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Fiji Time: 3:40 AM on Saturday 19 April

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Efforts to save the kuta

Kate Findlay
Tuesday, December 06, 2011

NAVAKASOBU village outside Labasa is a historic place for WWF-South Pacific: although our work is done and dusted here these days, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia overcomes my boss, WWF Representative Kesaia Tabunakawai, who recently celebrated her 15th year with the organisation.

Just outside the village, we reach an ageing sign-post reading "Restoration of kuta pond laulevu Navakasobu women's project with WWF", accompanied by a slightly wonky-looking panda, a vague impression of our logo.

In 1994, WWF were looking for women who still remembered the traditional kuta weaving techniques, and struck gold with the women of Navakasobu. The problem was that the ponds that grew kuta, a reed, were overgrown by water lilies; an invasive species that a village man had introduced in the 70s to make the ponds look prettier.

Alisi Musudroka ù the leader of the women who cleared the ponds ù fills me in on the details. Alisi is a kind and warm woman whom we have been staying with at the village: she still has strong links with WWF, her son Koli is now our employee.

It was a labourious process, she says, cutting out the lilies, as every two or three months for four years the women had to use cane-knives to cut out the roots from underwater so there could be no regrowth.

The effort was well worth it though and with the press coverage of the project soon after their first harvesting, the WWF office was receiving more orders on their behalf than they could handle, including a Hawaiian yacht owner who offered $1000 to make a sail for his boat.

Importantly though, the project enabled women to make money for themselves, from home, while looking after the kids. The new source of income gave them financial stability between quiet periods on the sugarcane plantations, as kuta can be harvested and weaved through most of the year.

As we flip through Alisi's photos in her drying room, underwear hanging all around, faded photos of my two bosses taken 10 years ago to the week smile back. One can only imagine where we'll be 10 years in the future, looking back on this day.

* Kate Findlay is a staff member of WWF South Pacific Program's communications department. Email: kfindlay@wwfpacific.org.fj