Community forestry on Fiji saves native tree species

Posted on 09 December 2005
The kava ceremony is an essential prelude to any meeting in Fiji's remote islands. Most kava bowls, or tanoas, are made of vesi wood.
© WWF / Meg Gawler
Suva, Fiji – A local community on one of Fiji's islands has taken the lead in initiating the development of a community-based forest reserve to save the native vesi tree population from extinction.

According to WWF research, vesi (Intisia bijuga), a high-value native timber, is being overexploited on the island of Kabara as a result of commercial logging and the wood carving trade, particularly in the production of making tanoas (a wood basin used for mixing the traditional kava drink). In addition, wood carving off-cuts are not being utilized and no re-forestation is taking place to replenish diminishing vesi stock.

Tanoa carving is the backbone of many Kabara villagers' livelihoods. More then 400 people live on the island, and only 8 per cent of Kabara’s 35km2 land area is still covered with vesi forest.

"The species faces the possibility of imminent disappearance as an economic and cultural plant resource," said Francis Areki, WWF Fiji's Sustainable Forests Project Officer.

"This is due to a number of factors which include unsustainable and poorly planned logging and tree harvest, lack of awareness to which the diversity of value these trees provide, and the failure to protect and facilitate the regeneration of these native trees."

To reverse the trend, WWF and the government of Fiji have set up the first tree nursery on Kabara, which will enable the community to collect and nurture vesi seedlings.

“The nursery will help with our reforestation programme on Kabara," said Areki. "We are training villagers to diversify their carving skills by utilizing the off-cuts and by working with wood resources other than vesi. We are also initiating a reforestation programme to ensure the community takes an active approach towards sustainability.”

Recently, a team of experts from WWF and the Fijian government were in Kabara to set up the nursery , as well as to conduct land surveys that assess agricultural development possibilities, and a community-based resource management plan workshop.

“There is no other way for a sustainable supply of vesi in Kabara unless we implement a replanting programme," said Temo Gade Raravula from Fiji's Ministry of Forestry.

"From my observation in the forest here, there is hardly any re-germinating going on. Not many trees are bearing seeds. The villagers have to now plant where they have already logged. Together with replanting, the use of timber has to be improved.”

For further information:
Ashwini Prabha, Communications Coordinator
WWF South Pacific
Tel: +679 3315533

Francis Areki , Forests Project Officer
WWF Fiji Country Programme Office
Tel: +679 331 5533
The kava ceremony is an essential prelude to any meeting in Fiji's remote islands. Most kava bowls, or tanoas, are made of vesi wood.
© WWF / Meg Gawler Enlarge