Sustainable forestry in Fiji

Forest workers measure a trunk

Forest inventory in Fiji;Picture: GIZ/JHHofmann

Around twenty years have passed since a sustainable forestry management plan was developed for Fiji with German support. The plan includes usage of almost every species of tree, but relatively few trees of each type are harvested. In addition, environmentally-friendly processes (under the rules of Reduced Impact Logging, RIL) are used to reduce potential damage to the ecosystem as much as possible. An International Climate Initiative (IKI) project is continuing with this approach and has demonstrated that this type of forest management also carries benefits for the climate, biological diversity and local communities.

Unique divesity

The isolated setting of islands like Fiji often leads to the evolution of unique biological diversity and exceptional ecosystems. Many plants and animals only exist in such places. Land resources are, however, very limited and are at risk of being over-utilised. This is also true of the rainforests of Fiji. Logging and sale of timber bring a quick influx of revenue, but the long-term consequences are only apparent at a later stage and are therefore frequently underestimated. Local communities are reliant on the services provided by intact forests, including as a source of building material, medicinal plants, protection from extreme weather events, and regulation of food and water cycles.

Testing sustainable forestry

Sustainable forestry can achieve both: generate income from timber sales, and ensure long-term conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem services they provide. In order to test this supposition, in the 1990s the forestry department leased an approximately 300 hectare test site near the village of Nakavu on the southern part of the main island Viti Levu. With scientific support, wood was harvested from the natural forest in this area in line with the principles of sustainable forest management. The natural forest structure was maintained with its many different tree species. All tree species were utilised, but none were over-harvested. Specific RIL standards exclude, among other things, clearing of steep slopes that would be particularly prone to soil erosion, and prescribe strips of protected areas along bodies of water, where logging is not allowed so that the different parts of the forest can be linked together.

Two forest workers measuring the length of a trunkThe next timber harvest is now being lined up. The IKI project 'Climate protection through forest conservation in Pacific Island states', which is being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, is supporting the preparations by conducting a forest inventory and preparing a timber harvest plan together with the local community and Fiji’s forestry department. These efforts were also undertaken for the previous harvest in 1992, so comparative data exists regarding the condition of the forest. The project also determined the amount of carbon stored in the forest. The measurements showed that another round of harvesting is already possible after just 20 years, ensuring a sustainable source of income to the families that own the forest area without reducing its ecological functions. In addition to the annual lease for their forest, the people in Nakavu can also expect to receive approximately EUR 165,000 as their share of the timber sales. In comparison, with conventional methods a similar financial yield could only have been achieved after 30 to 40 years. At the same time, the project has demonstrated that none of the tree species found in the area 20 years ago had been supplanted due to the previous harvest. It was therefore possible to conserve both the biological diversity of the forest vegetation as well as the spatial structure of the stocks. This in turn has a positive impact on the other plant and animal species.

In addition, the IKI project has introduced another prospect for forest protection and a new source of income for the local community: compensatory payments for the conservation of forests as carbon sinks under the REDD+ mechanism (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). Project estimates have shown that sustainably managed forest areas store considerably more carbon than comparable areas under conventional management. In addition, they contain similar quantities of carbon as untouched forests.

The project results clearly show the diverse benefits of sustainable forest management. Building on this basis, the forestry department will extend its lease with the families from Nakavu, and in 20 years, a new generation can profit from the regrown forest.