FORESTS play an important role in the world and March 21 has been set aside by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as International Day of Forests.
As the nation celebrates and commemorates this important day, the village of Sinuvaca on the island of Koro in the Lomaiviti Group has already begun a planting program to restore their forests.
Deemed as one of the villages that was hit hard by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, the elders in the village decided to take the first step and try to clothe the land to its former glory days by planting trees.
Through training conducted by the Reforestation of Degraded Forest Project by the Ministry of Forests, the villagers have put in a huge amount of effort to get the program rolling.
Project co-ordinator Waisea Bolatolu says the project involves the afforesting or planting of trees along grasslands and barren lands to create forests as well as the replanting of trees on previously harvested forest and degraded areas.
"The project activities involve approaches that strengthen the ministry through the provision of necessary tools and equipment's while building the capacity for seed collection, seedling production and establishment of forest restoration activities with key strategic partners," said Mr Bolatolu.
"It is also designed to involve community from the beginning in terms of species selection, site selection, site preparation, planting phase and the maintenance of the planted site after the establishment of forest areas with the intention of having the local communities taking ownership of the project as they will reap the benefits in the future.
"The Ministry of Forests is grateful for the initiative that was taken up by the elders of the village and we have been working together to ensure that the project runs smoothly and that the outcome will be excellent in the years ahead.
"We were approached by Joe Namata and his wife who were interested in restoring their land and that is when we decided to visit Sinuvaca and hold an awareness program for the villagers.
"The response from the villagers was excellent and that is why we decided to go back and follow through with our replanting program."
The Ministry of Forests provided 3000 mangrove seedlings as well as native tree species that were planted along the beach and hills of Sinuvaca.
Village headman Simione Lawakula, 56, says the replanting program opened their eyes to the need for maintaining our forests.
"Trees help us by providing oxygen, capturing water through their roots and providing timber, firewood and so forth.
"We learnt a lot through this RDF project and I am grateful that Sinuvaca is the first village in Koro Island to take up this project.
"I am certain that other villages on the island will follow suit when they see what Sinuvaca is doing. The replanting of trees will ensure the safety and security of our future generations," Mr Lawakula said.
Oldest survivor of Severe TC Winston in Sinuvaca, 81-year-old Matelita Diwaqa, says she does not want to go through that "awful experience" again.
"I helped plant a tree today and I know that my grandchildren and their children will be able to benefit from the advantages of trees and maintaining our forests," she smiled shyly.
The Government of Fiji made a strategic move to contribute in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism (CMD) by investing on the Reforestation of Degraded Forest Project.
In 2015, the Government of Fiji granted the project a total of $300,000 to establish 150ha of afforestation/reforestation of degraded areas and $500,000 was provisioned for the 2016 fiscal year to afforest/reforest 500ha of degraded areas including the maritime islands.
The project performed well in 2015 achieving 164.72ha of reforestation and officers worked with 18 village communities and one private company.
Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 90,604 seedlings of various species were planted.
To be part of the Reforestation of Degraded Forest Project, interested communities or partners can contact their nearest forestry station.
The motivations behind communities involved in the establishment of reforestation areas are derived from future management intentions of land owners.
The intentions of reforestation to optimise a number of benefits which includes timber production, soil and water management and the conservation of biodiversity; which will have positive social, economic and ecological implications on the communities involved and the nation.
Planting of trees will continue in Sinuvaca Village and they are adamant this time around to create a better environment which will be safe and secure for generations to come.
* Kuini Waqasavou is the public relations officer for the Ministry of Forests. Views expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.