By Loma Mataika
The Duavata Conservation Leadership Programme was launched on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Participants were nominated from five coastal villages in the Macuata Province with connections to Nukubati Island Resort. The participants, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, undertook two nature-based experiences: one terrestrial, one maritime. The experiences were led by experts from KokoMana, Nukubati Island Resort and Ocean Ventures. The programme was generously supported by Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Wellington.
It has been a couple of weeks since our last report on the Duavata Conservation Leadership Programme, and the ridge to reef experiences of the young people from Macuata province on Vanua Levu.
Following their sessions with Kokomana and Ocean Venture each of the five groups of participants had a debrief with the facilitators Lara Bourke and Leone Vokai of Nukubati Island Resort to discuss their projects. They were encouraged to seek out problems in the village that they could solve by implementing what they had learned. Energized and inspired the groups thought about challenges faced by them and their communities and further to discuss possible interventions that would ultimately become their projects. For some groups their proposal and initiatives found traction within the leadership in their communities whose village came out in full force to implement their interventions as a community.
Lara and Leone continued to support the youth with any logistical needs for the projects as well as to serve as a sounding boards. They were happy to report that the youth showed great initiative and drive that told of a deep conviction for affecting change within their communities. The expression of the ideas brought forward by the groups was very telling of their value for the vanua as well as the recent trauma they may have experienced during TC Yasa. The success of the Kokomana agroforestry farm and the health of the reef at Natewa Bay moved the youth into action. With their newfound knowledge, they gained the confidence to effect change with their young hands, influencing their community along the way.
We followed the projects and stories of these young conservation leaders.
Nabulebulewa: Project Theme – Food and Income Security
A green house and coconut trees for copra production
Nabulebulewa settlement is land locked and situated on the plateau of a hill that is surrounded by beautiful mountains. There is a stream that the village use for washing, bathing as a supplement to their tap supply. There is no electricity supply in this settlement. These resilient people live a humble existence. They work hard on their fields and earn money selling copra.
The group from Nabulebulewa settlement decided on planting more coconut trees in the vicinity of their settlement to support the production of copra, the main source of income for their families. They also decided to erect a greenhouse to serve as a nursery for their vegetable and fruit tree seedlings to eventually improve on the coconut tree plants. To aid these interventions Nukubati supplied the group with coconut seedlings from their compound as well as supplied the group with greenhouse shade cloth for their greenhouse.
During TC Yasa, in December of 2020, the Nabulebulewa community lost many of the trees including the coconut trees that they rely on for copra production. At present they are trekking a couple of hours on foot to a nearby estate to harvest coconuts and then supply copra. A handful of families in the community had also lost homes in their entirety, while others were severely damaged. The Nukubati Foundation has a longstanding relationship with the communities and along with their partner volunteers had built six new houses, for the families made homeless by the disaster. They supplied materials to the remaining families to enable them to repair their damaged homes.
The cyclone also damaged the plantations and crops they rely on for food, forcing the families to adjust their diets until the green came back to the land. It is evident these experiences have left an impression on the youth, who seem to have taken the project to heart. Masivesi of Nabulebulewa settlement expressed he was thankful the youth had undertaken the programme, as their projects proved fruitful with the group taking the initiative to secure future sources of income and nutrition. He felt that the knowledge they gained could allow them to be creative with the limited resources they have being so far away from townships.
The youth completed their installations in a day with little ceremony and all heart. Over the next couple of months they will continue to improve on their tree numbers with the seedling they are nurturing.
Nirurua: Project Theme – Reforestation
A Nature Reserve for Native Species
The Niurua group resolved to create a nature reserve consisting of native trees situated on mataqali land. They approached Lara and Leone with their idea seeking their support to source the seedlings and relevant expertise. This led Nukubati to seek out the Ministry of Forestry tree nursery in Korotari. Their trip proved fruitful with them returning with over 300 native tree seedlings and a promised visit by a member from the Ministry of Forestry. In the meantime, the native tree seedlings were stored in a newly erected greenhouse built by the villagers out of bamboo for the frame and counter and shade cloth donated by Nukubati Island Resort.
At this point, the Naqumu group followed nearby Niurua’s lead and jumped on the nature reserve idea with enthusiasm. The villagers prepared for the visit and scouting session of the Forestry officer by preparing freshly caught seafood for lunch. The day came for the visit and the officer scaled the hills scouting the best locations for the native trees. He soon nominated the spots in both Niurua and Naqumu and went on to explain the concepts behind the health of the land and the native trees. The communities then set another day aside for the tree planting activity.
On the day of the tree planting, the young conservation leaders were accompanied by members of their village, both young and old, and with Lara and Leone in tow, they trekked through the bush to the grounds picked out by the forestry officer. This combined effort is a practice traditionally known as Solesolevaki, when members of the community join hands to complete mammoth tasks.
Niurua planted their 230 native trees on mataqali land, so that the clan might share in its value and their entire village and shared landscape, would heal and benefit from their new nature reserve. Village elder Lepani Vuarayawa, whose child also attended the workshop expressed his deep gratitude for the training the youth were exposed to. He felt that while education is usually promoted as the key to advancing one’s career and life implying it usually meant leaving for employment in urban areas. He felt the youth needed to hear that the land too could serve as an avenue for income. He felt more exposure to conversation ideas would help the youth realize that sustainable avenues for income were already available to them, with a bit of creativity and hard work maybe things could improve.
Naqumu: Project Theme – Reforestation
A Nature Reserve for Native Species
The youth group from Naqumu Village also decided to establish a nature reserve. They felt strongly about the lessons they learnt in the workshop about the improved water retention, and enriched soils as well as the trees giving life to local flora and fauna as a rainforest habitat. The youth felt strongly about installing this for their future enjoyment and learning as a community. In a single day they planted 130 native trees on mataqali land, with members of the community coming out to plant the trees with the youth. Similar to Niurua, mataqali land was secured and also given the nod by the forestry officer for the nature reserve. The entire village were pleased with the initiative shown by the youth to establish a nature reserve. Malakai Nadoko, a village elder from Naqumu commented that the act of planting trees by the youth gave him hope for their future survival on the land and also reminded him of his childhood when his elders used to plant trees. It was an uncommon practice now he said with people cutting and burning trees for no reason. He expressed his deep gratitude for the programme that has allowed the youth to gain exposure about rehabilitating the land.
The Naqumu group are also in discussion about developing a natural disaster relief fund by farming yaqona for sale to raise funds. Their plan involves utilizing agroforestry themes by planting vaivai trees (rain trees) and other useful trees amongst their yaqona plantations for shade and nutrition. Their project would ensure some sustainable recovery of the land with the trees, and also allow their community some capital for emergency funds in case of a disaster.
Nasea: Project Theme – Disaster Resilience & Food Security
A living Seawall and a Greenhouse
The group from Nasea village resolved to erect a greenhouse for vegetable seedlings for food security and also to rebuild a seawall with rocks and coastal plants such as vau and vevedu. During TC Yasi the youth reflected on the tidal surges that came crashing through their shore line bringing debris and causing damage to property and the village grounds. One of the group members, Nina, former staff of Nukubati Island Resort commented that they built the living seawall to reduce the impact of tidal surges. Their aim was to preserve their beloved village. Their intention was to mimic the living seawall consisting of vevedu and vau trees growing on Nukubati Island Resort. These coastal trees have given the island relief for decades, and also in the recent TC Yasa tidal surges.
The village collected rocks along their foreshore and piled the rocks along the shoreline. The rocks would serve both as a shield to slow the water hitting the newly planted plants and also as a foundation and anchor for the trees to grow their roots into. The work on the sea wall was completed in a single afternoon, with the youth visiting Nukubati Island to collect their vevedu and vau cuttings and returning to the village foreshore to begin building the seawall. Additional vevedu and vau cuttings were potted and kept in the newly erected greenhouse for planting reinforcement over the next few weeks. Nukubati supported the initiative by supplying the group with shade-cloth for their bamboo framed greenhouse, as well as vevedu and vau plant cuttings and seedlings. Village elder Manasa Rogovakatini commented that he was thankful for the installation of the seawall and the protection he hoped it would eventually give their village. He felt very grateful for the initiative and activity carried out by the youth.
Nukubati Lailai: Project pending
The youth of Nukubati Lailai are currently unable to execute their projects. The group members are scattered in urban and rural areas and have not assembled since. They however are waiting for the best opportunity to meet and execute their projects.
Village elders partake in Kokoman experience
As a side story we would like to share how the young conservation leaders completed the two-day programme with such high enthusiasm and contagious energy that it peaked the interest of members of their community. This resulted in village elders reaching out to Nukubati Resort and inviting duo Lara and Leone to a couple of talanoa sessions with the elders of the respective villages. In these talanoas the elders asked the duo if it were possible for groups of elders to participate in the same workshops their youth had completed.
The interest was warmly welcomed and came as a bit of a good surprise. The elders were invited to participate in the same programme as the youth had as their leadership influence within the communal setting could not be ignored and could help with the momentum of the projects proposed by the youth groups.
In a combined effort the Nukubati Community Foundation and Kokomana came through with additional funding to support the elders on their quest for the information. Over the next couple of days it was groups of eight elders from four villages that hopped on the morning run to attend sessions with Kokomana with Richard and team passing on valuable lessons.
In their reflections on the Conservation Leadership Programme the youth have repeatedly expressed their gratitude at the training as it gave them insight on how to heal their surrounding landscape. The training on conservation tips they felt met their thirst for this knowledge and the impression they gained by witnessing the successes of the Kokomana farm and the health of the reef in Natewa Bay moved them and can be attributed to the projects they initiated and installed. Their proposed interventions were well received by their communities, which then became community projects.
The youth are truly young conservation leaders, and the Duavata Sustainable Tourism Collective would like to congratulate them on their participation and wish them ongoing success in the implementation of their projects. We could not have asked for a better outcome. We hope the youth will continue their learning through further experimental farming and hopefully contact with other conservationists. With the lack of internet connectivity in the area online learning unfortunately is a challenge for them, and in person interactions are deeply appreciated.
We wish them luck and look forward to further engagement in the not too distant future! Vinaka!