Sawaieke Fire Ban
Their decision was made during a fire control workshop at Vadravadra village facilitated by WWF South Pacific through its Ecosystem Based Management project for Sawaieke District in Gau.
“Communities play an important role in managing the issue of fire as a means of clearing land for cultivation. Understanding the repercussions of such actions will help build better perceptions by the communities in managing the issues of fire,” said biodiversity, ecology, wildlife conservationist and fire control expert Neil Stonarch who was the lead facilitator at the workshop.
The workshop was organised in response to concern over the high incidences of fires on the island, that have resulted in destruction of their forests, greatly impacting on the productivity of their farm lands as well as their freshwater and marine ecosystems.
“Fires can be controlled by reinforcing visions to resolve such as the introduction of fire breaks and reminding people of their traditional laws and values”, he said.
He related his experiences from Africa on fire management and encouraged Sawaieke resident to control it because, though fire maybe an easy way to clear the land; it has far lasting negative consequences on both their land and marine ecosystems.
WWF South Pacific Policy Officer Alfred Ralifo said a marine biological survey conducted at Sawaieke District in Gau in 2011 showed that there is an influx of organic nutrients from the terrestrial environment into their marine ecosystem.
Ralifo said fire was identified as one of the many significant contributors to this state of pollution.
“When the land is burned for farming the immediate effect is the loss of soil biodiversity and fertility,” Ralifo said.
“The bare land is then exposed to erosion which later affects the freshwater and marine ecosystem. Continuous burning will finally lead to land desertification and the land will no longer be suitable for agriculture,” he added.
Through group activities, representatives from the eight villages of Sawaieke identified causes of fire in Gau such as burning to clear land for farming, accidental burning, open fire roasting and careless disposal of live cigarette butts.
Fire is also used as a form of pest control and encouraged to spread by the false thinking that burning the land enriches the soil.
The community representatives also came up with solutions to address fire issues which included the imposition of monetary penalties, as much as $100 on individuals or his/her village if caught setting up fires. Village headman’s approval must be sought before using fire to clear land. Creation of village bylaws to curb the problem is also another solution identified by community representatives.
Workshop participants also suggested that culprits perform community services such as planting mangroves or indigenous trees as positive reinforcement. .
Fifty seven year old Akariva Malumu from Somosomo village said fires have been a part of islanders’ lives for many decades threatening the bounty of indigenous trees and cultural aesthetics.
“We are taking measures to keep fires at a low profile through verbal messages and raising the issue with village, district and provincial councils,” he said.
“In our old traditions and customs we view fire as a serious offence and so we need to get back to the old ways. The important thing is to control the use of fire before it destroys our very own biodiversity and livelihoods.”