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Address at the International Day of Forests 2019

The Minister for Forestry, Honourable Osea Naiqamu;  

Na Taukei Nakutadrodro, Vanua Nabuavatu;  

Na Taukei Erenalaya na Tui Rukuruku; 

Na Tui Nahehevia i Wai kei Vanua;  

Permanent Secretaries; 

Representatives of Development Agencies, Corporate, Non-Governmental, and Faith-Based Organisations; 

School Students, Teachers, Parents & Guardians;  

Members of the Media; and   

Ladies and Gentlemen.    

Cola vina, ni sa bula vinaka, namaste, asalaam alaykum, noa’ia ‘e mauri, and a very good morning to you all.  It is indeed an honour and great pleasure to be here this morning to celebrate the 2019 International Day of Forests.  I wish to thank all of you, especially the children, for your attendance.  

Our gathering today is the culmination of an almost three months-long tree-planting effort that began when I launched Fiji’s 4-Million-Trees-in-4-Years Initiative at the State House in Suva on Tuesday 8 January 2019.  This Government Initiative gained momentum when the Honourable Minister and I jointly launched the 2019 International Day of Forests on 1 March, simultaneously in Nadi and Rotuma, respectively.  Since then, the Ministry of Forestry has coordinated tree-planting programmes in schools and communities across the country; a first for Fiji, that is, a marked departure from our previous replanting strategies.    

The tree-planting programme is only the start of our commitment to plant four million trees in four years as part of our effort to build a greener, more climate resilient and more beautiful Fiji. A Fiji where our forestry sector is a sustainable source of prosperity for our people and a bigger and equally important element of our economic mix.   

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as resource owners and guardians of our natural, beautiful and pristine beloved country, it is considered prudent and important that we better understand the important role that forests play in protecting our natural environment. The relationship between people and forests has been critical to human development for all of recorded history.   From the dawn of civilisation, and long before, human beings have looked to forests as part of their home; a source of shelter, food and clothing. The Fijian people were no different. Our history tells us we looked to forests, and the flora within, as sources of medical and healing materials as well.   

Forests also play an important role in addressing the effects of Climate Change. They regulate ecosystems, protect our rich biodiversity and they play an integral part in the carbon cycle as well as in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.   

But as civilization has advanced, we have developed commercial agriculture and livestock, replacing the gifts of forests with food, clothing and shelter from other sources. Attitudes towards the forest changed, and the natural balance of sustainability that existed between people and our forests for generations has been shaken as a result. Many irresponsible actors continue to see our forests through the lens of industry and consumption. As a consequence, we have suffered massive deforestation on a global scale. Land has been cleared for agriculture, trees are being cut down to construct homes or being burned to create heat. In a predatory and destructive manner, the appetite of industry has consumed large swaths of our forests and their resources.  Only recently, have we begun to realise that the bounty of our forests is not infinite. While forests can regenerate, they were being destroyed too rapidly for many areas to recover. And when forests disappeared, communities suffered. The planet suffered. Humanity suffered.    

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we are here today as part of the global campaign to reverse the degradation of our forests and their resources. We are here to celebrate our forests with the focus on the theme: Forests and Education.  Fiji’s focus on forests and forestry has grown rapidly in recent times. New factors are coming into play and we need to improve our understanding of forest-related processes and how to manage them for the greatest benefits.  Improved performance at all levels will be necessary. That will not happen overnight. But we need to begin strengthening our institutions and conducting training to implement new standards and expectations effectively.  

Education is key to address the human resource limitations we face in forestry and raise awareness among the public of forests and forestry. The current scarcity of skilled human resources points to a clear need to improve tertiary education in forestry, while there is also an evident need to strengthen education in general and increase awareness in relation to forests and natural resources.  Government is pleased to note that the Fiji National University is offering Diploma and Degree courses in Forestry, while the University of the South Pacific and the University of Fiji continue to strengthen their environmental and other science programmes.  Our young graduates are being equipped with technical expertise and research skills in the areas of forest management, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, forest health and protection. They also learn about agroforestry and land use, harvesting operations, non-timber forest products and value adding, forest business, and entrepreneurship. This knowledge will lay the foundation for a lifetime of continuous learning and both personal and professional development.   The importance of forests must also be addressed with our children at the pre-school, primary and secondary school levels. Forests and trees must be part of Fiji’s school curriculum; and this project will go a long way in educating our young people on the importance of proper forestry management.   

The four million trees initiative is part of Government’s responsibility to young people, the future of our country. It is part of our commitment to encouraging the sustainable management of our natural resources. It is also part of our concerted effort to champion climate action and protect our natural environment and rich biodiversity, including our water sources.  The initiative involves plans to plant all types of trees from timber trees to fruit trees and ornamental trees.  It includes non-wood species like bamboo and candlenut trees, to name a few.  

To our children here today, remember you are never too young to learn about the importance of protecting our forests. Our forests are home to rare species, some of which are only unique to Fiji.  Our forests provide shade for our water sheds and keep them from drying. Our forests combat the effects of global warming. Our forests are a part of our nation, just as much as you or myself. So please, inform your parents, guardians and communities on the need to protect our forests and to grow more trees.   

On this note, I urge all Fijians to renew our efforts and plant as many trees as possible to help provide a secure and sustainable future for our children and future generations!  

May Almighty God continue to bless you all and bless our beloved nation, Fiji.   

Vinaka vakalevu, dhanyevaad, shukhriya, faiek’sia and thank you all. 

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