Ask almost any mother in the world what she wants for her children, and her answer might very likely be, “an education.” Yet, in many poor rural communities, a father may have to cut down a tree in order to earn enough income to send his kids to school. In Fiji’s Sovi Basin, however, locals can invest in their children’s future by letting those trees stand.
People and Forests
The Sovi Basin is the largest remaining undisturbed tract of lowland rainforest in Fiji. There, as an alternative to the logging and agricultural conversion that has decimated some of the country’s other forests, CI, the Fijian government, and local landowners have agreed to use a conservation agreement to create new protected areas on traditionally-owned land.
Under the agreement, landowners will receive lease and royalty payments in return for designating their land as a nature reserve. CI is also working to ensure financing for wider community development investments and reserve management costs as well.
The project has been a success. Landowners have firmly chosen conservation over logging by cancelling a previous timber concession.
Protection and Education
The 20,000 hectares (almost 50,000 acres) of the basin are now protected, conserving 11 different forest types and 19 endemic bird species – one of these, the Endangered long-legged warbler (Trichocichla rufa), was previously considered extinct and then re-discovered in Sovi only six years ago.
The agreement also establishes a scholarship program for the six landowning villages in the area and has supported nearly 150 secondary school students over the last five years. The assistance has been encouraging in that the number of scholarships for advanced study has increased as well - from two in 2005 to 15 in 2008 and 2009. In fact, one Sovi scholarship recipient is in the top 10 percent of the country and completing her second year in medical school – a first for the Sovi Basin region.
Under the agreement, the Sovi communities will identify further development investments, but all have already decided to maintain the scholarship program in their benefit package.
A trust fund is being established to ensure that the agreement functions in perpetuity, and will pay land lease and compensate for foregone timber royalties to landowners. The fund, supported by CI’s Global Conservation Fund and the FIJI Water Foundation, will also set up a community development fund for approximately 4,000 people in 6 principal villages around the basin.
The Results Speak for Themselves
Once again, CI and our partners are demonstrating how real conservation gains and real opportunities for people can work hand-in-hand.
According to Sefa Nawadra, Fiji Program Manager, “In my view, the scholarship program has been the incentive that has engendered the most support for the Sovi Basin conservation initiative. It was a need identified by the communities themselves and they were very appreciative that it was taken on board and addressed in a very pragmatic way. They themselves decide who the scholarship is awarded to and how much each recipient should get. The results speak for themselves.”
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