Fight in the forest

This article is a continuation from last week in which we looked at Fiji’s initiatives to combat change. Part of Fiji’s effort can be witnessed in the Emalu forest at Draubuta Village in Navosa. Please read on to be informed and empowered to make a difference.

THE World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has revealed 2017 is expected to be the second or third warmest year recorded — and the hottest without the influence of a “El Nino” natural weather pattern which pushes up global temperatures.

High temperatures have been accompanied by “extraordinary weather” from record-breaking hurricanes to heatwaves, flooding and drought, many of which bear the telltale sign of climate change caused by human activity, the WMO said.

Furthermore, according to WMO, the average global temperature from January to September 2017 was 1.1C above the pre-industrial era. As a result of a powerful El Nino, 2016 is likely to remain the hottest year on record, but 2017 is expected to join 2015 as the second or third hottest year.

Carbon dioxide is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels like petrol, diesel, oil and from removal of forest and vegetation cover. As more of these gases accumulate they trap more heat that increases the earth’s temperature.

This contributes to global warming which brings about changes in our climate. The effects on small island countries like Fiji are evident today; sea level rise, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of communities.

How is climate change linked to forests? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector contributes to 24 per cent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Deforestation of tropical forests as a result of agriculture clearance and land use change contribute greatly to these man-made GHG emissions.

Forests mitigate climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees take in carbon dioxide to make their food and build new plant cells. This intake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is what makes forests a carbon sink.

Forests also provide valuable ecosystem services such as regulating the local climate, mitigating floods and reducing soil erosion, purifying water, harbouring plants, animals and birds and providing forest communities with food, fresh water, wood, fibre, medicine and shelter. These services reduce the vulnerability of local communities to the impacts of climate change.

Forests and trees contribute to economic growth, employment, food security, and energy generation and are key to helping countries respond to climate change. In Fiji, the forestry sector contributes an average estimate of 20 per cent to GDP.

Here in Fiji, you and I can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by planting more trees and providing a healthy environment for trees to regenerate. We can do agroforestry farming, planting trees where forests have recently been cleared, planting in degraded non-forest lands and planting suitable trees in degraded forests areas to restore the forest structure.

We can also help reduce the release of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by preventing the conversion of forest land for agriculture purposes, reducing the degradation and destructive utilisation of our forests and setting aside valuable forest areas for conservation.

Knowing the forests role in climate change, a decision was made by the UNFCCC in Cancun Mexico in 2010 to contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation actions in the forest sector by undertaking REDD+ activities.

The five key REDD+ activities include reducing emissions from deforestation, reducing emissions from forest degradation, forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

In Fiji, REDD+ is implemented by the Ministry of Forests supported by the SPC/GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Island Region Programme (CCCPIR) and the World Bank and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). The implementation of REDD+ is guided by the National REDD+ Steering Committee (NRSC) which is made up of government agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs), faith-based organisations (FBOs) and the private sector.

In 2013, Fiji was able to secure $US3.8 million ($F7.83m) from the FCPF to assist in its readiness phase for the Emissions Reduction Program (ERP) to which Fiji will then be eligible to access carbon funding.

For the readiness phase, Fiji must develop a national REDD+ strategy, implement an environmental and social assessment and develop an Environment Social Management Framework (ESMF), establish a national reference emissions level, a national monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system and establish a feedback and grievance redress mechanism (FGRM) as well as ensuring effective consultation and participation of all stakeholders in the process.

Fiji is also signatory to the Paris Agreement. Under the Paris Agreement, all countries including Fiji, are to provide some commitment according to their different capabilities.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, recognising this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. To achieve this goal, the agreement requires all countries party to the UNFCCC (not just developed countries) to make efforts to reduce their emissions and to submit information on the details.

Draubuta and REDD+ co-benefits

Emalu landowners and the people of Draubuta are making a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions through the protection of the Emalu forest.

Forest conservation through REDD+ is about securing carbon benefits for the Emalu landowners. The end result is that landowners will be paid for conserving forests that act as a carbon sink, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide in its leaves, trees and soil.

REDD+ is expected to contribute to multiple benefits and not only emissions reductions. These benefits include poverty alleviation, improved community livelihoods, technology transfer, sustainable use of forest resources, biodiversity conservation, good governance, benefit distribution structures and gender.

For people of Emalu and nearby communities in the district of Noikoro these multiple benefits have been evident through the number of activities carried out which include the reforestation of the talasiga grassland area, the establishment of agro-forestry demonstration plots and alternative livelihood initiatives.

Conservator of forests Sanjana Lal says this is to discourage villagers from encroaching around the Emalu boundary or planting within the Emalu forest and to encourage sustainable land management practices in light of climate change impacts.

“Before approaching the Emalu forest, there are a lot of talasiga or dry cleared land. Through strategic collaboration between the Fijian Government, SPC/GIZ and the villagers of Draubuta there has been replanting of native trees and fruit trees. Monitoring of planting areas established on this grassland belonging to the Mataqali Lewenikaya also continues,” Ms Lal said.

Extension officer in the Ministry of Forests Lekima Tikoilau said the REDD+ Program was supporting Draubuta villagers through the replanting of trees in degraded areas to contribute to the supply of oxygen and storing of carbon.

“One appreciating factor is that once these trees will grow, this area becomes a forest again and so the ecosystems and biodiversity of this area will return and remain intact just like the olden days,” he said.

Yaqona is the main cash crop at Draubuta. Given the remoteness of the village, farmers find it easier to cultivate and sell yaqona because it is light to cart, non-perishable and rarely negatively affected by the market.

“In Emalu, we do not want to deforest or to cut down trees because of the carbon project so we try to do some alternative farming system because the major crop in Draubuta is yaqona. So before we plant yaqona, we will cut down the trees.

“So the team decided to do some other farming system that can also be a source of income to the farmers and also for the Draubuta Village,” said Jacoro Waqatabua Land Use Section of the Ministry of Agriculture.

An alternative is the setting up of agro-forestry demonstration or demo farms at Draubuta.

“This is an agro-forestry demo plot where we teach the villagers sustainable agriculture practices so they are able to plant native trees and fruit trees, cash crops and vegetables.”

Jese Ligaiviu, also of the Land Use Section, said: “The villagers of Draubuta have been planting yaqona in the forests because the air is much colder now which produces good yaqona. So the idea of these demo plots is to promote the growth of trees in between cash crops and vegetables so as to also start creating an atmosphere from that of the forests.

“This will allow the villagers to plant nearby instead of going to the Emalu forests.”

Another reason for the setting up of demo farms is to promote sustainable agricultural practices that contribute to soil conservation, increasing soil organic matter and climate change mitigation.

Mr Waqatabua said most of the land at Draubuta, under the Fiji land classification guideline, Class 6E, 7E and 8E were used for planting cassava.

“For agriculture, we only recommend Class 1 to Class 4 for farming, Class 5 and 6 for grazing and livestock and Class 7 for reforestation for the grassland.

“We mostly recommend that Class 8 be reserves because most of Class 8 lands are on hills. Most of the Class 8 is where they have the water catchment. So if we cultivate the Class 8 the chances for soil erosion are high.

“So here, we plant vetiver grass. Vetiver grass is well known in the world for being a controller of soil erosion and also for pineapples.

“First of all the first plant will take 12 months for first harvest, second harvest will take only nine months. This crop can grow in the dry areas because they don’t need water but they need a good management in order to produce a good product.

“That is a main purpose of establishing a demo farm. This is what we call a sustainable land management (SLM) demo farm. We only target areas on slopes because the chance of soil erosion is high.

“This is because we also want to create this opportunity for them to move away from the project site. If not they will go back or near to the project site and plant yaqona for them to deforest and the project site we do not want them to cut down trees but save trees for the carbon project,” Mr Waqatabua said.

Gender is critical to the implementation of REDD+. Some of the training specifically targeting Draubuta women included waste craft, honey production, environmental responsibility and value added training using local resources; cassava, dalo, pineapples, citrus to make cassava crackers, cassava rolls, lemon sauce and pineapple sauce.

An evaluation of the training revealed a behaviour change among women. They are now more conscious of reducing, reusing and recycling waste, better time management and more variety in their household diet.

Draubuta women’s group leader Joana Gaso said: “As the leader of the women’s group here in Draubuta village, I would like to take this opportunity to thank REDD+ for the training it has been conducting over the years especially to us the women. We have learned things like making purses, screen printing, sewing and home management. Before REDD+, we have had some assistance from Government where we were taught how to sew.

“I would like to thank REDD+ for the training which has helped the women of this village know how to manage expectations especially in terms of etiquette and improving personal wellbeing.”

Draubuta has begun honey harvesting and 1.1kg is sold for $20.

In the middle of Draubuta is a newly-built wooden building. This is the Draubuta community hall, built from catering money saved by the women.

Ms Gaso said: “Ever since the first time we have been visited by REDD+, we have been provided with money to do catering for our visitors. So we have been saving up over the years to build a community hall, the one you can in Draubuta today.

“The villagers are pleased with this, especially the men. I would like to express my appreciation to my fellow Draubuta villagers for their support in the construction of the village hall, in particular to our husbands who have supported us all the way.

“I would like to thank God for this spirit of love portrayed by all and especially to the men from the Yavusa Emalu whose initiative has really brought about unity into this village.”

Various training for agriculture development, sustainable land management practices, sustainable forest management, improved livestock management, beekeeping, nursery management, land use planning and crop diversification have been carried out for the men, women and youth of Draubuta and nearby villages of Nakoro, Vitilevu and Nubuyanitu. Other training includes spices and wax making and bee box maintenance.

The establishment of a Draubuta community tree nursery in 2013 facilitated reforestation efforts for communities in the area with the availability and easy access to tree seedlings.

Another woman, Makelesi Nasiri said: “We are very appreciative of the trainings conducted by REDD+ especially with alternative income sources.”

Protecting the Emalu forest today will benefit the future generation.

As Mr Toutou puts it: “I am grateful for this initiative through which we can contribute to storing carbon. I am doing this for the future generation; my children and grandchildren.

“They will see these same trees that will contribute globally to storing carbon, they will see its benefits and the benefits to the ecosystem and biodiversity existing within the Emalu forest.

“It is true we are being compensated through a lease agreement but I am pleased that my future generation will see these trees.”

* Reama Naco is the communications officer for Fiji REDD+. Views expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.

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