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Conserve soga and sustain a rural industry

Ana Madigibuli
Saturday, July 15, 2017

NATUREFIJI-MAREQETIVITI plays an important role of conserving and sustainably managing the endemic and endangered Fijian palm called soga (Fiji sago palm: Metroxylon vitiense).

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti has been working with partners including the Environment and Forestry departments, the National Trust of Fiji, the people of Serua and the Serua Provincial Office in developing the Soga Sustainable Harvesting and Conservation Project which seeks to both conserve soga and sustain a rural industry.

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti director Nunia Thomas-Moko said remaining isolated populations were mostly confined to the Province of Serua where the harvesting of Seko (palm heart) and leaves for thatching has become an important source of income to over 300 rural households for the last 20 years.

"The supply of seko is not sustainable since only wild populations are harvested by felling the palm with no new replanting practice," she said.

"Traditional thatch made from the soga leaves became a very popular building material for Fiji's rapidly-growing tourist industry."

She said the growing demand had led to the practice of felling the palm to remove all the leaves as well as the palm hearts.

"A soga tree flowers and fruits just once in 20 to 25 years before it dies. If the current unsustainable rate of harvest continues, Soga will no longer be a source of income for these communities within the next 5 to 10 years, and we will have lost viable populations of a species that is found only in Fiji and nowhere else in the world" she said.

"Soga habitats are also threatened by large scale coastal drainage schemes, new residential and agricultural subdivisions." She said on awareness and understanding, landowners were remotely involved prior to 2009 and settlers especially women were responsible for vast majority of harvesting (that were organised by middlemen).

"There was also the significant variation in price for all products and less than 30 significant users of thatch in the tourist industry today," she said.

On consequences of unsustainable harvesting Mrs Moko said there would be a great loss of an iconic resource for the tourism industry and a loss of culturally important natural resources with proud tradition of sustainable use.

"Other consequences of unsustainable harvesting include a decline and possible extinction of a viable population of an endemic species of Fiji and the abandoning of Soga by the tourism industry in favour of other thatching materials. We have discovered that in order to save the Soga, we must encourage the use of its leaves as thatch, but with sustainable harvesting practices"

She said on achievements there was an increased awareness and control of harvesting by landowners and an active involvement by the Serua provincial office. Since 2009, there has been a genuine interest from landowners (Culanuku Village, in particular), a handful of harvesters and hotels to work together to save the Soga.

"On other achievements, we have demonstrated that a community can rehabilitate a severely degraded soga forest system - which we had done in Culanuku, Serua; we can establish a new population of soga — as we have done the Garrick Reserve with the National Trust of Fiji, she said.

The current Fiji Sago palm recovery plan (2010 — 2015) is now due for a review, and they hope that the next ten years will see better maintenance and management of Fiji's remaining sago forests, widely practised and monitored sustainable harvest plots, stronger relationships with hotels and harvesters, and the recovery of the Fiji sago palm population and habitat.

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