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Master Mala retires after 32 years with Forestry

A love for nature and the passion to protect the environment from an early age is why Malakai Sevudredre joined the Ministry of Forestry in 1990. A trainer with the Ministry’s Forestry Training Centre, he was responsible for chainsaw and forest technician training. Shying away from the medical field like his parents, Master Mala as he is fondly known at work chose a career in forestry.

Briefly tell us about yourself and how you got into forestry? My name is Malakai Vakalutukamunaga Sevudredre. I am originally from Lawaki, Namena in Tailevu. My mother is from Navuloa, Bureta in Lomaiviti.  I was born at the Central Hospital, in the British Solomon Islands. I am the eldest in our family and have 2 younger brothers and a sister.

My father was a Dentist and my mother was a Nursing Sister with the Ministry of Health.  My father passed away in November 1988 when he was 48 years old.  My mother just celebrated her 80th birthday in August 2021.  I am married to a very fine lady from Kabariki, Nabukelevu in Kadavu. I have a 12 year old daughter, Atelina Grace Sevudredre. 

I am interested in helping to protect the environment.  I was educated at Holy Family Primary School in Labasa, Suva Methodist Primary School in Toorak, Gospel Primary School in Samabula, George Street Normal School in Dunedin, New Zealand, Holy Family Secondary School in Labasa and Natabua High School in Lautoka.  I was interested in Forestry from a very young age whilst in Labasa. I used to go and camp in Nakadrudru, Lekutu, Bua in what is known today as the Fiji Pine Limited with Mr. Matai Vunibaka while I was living in Vaturekuka.

You have been with the Ministry for more than 3 decades. Please briefly explain your work. I joined the Ministry of Forestry in January 1990 when I was 23 years old and was first posted to Tubarua, Galoa, Serua. I was then posted to the Silvicultural Research Division in Colo-i-Suva and the Information Section of the Ministry where I met our current Permanent Secretary who also worked in the same section. 

I was then posted to the Forestry Environment Division then back to the Information Section, which was located at Knolly Street then. From Knolly Street, I was posted to the Forestry Training Centre (FTC) in Colo-iSuva in 1999, where I am serving now. I started my pre-retirement leave earlier this week on Monday 29/11 before I officially retire from the Ministry on Friday 04/02/2022 – by then I would have worked for the Ministry for 32 years. I plan to go to my village, complete the construction of my humble village dwelling and return to Colo-i-Suva to take my family home after my retirement.  At the Forestry Training Centre, I was working as a trainer, training the community and the forest industry on how to safely use the chainsaw to cut down trees for downstream processing of quality timber for the local and export market. 

In my years of service, I have been to all the 14 provinces in Fiji and have been around the country more than a dozen times. I also had the pleasure of visiting the state of Queensland in Australia as part of a group from FTC to visit biodiversity conservation and protected areas and see how they were managing that in 2016. We spent three weeks in Queensland where I also had the opportunity to visit my younger brother’s family in North Bendigo, Melbourne, Victoria. 

The Ministry’s Vision is “Sustainable Forests, Our Future” - how do you translate that into the work that you do? In regards to the Ministry of Forestry’s vision of Sustainable Forests, Our Future relative to what I do as a trainer, I teach my learners to always respect the forests and only cut what you need to cut from the forest and be mindful to leave the younger trees and saplings space to grow.  Only cut the mature trees for our basic needs, like housing, furniture, and provide employment to the locals. 

What is your most memorable achievements with the Ministry? Most memorable achievements within the Ministry was when I led a team to Vanua Levu after the mass destruction left behind by Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasa and Ana in 2020.  My team consisted of 20 staff, including 15 chainsaw operators with five vehicles. We left Natovi on 20/12/2020.  We eventually spent 55 days on Vanua Levu, missing out spending Christmas and New Year with our loved ones due to the call of duty, traversing between the provinces of Macuata, Bua and Cakaudrove using our chainsaws to clear main road access, clear schools, clear high risk trees from villages that were very badly affected. 

Looking at the state of the villages and the path of destruction from STC Yasa could easily have brought tears to one’s eyes.  We were far from home but we persevered with grit and guts to bring some form of normalcy to the lives of our brethren on Vanua Levu who were very badly affected.  We were eventually sent to Cogea, Wainunu, Bua, where we cleared a forest for the relocation of Cogea Village.  In some instances, we requested for the provision of large machines to assist us in clearing debris, but in the end had to improvise - physically improvise.  The tiredness could be seen in the eyes of my team but they pushed on regardless. I salute all of them for that. 

I am very proud to have worked alongside the DISMAC Chainsaw Team from the Ministry of Forestry in Suva especially at a time when the country was still reeling from the effects of the cyclone and flooding.

Advise to young Fijians thinking of a career in Forestry? My advice to our young Fijians is that you must first of all have the heart to save our forests, our biodiversity, our protected areas.  Do not just think of working to get your wages at the end of the week or after a fortnight, do your work empathizing on what the trees are there for, to give us oxygen, shade, wind breaks, and timber.

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