Hon Osea Naiqamu - Minister for Forestry Parliament Address, July 28, 2020
· Honourable Speaker;
· Honourable Prime Minister and Members of Parliament;
· Ladies and gentlemen.
Honourable Speaker Sir, I rise to affirm the Ministry of Forestry’s fullest support for the 2020-2021 Budget that was presented on the 17th of this month.
And I wish to commend the Honourable Minister for Economy and the staff of the Ministry particularly for a visionary budget that sets the platform for a smart recovery.
The Ministry of Forestry has been allocated $15.7 Million and it intends to strengthen its work in the various areas that will help with the environmental, social and economic recovery from COVID-19 and the tropical cyclones that have cause much damage in recent months.
Suffice to say, Honourable Speaker Sir, it is not so much the amount that a Ministry receives, but how it uses the allocated funds to secure maximum returns that matters the most.
The new budget will, for instance, enable the Ministry to assist Fijians who lost their houses during Tropical Cyclone Harold to put a decent roof over their heads.
About $1.5 Million is allocated for the maritime pine development, and purchase of harvesting machines and equipment. These funds will complement Government’s housing rehabilitation in the islands.
Following TC Harold in April, the Ministry deployed equipment and staff to help with re-purposing fallen and damaged trees. It has purchased additional portable sawmills and is enlisting the support of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to help build roads to ease the extraction of trees.
In about 11 weeks, and working with the islanders, we managed to re-purpose timber for close to 200 houses. The new budget will accelerate the efforts to ensure we re-purpose timber for all the damaged houses within the next few months.
In the meantime, the Ministry is collaborating with other agencies including the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development, and the Ministry of Housing and Community Development to start re-building houses up to category 4 cyclone standard. This is the commitment Government is making to the people – to build back better and stronger.
The Ministry also recognises that the global pandemic has caused job losses and the closure of operations for many companies. It is therefore exploring opportunities to meaningfully engage some companies with the recovery operations in the islands. This will help re-instate some jobs.
Honourable Speaker Sir, the Ministry of Forestry’s core responsibility is to sustainably manage our forest resources.
This is pivotal in building a resilient economy and society that can withstand the impacts of climate change and global pandemics.
Sustainable forest management can help lift communities out of poverty while also protecting the environment and enhancing biodiversity.
About $2 Million of the new budget will enable the Ministry to continue implementing the ‘Cash for Tree Planting Programme’ which provides the opportunity for Fijians who have lost their jobs due to COVID19 to earn some cash by planting trees in their communities.
This money will enable the Ministry to scale up its efforts towards the planting of 30 Million Trees in 15 Years under the reforestation of degraded of forests and the ridge to reef programme, which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme.
Honourable Speaker Sir, the Fiji Sun newspaper on Monday 20 July told the story of how the tree-planting programme has helped sustain Mr Mesake Dralolo and his family of Koromakawa Village in the district of Wairiki in Labasa.
Mr Dralolo was a food and beverage worker in one of the resorts. He lost his job due to COVID-19 and had to return to his roots and toil the land. He is one of many Fijians who have migrated to the rural areas. I had the opportunity to meet him during my visit to the Northern Division last month. As part of the tree-planting programme, he is able to earn some money for his family.
So far, more than $300,000 has been paid out under the Ridge to Reef programme. And Government has spent about a million dollars buying seedlings mostly from community nurseries under the reforestation of degraded forests programme, and planting trees.
These programmes not only empower people economically, but they also drive home the importance of nature. The new budget will definitely assist more people like Mr. Dralolo and his family.
Honourable Speaker Sir, in the past 19 months, Fijians from all walks of life have contributed to planting over two million trees and mangroves.
We have had children as young as two years old, to youth, women, and men in their twilight years taking part in tree-planting because they believe in restoring nature. All these Fijians are part of Fiji’s green recovery.
The Ministry has also established a dashboard for members of the public to register the trees they have planted. These records can be viewed publicly.
Honourable Speaker Sir, Fiji’s tree-planting revolution is also aimed at off-setting our carbon outputs. The expected signing of the Emissions Reduction Programme Agreement with the World Bank, will set the platform for Fiji to start trading in carbon in a larger scale. This could be an attractive alternative to logging.
This is part of Fiji’s contribution towards addressing climate change. Lest we forget, the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t take away the fact that climate change still poses an existential threat to our people and planet. This simply means that we have to build back smarter.
Honourable Speaker Sir, the tree planting revolution is also aimed at developing greener towns, cities and communities. Forestry is collaborating with the ministries of Local Government, Housing and Community Development, Agriculture, and Environment to support our green recovery and food security.
Fiji’s tree-planting initiative is in effect an extension of the global movement to protect our forests and pristine natural environment, and where possible to restore ecosystems balance.
Honourable Speaker Sir, today’s reality as a result of COVID-19 is that the forestry sector’s contribution to Fiji’s economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product is projected to decrease.
However, the Ministry intends to facilitate the gradual increase by engaging more meaningfully with the private sector, and providing assistance such as longer term licenses to encourage economic investments and job creation.
The new budget will enable the Ministry to continue to support Fiji Pine Limited through the removal of invasive species, among other things.
This will help Fiji’s leading player in the forestry sector to continue to gain traction in securing foreign exchange for the country through consistent exports. And continue to put more money into the pockets of the landowners, something that no other Government has done except for the Bainimarama and FijiFirst Governments.
Honourable Speaker Sir, the Ministry is
also supporting the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited with its forest certification which
focusses on the sustainable management of resources and chain of custodies.
This will ensure that our mahogany products can access lucrative markets, which will in turn help increase the sector’s contribution to Fiji’s economy.
Honourable Speaker Sir, on this occasion, I wish to inform this August House that Honourable Mitieli Bulanauca’s statement on the mahogany industry yesterday morning was not only misleading but also irresponsibly misguiding the mahogany landowners.
Honourable Bulanauca obviously plucked his figures from thin air, but I am happy to share the correct production figures as follows:
In 2017 the industry produced 2,005 cubic meters. In 2018, the production increased to 15,587 cubic meters, and again increased in 2019 to 19,801 cubic meters.
In 2020, due to COVID-19, the production figures are currently at 7,359 cubic meters.
However, it is expected that the industry will produce an additional 20,000 cubic meters in next 5 months.
Additionally and importantly, I am pleased to share with the August House that FHCL has now received confirmed orders from both domestic and overseas markets for the next five years. FHCL is also positioned to achieve a harvesting quota of 80,000 cubic meters or more, each year.
Honourable Bulanauca also misquoted the reforestation figures. FHCL has replanted over 4,000 hectares and not 509 hectares.
Yesterday afternoon, Honourable Mikaele Leawere also made some misconstrued remarks on the support to the landowners. And just before morning tea today, Honourable Niko Naiwaikula made general, and again, misplaced remarks on the budget as not being a stimulus for the primary industries. It is highly irresponsible of the Honourable Members on the other side of the House to misinform the August House and the Nation.
The truth, Honourable Speaker Sir, is that the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited has always empowered landowners in numerous ways, including especially economically, by meaningfully engaging them in both harvesting and reforestation of mahogany leased land. Reforestation in particular is reserved solely for the landowners.
FHCL is also working closely with the Fiji Mahogany Trust to set up landowner businesses to actively participate in the mahogany industry.
Together, they have helped landowners in Nukurua, Dreketi, Sawakasa, Seaqaqa with the latest being the Nadarivatu landowners who will commence logging operations tomorrow. FHCL had given the rights to the landowners to be the main Logging Contractor.
In addition, FHCL continues to provide assistance to land owners for village building projects, jobs for plantation maintenance and church building material in Serua.
Honourable Speaker Sir, like any new business, the Mahogany industry is taking a while to grow.
But with the flourishing relations between FHCL, FMT and the landowners, it is anticipated that this growth will gain momentum as we secure markets that will result in the injection of more money into the pockets of the landowners and into our economy.
The forest certification for mahogany, in addition to improvements in the licensing system, log pricing, and ongoing landowner involvement, will provide the catalyst for sustainable growth in the industry.
Honourable Speaker Sir, the Ministry estimates that there will be a surplus of timber products from the maritime islands once the housing rehabilitation is completed.
To help prepare for the influx of timber, the Ministry is now able to issue export licenses within 24 hours through investments in technology as part of our business process re-engineering.
The new budget will also enable the Ministry to develop online applications for all its other licensing procedures to facilitate the ease of doing business.
Importantly, the Ministry will continue to explore opportunities for targeted programmes in the forestry sector based on public-private partnerships.
Honourable Speaker Sir, a combined $2.2 Million is provided for research and development, both on silviculture and on timber utilisation.
The Ministry intends to strengthen its research capabilities through smart partnerships with research institutions locally and internationally.
Its findings will help support the sustainable management of our forest resources, emphasising the notion that our work must be informed by science.
Honourable Speaker Sir, in our efforts to promote the many uses of forests, the Ministry has secured over $400,000 to maintain the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park and other nature reserves around the country.
These reserves are aimed at protecting forest areas and biodiversity, providing opportunities for research, education and recreation.
The Ministry plans on extending the eco-tourism concept to attract the increasing number of environmentally and climate change-conscious travellers both domestically and when our boarders are opened.
Honourable Speaker, the Opposition and various so-called economists have criticised the budget, but they have not done so in measured terms. They have not provided viable alternatives that will help create realistic opportunities to re-position the Fijian economy to operate under the new normal.
Their criticisms and judgements cannot change the fact that at this juncture in the Fijian economy, there cannot be a smarter and more responsive budget than this.
Honourable Speaker Sir, with Government’s belief that all Fijian families matter and no one should be left behind, my Ministry will effectively mobilise its allocated budget and programmes to deliver an effective response to the pandemic, improve our mandatory functions and ensure we build back better.
As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly clear that restructuring our economy with nature based solutions is needed for this required quantum shift.
Honourable Speaker Sir, after visiting over 200 villages since the national tree-planting initiative was launched in January last year, I know that when Fijians unite in the face of challenges, our Nation will emerge stronger and better than before.
I also know that when Fijians work together, there is very little that we cannot achieve. And I speak not only for this side of the House but also for some Members on the other side.
In my recent visit to Vanua Levu, I saw this unity especially with Fiji’s tree-planting revolution. The support from Honourable Niko Nawaikula’s village in Buca Bay, Honourable Mosese Bulitavu’s village in Korowiri and Honourable Ratu Tevita Niumataiwalu’s village in Namuka suggest that they are finally coming to terms with the realities of life. The three Honourable Members are taking the lead role in mobilising their communities towards tree planting.
I urge them to continue the good work not only in supporting Fiji’s tree-planting revolution, but also in supporting Government’s visionary plans that are aimed at providing a sound recovery from the global pandemic, and laying the platform for a secure future for our people. This will be one of the noble things they could do for God and country.
Honourable Speaker Sir, in supporting the 2020-2021 Budget, I call on all Fijians to unite and help with the transformation into a more resilient and stronger people and Nation.