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Stakeholder Consultation Workshop on the Development of a Reforestation Guideline for Fiji

Bula vinaka and Good morning.

I extend a warm welcome to you all. 

And at the outset, I wish to gently remind all of us of the looming threat of COVID-19 and the various preventative measures that have been put in place. I am duty-bound to reiterate some of the measures as follows: wash your hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds, or with alcohol-based sanitizer; stop touching your face; sneeze or cough hygienically by covering your mouth with your elbow or tissue, and stay at home if you are unwell. For those who are travelling, please note the guidelines applicable to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to acknowledge the GIZ Country Director Mr. James Macbeth for your presence and support of this workshop through your Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Programme.

We have partners from several government agencies, private sector, civil society organisations, landowner representatives, and regional and international development partners. And I thank you all for being here. You have been invited to share your experiences, expertise and even aspirations towards the development of an Afforestation and Reforestation Guideline for Fiji. Your contribution in this process will be critical as you all play a key role in your respective organisations and communities, and in our collective effort to ensure the sustainable management of our natural resources. Suffice to say, the Guide will be our collective contribution to Fiji towards achieving Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).  

As you all know, reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted through deforestation. However, many of you might be surprised to hear that for the past two decades, Fiji has lost over 4000 hectares of forests each year. Preliminary studies have shown that we have given up forested lands for development purposes, including roads and other built infrastructure, for agriculture purposes, and to logging, but not necessarily replanting.

We, of course, know that the conversion of forest land to other land uses are equally vital for community and national development. So, the big question is what do we do about this? What exactly do we do about forest loss?

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that our meeting today will help provide an answer.   

Based on the last forest inventory in 2006-2007, we believe that Fiji still has about 56% (1,014,000ha) of forest cover. And, I am happy to inform you that the Ministry is coordinating another National Forest Inventory this year to give us an updated perspective of our resources, and how we can ensure our policies are improved and implemented for real sustainability.

Of the known forest cover, about 44% (449,000ha) is classified as primary forest – the most bio-diverse and carbon dense form of forest. A further 11% is planted forests. 

The more re-assuring move, I believe, is that the Fijian Government has made it a national priority to plant 30 million trees in 10-15 years, and apart from the resources it provides, we are actively looking for partnerships both domestically and internationally to help implement this initiative.

We have had some very good feedback from forest-based companies like the Fiji Pine Limited and Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited who have committed to planting three million trees per year between them. Other companies, both within the forestry sector and those who hold corporate social responsibility in high regard, are also planting trees. This includes Fijians from all walks of life. Excluding the trees planted by Fiji Pine and Fiji Hardwood, the Fijian public and visitors alike planted 1 million trees in 10 months last year. This is a reflection that people do appreciate the value of trees and forests, and are willing to contribute to tree-planting. All they need is some guidance to ensure we do it right.

The development of the Afforestation and Reforestation Guide is, therefore, very timely as it could provide the direction that will ensure our tree-planting initiatives are ecologically sustainable. This means that planting trees is not only about putting them into the ground. We plant trees to protect and enrich our biodiversity; to generate the various ecosystem services that trees and forests provide; to strengthen our resilience against climate change impacts and natural disasters; to rehabilitate our vast tracts of degraded soils, to provide food and water security; to provide income; to mitigate climate change; and, ultimately, to ensure a healthy nation with healthy and wealthy people. It also means that we need to plan for perpetuity. For our trees and forests to provide for the current and future generations.

The Guide will recognise the important role of forests in climate change mitigation and in building climate resilience. It could promote climate-smart afforestation and reforestation. We know that climate change impacts are intensifying and this will make our replanting work more challenging. It is therefore important to plan for these changes. 

The Ministry of Forestry is promoting the planting of our indigenous or native tree species, so we will also be re-looking at our approaches in the field to ensure the survival of these valuable species under changing climatic conditions. 

The Guide will also positively impact our Emissions Reduction Programme that is being implemented under the World Bank-funded National REDD+ Programme. Reforestation constitutes a large component of the programme and this Guide will support the success of the afforestation and reforestation activities.

At the operational level, the Ministry has reallocated 60% of its resources including funding, staff, and assets like vehicles and computers towards our tree-planting operations and revenue collection services throughout the country. This will ensure that we are walking the talk. One of the challenges we noticed in the past was the inconsistency in planting trees, and the inability for the Ministry to follow the money trail from revenue coming out of the forests. But, we are changing these. The resource re-allocation is helping create a tree-planting revolution within the Ministry, and in the communities as we have seen with last year’s achievements. It is also ensuring that our staff are more responsible in monitoring logging licenses, not just to know the money trail and if this revenue is accurately recorded, but also to ensure compliance with the logging code to safeguard the environment, and ensure sustainability.

Our approach to reforestation is holistic in that the focus is not only on the tress, but importantly on biodiversity as well. We want to actively help Fiji to achieve the five strategic goals of the Aiichi biodiversity targets vis-à-vis:

1. Addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society;

2. Reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use;

3. Improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity;

4. Enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and

5. Enhancing implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building, similar to what we are doing today.

This workshop is an excellent platform as it allows us to further develop specific guides for planting in areas like water catchments, grasslands, degraded lands and coastal areas, to name a few. We will also consider other equally critical components like soil types, plant types, forest classification, flora and fauna, nursery developments right through to plantation establishment.

Importantly also, I hope that the workshop will discuss the other key issues that have an impact on the sustainable management of forests such as biological threats. On this account, the Ministry has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji to help control and eradicate invasive species. It is also establishing networks with the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji National University to help address research gaps, and it is actively seeking to strengthen existing relations or develop new ones with regional and international research and development agencies.

Forest fires have long been detrimental to sustainable forest management, and I hope that we will collectively work towards managing these. I thank the Pacific Community (SPC) for helping develop a draft national forest fire management strategy and I look forward to having this finalized sooner to coincide, if you like, with the afforestation and reforestation guide.

There are of course other key issues that many of you experts will be able to contribute towards our national guide, but all these point to the importance of such a Guide in our renewed efforts to ensure that our forests are ecologically sustainable. And one of the key strategies in my view is to continue to empower local communities to take ownership of the efforts to sustainably manage their resources.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to conclude by sharing with you that Fiji will be celebrating the International Day of Forests when the Honourable Speaker will launch the event and plant a few trees around the Parliament House and Government Buildings tomorrow. Tree-planting events have also been arranged for schools around the country also tomorrow, and in various communities on Saturday 21 March. The theme for this year’s International Day of Forests is: “Forests and Biodiversity”. I believe we are being pro-active today in ensuring that biodiversity features in our discussions.

And I hope that, as a collective group with a common interest in trees and forests, we will lead the way in planting more trees and protecting more forests. This is why we will all look forward to the outcomes of your discussions today.

I thank you again for your willingness to be here, and I wish you Godspeed.

Vinaka Vakalevu. 

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