A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Posted 2:01 PM by Luigi
Sorry State of the Land
From Christine Fung, Land Use Planning Specialist and Facilitator at the SPC/GTZ Pacific-German Regional Forestry Project, Suva, Fiji: FYI the following article by Robert Keith-Reid is in this month's Island Business magazine. It is the cover report of the Fiji Islands Business and describes past and present land use in Fiji and how the recently launched Fiji National Rural Land Use Policy can address current concerning land use issues. The SPC/GTZ Pacific German Regional Forestry Project supported the formulation and launching of this Policy document. Aleki was one of the keynote speakers in public launching in early September. Keep an eye out for the Land Use Policy launching article which will be in the inaugural LRD newsletter!
But can it be rescued?
Vanua is the Fijian word for land and for something more nebulous. Fijians refer to "the vanua" in describing their emotional attachment to the land in the area they come from. This attachment also means a loyalty to the land and a duty to protect it for use by future generations. It is a duty most Fijians are ignoring.
Their land, the vanua, always an issue of intense political debate, is being attacked and washed away from under their feet in millions of tonnes. The enemy is soil erosion and little or nothing is being done to attack it, despite more than 40 years of detailed warnings and advice from landuse experts.The latest warning comes from experts Inoke Ratukalou and David Leslie in a report "Review of Rural and Land Use in Fiji-Opportunities for the New Millennium."
The writers are blunt. They say some of the worst culprits for the slow death of the vanua are no less than the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), the Fiji Sugar Corporation, the toothless Land Conservation Board, the conflicting interests of a host of government departments, boards and committees, and politicians who have their own reasons for killing off land reform laws.
Ratukalou and Leslie reflect on the Fijian concept of the vanua and write: "While the close relationship between Fijians and their land is continuously emphasised, there appears to be scant regard by Fijian landowners to ensure the soil resources are well-managed and fertility retained by tenants who have leased the mataqali land."
The NLTB, they say, has consistently avoided the enforcement of landuse laws that require tenants to avoid ruining the land they farm. A procession of governments, and the sugar industry for the sake of greater sugar output has pushed cane growing on to slopes and hills that are too steep to be put under cane with severe soil erosion happening.In July, after two-and-a-half years of consultations, the Qarase Government endorsed what is the first Pacific Islands rural land-policy, one prepared by the Department of Land Resources, Planning and Development, with the help of Germany's technical assistance agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (DGZ).
The plan is all about the rescue of the vanua.
Boiled down, it contains dozens of commonsense rules to avoid ruining what's left of Fiji's limited areas of good land. The government says it is completely committed to it. But implementation means political will, as well as financial and bureaucratic commitments that have never before been demonstrated by any government.As Fiji's population, now about 860,000 people, grows and pressure for land for agriculture, housing, roading and a host of other needs increases, Fiji's people need to take a cool hard look at what is actually happening to the vanua. It's been washed away at frightening rates.
On Viti Levu, which with an area of 10,388 square kilometres amounts to 56.7% of the 18,300 square kilometres area of Fiji, soil is being washed away at rates estimated by Japanese experts to total 9.3 millions tonnes a year in the Rewa river watershed area, 6.4 million tonnes in the Ba watershed area, 4.2 million tonnes in the Nadi watershed area, and 1.1 million tonnes in the Sigatoka area.The soil silts up the lower levels of rivers at rates that erode the value of dredging work. Silting means that the millions of dollars worth of dredging work, conducted to avert floods, is partly a waste of effort and money. Soil flows into lagoons to obliterate coral and marine life.Poor farming and engineering practices have made soil erosion a national issue, one that can no longer be ignored.
At one time most of Fiji was forest-covered. Steady slash and burn forms of agriculture removed most of the forest cover in the western dry zones of the main islands.
Records from the early 19th century described great grass and forest fires that burned for a week or more.
Commercial farming began as villagers and resident traders began arriving after the 1820s sold food and coconut oil to visiting ships. Settlers from Australia and New Zealand began arriving in the 1860s to try cotton and sheep farming.
Land disputes occurred between Fijians and the newcomers. Soon after Fiji became a British colony in 1874, a native land commission was appointed to decide the validity of European land claims. Of the 1683 applications received, only 517 freehold claims were upheld. These covered nearly 10% of all land. The British banned the sale of Fijian land from 1875, except for a three-year period from 1905.
Until this day, about 90% of Fijian land remains under the ownership of Fijian clans. It can't be sold but it can be leased for up to 99 years through the Native Land Trust Board.
Today, the land is a complex mix of fernland, open grassland, reed grass, shrubland, a savannah-like transitional zone and tall forest.The open areas of grass, fern, reed and savannas are largely man-induced. If given complete protection from fire and other interference, especially by humans, they would slowly return to forest cover.However, large areas in the dry zones are covered by introduced mission grass and they couldn't regain forest cover without deliberate re-afforestation.
Population growth and movement has a great impact on agricultural land near towns. At least 46% of Fiji's population now lives in town areas and the movement of population from country to urban areas continues.Since the end of the 19th century, Fiji's mountainous topography, climate, the emergence of the sugar plantation industry and now other farming activity and also industrial, tourism and urban development, has an enormous impact on the vanua, the land.
Natural geological erosion in Fiji is high because of the country's comparatively young landscape and wet climate.The erosion index (EI) is 700 for dry zones and 800 for wet zones and from two to four times world averages.When the EI exceeds 500, agricultural land needs a lot of care, irrespective of soil types.
Political and bureaucratic rivalry
According to the new landuse policy, written by Leslie and Ratukalou, landuse experts have been worrying about the condition of the vanua since the early 1960s. A series of detail reports all repeat warnings that the security of the soil and its fertility is under attack and that something has to be done to avert disaster. Why hasn't something been done? Political and bureaucratic rivalries, with at least a dozen ministries, commissions, board and other institutions foil each other, the report says.
Only 355,902 hectares or 19.4% of land is rated as first-class-it will produce crops well without some kind of modifications.10.5% is second-class-it is good land if fairly minor improvements are made.31.9% is third-class-it needs a lot of work on problem soils if they are to be made to yield well.38.2% is "quiet unsuitable" for agriculture, according to present knowledge although it may be of limited use for forestry.
Facts and figures that back up the warnings make depressing reading. Take sugar, the backbone of the Fiji economy for a hundred years and still a vital industry.
In theory, sugarcane shouldn't be grown on land with a slope of more than 11 degrees. Drive through some sugarcane growing districts and the crop can be spotted growing practically as if it was planted on the side of a wall. The Native Land Trust Board and Fiji Sugar Corporation, under government pressure to produce more sugar for export, have ignored the 11-degree rule for years.
In the hilly area of Sawani, inland from Suva, ginger farmers grow on 40% slopes. The consequence? Massive losses of soil and unsustainable cropping.
The big worry
As long ago as 1965, when Fiji was a British colony, a major report warned that by that time most arable land was occupied, future development would be on hilly terrain. The big worry then, as now, was the severity of soil erosion in the sugar cane belt. A lot of Fiji wasn't suitable for significant new agricultural use, the report said, and that "the present difficulties of agricultural development are due not to any serious deficiency in the natural resources of the colony, so much as to the adverse relationship between the farmer and his land.
"Politics killed the passage of a 1970's land and water management bill. Other records express alarm about the clearing of large blocks of land by slash and burn methods for the cultivating of land until it is worn out or slips away. Then, if more land is obtained, a move to begin the process again.
Goat grazing is more damaging than cattle grazing, noted one report, since goat farmers tend to over-stock their land to recoup costs quickly.
Less than 20% of the land is suitable for farms and about 40% is too steep or is suitable only for watershed conservation, forestry or carefully controlled grazing.
Since 1960 the area of land used has trebled in Viti Levu and Vanua Levu yet the rural population has increased by only one-third. More and more comparatively scarce first-class land is being gobble up for housing, factories, roads and other non-agricultural uses.
The outlook for the vanua isn't an entirely depressing one.
A 1987 report says Fiji has most of the information, technology and laws needed for soil conversation. It has remarkably detailed soil and land capability maps and one of the most intensive climatic station networks in the world.
Strong leadership and co-ordination
What is needed to control soil erosion, stressed this report, is strong leadership, well-trained and versatile staff, co-ordination between government agencies, the Native Land Trust Board and Fiji Sugar Corporation and the money and political support to make it all happen.
An vital plus is forestry. From colonial days and since independence governments have had a far-sighted approach to forestry. Forests are the greatest protectors of soil. They actually make it. Remove forests and then watch the soil go. Unlike many other tropical countries, Fiji's forests haven't been shredded to the extent that land has been denuded-'raped' is a description popularly applied by conservation organisations-although commercial logging has caused some worries.An inventory of the area of indigenous forest was completed in 1995. According to this, natural forest then covered 858,000 hectares or 47.5% of the total land area.
Compared with some other Pacific Islands countries, and Asian and African ones, the rate of deforestation is modest. A saving grace is that the law doesn't allow direct dealing between logging companies and landowners, and there is a long-standing ban on round-log exportsIn addition, Fiji has about 50,000 hectares of mahogany plantations, possibly some of the most valuable in the world, and about 11,000 hectares of other hardwood species plantations.
About 40,000 hectares of Caribbean Pine plantations have transformed some of the dry areas of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. They are an environmentally positive presence since they are ground cover for a large area of degraded soils. The policy is to enlarge the areas of mahogany and pine. While the pine and mahogany plantations have minimised the need to log natural forest, interest in local hardwood timber is still high.
The landuse policy is in place after a lot of hard work and thought. At an official launch in September, agricultural minister Ilaitia Tuisese promised his government's solid commitment to it. There's hope for the vanua yet.
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