change". 

I have been working from home, which has been difficult at first with the children out of school and also at home and coupled with the demands of everyday family life and nonetheless, I've had to make the adjustments. 

Thank God for the virtual platform! This set-up works well for my current position, given that the majority of the supporting experts and consultants are based offshore. The demand, however, is the time zone differences. A number of recent and important virtual forums occur around 11pm (Fiji Time), which, for me, means an increase in my caffeine and nicotine intake although it adds to the "effects of the virtual experience", it doesn't do you any good the next day, when you lumber along in a "zombie-like" trance.

The biggest lesson from the present situation is that it makes you think of how precious time is and how fragile life can be and we must all "take the time to smell the roses"...God is Good all the time, All the time, God is Good!  

8. What would be your advice to those who want to join the Ministry of Forestry? 

In one sentence - take it up and enjoy it!

Forestry is basically a lifetime commitment as one will be looking at the life cycle of a single tree as it takes over 80-years to reach full maturity or its apex during which it would have borne and dispersed seeds for regenerating, a number of times during its life cycle. 

Forestry will also continue to play an integral role in nation building, as it has done in the past. Fiji's land tenure system dictates that the welfare, rights and interests of the communities and resource owners will remain in the central domain of all discussions on national development. 

So, when you talk about land for development purposes, you are actually entering into the realm of trees and forests and thinking about the interests of people.

In doing so you would have completed the cycle of nation building – so for whatever career path you choose - Forestry will have a place for you.

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