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Prime Minister Commends Nairai Villagers for their Tree-Planting Efforts

The Prime Minister and Minister for Forestry Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama has acknowledged the efforts of the people of Nairai for joining Fiji’s tree-planting initiative.

In a written statement in Parliament this week, Mr. Bainimarama said the people of Nairai and all the individuals and communities throughout Fiji who actively participate in Fiji’s national tree-planting and forest restoration efforts must be fully supported.

Ten months ago, the villagers of Natauloa, Tovulailai, Lawaki, Vutuna, and Waitoga on the island of Nairai in Lomaiviti responded to Government’s call to join the fight against Climate Change by actively participating in Fiji’s tree-planting campaign to plant 30 Million Trees in 15 Years.  


Cushioning the impacts of environmental and climate change

Having heard of the increasing and devastating effects of climate change, the villagers knew that their future generations could be protected from the rising sea level and the intense heat that scotches the land and renders it less productive only if they were to plant more trees to absorb carbon, protect the land from soil erosion whilst also providing more shelter for humans and a multitude of birds, insects and wildlife.

The villagers have heard of entire communities right here in Fiji having had to move to higher ground due to the rising sea level as a consequence of a changing climate. Apart from the physical and financial costs of changing sites and rebuilding homes, the communities that have made the move have also had to sacrifice their spiritual, cultural and emotional connection to their original village sites. Sites which were once carefully selected by their ancestors due to their proximity to the ocean which has been their source of livelihood.

Economic Empowerment

The villagers of Nairai also heard of the socio-economic benefits of actively participating in the national tree-planting programme. One of the immediate factors is the economic returns from raising healthy seedlings.

Government, through the Ministry of Forestry which is coordinating Fiji’s tree-planting programme, has been empowering communities on the proper methods of nurturing seedlings, construction of nurseries, and even buying some of their seedlings.

Permanent Secretary for Forestry, Pene Baleinabuli, said the arrangement has seen many communities, especially women and youth groups earn some cash after six months of carefully nurturing the seedlings.

Nairai Island Youth Leader Jovilisi Puamau said youths in the village relied on earnings from their kava plantations but had to wait for about seven years for it to mature before they could get paid unlike the quicker returns they now get from raising seedlings.

“After seeing that we can earn a lot more in such a short span of time by raising seedlings, the youths have been motivated to participate in Fiji’s tree planting initiative,” Mr. Puamau said.

 “The 30MT15Y initiative is one of Government’s best programmes for our island because it has brought the villagers together for a good cause,” he said.

 Mr. Puamau said the initiative gave youths something worthwhile to focus on.

Mr. Puamau’s sentiments were echoed by the Nairai Women’s Association President Sokoveti Nataqa who said that the tree planting initiative has not only united the villagers but has also instilled a sense of commitment never experienced before on the island.

 “Leaving the dollar value of these seedlings aside, I know we have achieved a great fete today,” Mrs. Nataqa said.

 “The fact that these seedlings will be planted on our home soil for our children and future generations to benefit from is such a great feeling, and I thank God for uniting us through this initiative. We are not only playing our part in forest restoration but we are also restoring God’s creation by planting trees,” she said.

Natauloa village headman Eremasi Uluiviti said that in January of this year, staff from the Ministry of Forestry visited them with 1000 sandalwood seedlings to be distributed to the 5 villages on the island.

“We were informed that the sandalwood seedlings were sourced from Sigatoka and were brought to Nairai so that we could plant them to kick-start our tree planting,” Mr. Uluiviti said.

“After hearing about how much the Ministry was paying for the sandalwood seedlings, we were determined to venture into this initiative and we promised the staff from the Ministry that upon their next visit, they do not have to bring us seedlings from Viti Levu as we would raise and plant our own seedlings.”

Vutuna village headman Sitiveni Rogowale said proceeds earned from the seedlings raised would go towards village projects like the implementation of solar lights on the island and most importantly supporting and investing in their children’s education especially those that are currently in tertiary level education.

“I am very grateful that we are able to participate in this initiative that we are able to earn something out of it,” Mr. Rogowale said. “I thank Government for their foresight and wisdom and that Fijians like me can benefit from such initiatives,” he said.

 From 4 Million to 30 Million Trees

The 30MT15Y tree planting initiative is part of Fiji’s green economy and recovery from the ongoing impacts of climate change and the recent impacts of COVID-19 which saw more than 120 thousand Fijians losing their jobs with many returning to their respective villages to toil the land and use the resources from the sea.

The tree-planting initiative started in January 2019 as part of Government’s initial commitment to plant four million trees in four years. This initiative was launched by His Excellency the President Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote. In September of 2019, Government noted that the initiative had resulted in the planting of almost one million trees in nine months. Prime Minister Bainimarama then announced the new target of 30 million trees in 15 years whilst attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2019.

Mr. Baleinabuli said that one of the most important outcomes of Fiji’s tree-planting initiative is that it encourages our people to re-establish a stronger connection with nature.

“It offers the opportunity for people to renew their appreciation of trees, forests and biodiversity and how it is important to plant various types of trees from native species, timber trees, fruit and ornamental trees, and even non-timber trees like sandalwood and a host of other high-value short rotation trees that can benefit them in the short and long terms, whilst also benefitting the environment and biodiversity.”

Mr. Baleinabuli said the Ministry will be inspecting the seedlings in Nairai and will try to buy some for the ongoing reforestation works.

The islanders are also encouraged to sell some of the seedlings to any interested buyer, and most importantly to plant as many seedlings as possible as this will benefit the island and especially their future generations.

The Ministry is also reaching out to various stakeholders that are coordinating reforestation work in the Lomaiviti Group to purchase some seedlings from Nairai.

Prime Minister Bainimarama said that Government is committed to helping communities, individuals and organisations to build capacity and empower them technically and economically.

“Fiji’s tree-planting initiative is aimed at greening Fiji and addressing our social, economic and environmental protection needs both for the current and future generations. It requires the full and ongoing support of all stakeholders,” he said.

Mr. Bainimarama added the initiative and many other programmes including supporting economic growth at the community and national levels are at the heart of the Ministry’s strategic direction.

The passing of the Climate Change Act in Parliament this week also paves the way for Fiji to actively participate in carbon trading so the more trees and forests we have the better the opportunities to trade in carbon.

For the islanders of Nairai and communities around the country that are actively participating in the national tree-planting campaign, this initiative couldn’t have come at a better time. A time when there is more public consciousness on addressing climate change through tangible nature-based solutions, which could also be economically rewarding.

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