Action Against Desertification

Fijian women take lead in reviving native trees

Reforestation on degraded lands empowers communities to promote culture and protect critical ecosystem services


Nasavu, Fiji - Today in Fiji, land degradation causes more than 50 tons of soil per hectare to erode annually, four times the average for tropical regions. But if you ask Asinate Drauyawa Waqabitu about the health of the land, this 56-year-old leader of the women’s group in Nasavu village in Bua Province won’t talk about runoff.

Asinate talks about a tree called sikeci in Fijian, latin name, Aleurites moluccanus. The nut of the tree is used to produce a traditional body oil. It can also be strung together to create a lei, called salusalu in Fijian. Or she talks about the vesi tree, latin name, Intsia bijuga. It’s a hardwood used in home building and to craft large basins for the traditional practice of kava drinking.

“These trees are important to our identity and we are losing them,” she says.

That’s why the women’s group, which includes 45 women between 20 and 80, stepped up to partner with Action Against Desertification (AAD), when activities started in Fiji.

“Nasavu was the first community we visited,” says Moctar Sacande, who is in charge of the project. He came to Fiji in January 2017. “We got permission to use two hectares of communal land for demonstration and got started, first teaching nursery techniques and seedling production.”

The women’s group was involved in identifying endangered native plants and learned how to build a nursery to grow them, how to best propagate them and how to plant them out. “Community consultations are the first step in the process that guides restoration activities,” says Sacande, explaining that AAD places communities at the heart of land restoration.

AAD is working with 64 communities across Fiji to restore degraded land. In addition, it is promoting non-timber forest products and institutional capacity building. What started on a little plot in Nasavu has grown to more than 1 000 hectares currently under restoration. 60 000 native seedlings from 38 species were used, in addition to 32 agricultural crops.

“Restoration will have wide benefits for rural communities,” says Maika Daveta, AAD’s Fiji national coordinator. “The communities rely heavily on forests and land for a host of ecosystem services, including drinking water, medicines, building materials, as well as food and products to support their livelihoods.”

As Fiji’s population has increased, and food and income needs along with them, people are often farming too intensively and are using areas that are too steep for farming. Daily needs have overridden the need to manage the land, Daveta says.

But projects like Action Against Desertification are helping to turn the tide by bringing people together to understand the causes of land degradation and ways to collectively take action.

In fact, in Nasavu, the project has become a community affair. The village has set aside a day in the first week of the month for the men and youth to plant new seedlings, replace the dead ones or clear weeds around those that survived. And the women have joined in.

“Traditionally, women don’t plant,” says Waqabitu. “But we are all happy to do this because we want to leave something behind for our children and grandchildren before we pass on.”