Hon Osea Naiqamu - Minister for Forestry Parliament Address, December 8, 2020
· Honourable Speaker Sir,
· The Honourable Prime Minister,
· Honourable Cabinet Colleagues,
· The Honourable Leader of the Opposition,
· Honourable Members of Parliament,
· Ladies and gentlemen
Honourable Speaker Sir, I rise to deliver my response to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji’s address last week.
And I wish to start by thanking the President, His Excellency Major General (Retired) Jioji Konusi Konrote for his thought-provoking address, challenging all Parliamentarians to act with wisdom, foresight and urgency.
His Excellency the President has fittingly outlined in his address the struggles and progress Fiji has made, emphasising that we cannot afford to be complacent.
His Excellency also provided strategic guidance on the areas of priority that include:
· Our containment of COVID-19;
· Our economy’s recovery; and
· Our response to the climate, oceans and biodiversity crises.
Honourable Speaker Sir, I echo the sentiments of His Excellency the President on COVID-19 and our strategies on minimizing its impact. It has been a challenging year for Fiji and indeed the world as we continue to battle the health, social and economic impacts of this virus.
We have done exceptionally well to contain the virus at our boarders. And we are fortunate so far to not have any community transmission.
I wish to salute our health care professionals and border protection personnel for their sacrifices to contain the virus. They are our real life heroes.
Honourable Speaker Sir, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the lives of our people when it forced the closing of our borders and many businesses. It is estimated that over 120,000 Fijians lost their jobs or are working on reduced hours.
But this is where the FijiFirst Government took some decisive steps and I am pleased to advise that the Ministry of Forestry is fully committed to supporting Government’s vision to adapt to the new normal and to work together to reignite the economy, create employment opportunities and address food security.
All these while also addressing the ongoing threats of climate change.
Partnerships for Economic Growth
Honourable Speaker Sir, in recognition of the need to immediately generate economic growth, the Ministry of Forestry has reviewed its business facilitation processes and is now able to provide export licenses within 24 hours. A number of companies are now benefitting from this quick turnaround time.
The Ministry is working on issuing harvesting licenses also within 24 hours, taking advantage of the advancements in information technology.
In the recent months, the Ministry has signed a number of agreements with agencies like the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services, Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Bio-Security Authority of Fiji, Fiji National Provident Fund, and the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations.
The agreements will help in a whole range of areas including but not limited to preventing the intrusion of threats to our biodiversity, accounting for the true value of our forests and ensuring our industries are compliant in taxes, and with the health and safety of the workers.
The Ministry is also working closely with other agencies including the Ministries of Environment, Lands, Agriculture, Fiji Pine Ltd, Fiji Hardwood Corporation Ltd and the iTaukei Land Trust Board.
The thrust of partnership with these stakeholders is firstly to facilitate economic growth from the forestry sector, whilst also ensuring sustainable management of our forests.
Green Recovery (Tree Planting & Emission Reduction)
Honourable Speaker Sir, in terms of our national tree-planting revolution as part of Fiji’s green recovery, I am pleased to inform the August House that we have now planted over 3 million trees and mangroves since His Excellency the President launched the initiative in January 2019.
And I wish to thank all Fijians, including your good self Honourable Speaker, who have contributed to this national effort.
This achievement is a reflection that many Fijians appreciate the importance of trees and forests and how they protect the environment.
In my visits to almost 300 villages around the country, I have seen that our people have a profound understanding of the role of trees and forests in addressing climate change and maintaining a balance with nature.
My Ministry will continue to coordinate the planting of 30 Million Trees in 15 Years (30MT15Y). This initiative is also helping Fijians who have lost their jobs owing to COVID-19, and have returned to their villages.
Honourable Speaker Sir, food security is a vital part of our tree-plating initiative, especially during these challenging times. This is why the planting of fruit trees and the adoption of agroforestry practices are key parts of initiative.
Promoting Bamboo and Non-Timber Forest Products
Honourable Speaker Sir, in our efforts to generate economic growth from the forestry sector in a short span of time, the Ministry of Forestry is investing in non-timber forest products like bamboo, candle-nut trees or Sikeci, and Dilo to name a few.
These products could be harvested within 3 years, thus providing a good alternative to the timber trees, which normally takes over 30 years to mature.
Fiji formally joined the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) in September this year. A key target of our membership of INBAR is the establishment of a Bamboo Research Centre to help rural communities not only to plant, but also to process high value bamboo products.
These short-rotation species will not only help ease the pressure on our native forests, but also help our ongoing fight against climate change and the restoration of ecosystems services.
Honourable Speaker Sir, Fiji has the third largest mangrove area in the Pacific with an estimated 46,600 hectares, most of which are on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
The Rewa Delta has the largest strands of mangrove eco-system complex in Fiji; however it is under constant pressure as well as degradation via firewood harvest as most of these communities are still largely dependent on these vulnerable mangrove forests for a wide range of subsistence and commercial forestry and fisheries products.
With funding from the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the Ministry has been able to set up a Community Brackish Shrimp Pond at Narocake Village in Rewa and three more will opened this month at Naivakacau, Waicoka and Natila in the province of Tailevu.
The brackish shrimp ponds and other projects like piggery farms, tree and plant nurseries, bee-keeping and basic sewing skills provided to the communities in Rewa and Tailevu constitute alternative livelihood sources that should ease the pressure on our mangrove forests.
My Ministry has empowered the people of six coastal communities in the Rewa Delta to conserve and grow more mangroves to combat climate change and protect their coastline from erosion while training them in alternative livelihood projects to sustain them now and into the future.
TC Harold Housing Rehabilitation Project
Honourable Speaker Sir, the Ministry of Forestry is currently leading the charge in implementing Government’s commitment to housing rehabilitation in the islands following Tropical Cyclone Harold.
I am pleased to advise that after 30 weeks of operations in the Kadavu, my Ministry has managed to complete the structures of about 340 houses covering 37 villages. The number of completely damaged houses in Kadavu after TC Harold struck in April this year was assessed at 596 houses.
We have purchased additional portable sawmills and are also carrying out housing rehabilitation work in Vatulele where we have re-purposed timber for 15 houses, 16 in Matuku, 11 in Totoya, and 15 in Ono-i-Lau.
In total, we have repurposed timber for about 400 houses in the maritime zone, and my Ministry is collaborating with other agencies including the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development and the Ministry of Housing and Community Development to help the villagers to build back better and stronger with Category 4 cyclone resilient houses.
On the same note, there is now renewed efforts in the mahogany industry to complete the boundary surveys, confirming stock availability, facilitating the full and active participation of the resource-owners in the industry, promoting downstream processing and value adding, and marketing our high-value products to niche international markets.
Honourable Mitieli Bulanauca’s questions yesterday reminded me of someone who is still stuck in the past. We probably have progressed way too fast that has left him wondering what has happened!
Honourable Speaker Sir, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that Fiji’s forest resources are managed sustainably through the engagement of all stakeholders in long term stewardship. This means that while we want to create wealth from our forest resources, we have to strike a balance between generating economic activity on the one hand and expanding our resources, protecting our natural environment and eco-systems on the other hand.
May I thank Opposition Member of Parliament, Hon. Mosese Bulitavu for his positive comments on the planting of 30 Million Trees in 15 Years initiative. I also commend him for spearheading his Mataqali in this tree planting programme.
We may sit on opposing sides of this August House but we share a common goal when it comes to the fight against climate change and how it is important to plant trees now for the sake of our future generation.
Honourable Speaker Sir, as we approach the festive season, let’s give thanks for all that we have because if there is one thing that we have learnt during these difficult times, it is to be appreciative of life.
I wish you all and your families a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2021.