It was an extraordinary occasion for members of the landowning unit, Nadicake, within the village of Kilaka in Kubulau District in Bua, when they witnessed the official handing over of a 99 year conservation lease agreement between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) today, that will ensure the long term protection of their forest for themselves and the future generations.

Mataqali Nadicake has been voluntarily protecting their forest since 2006, and have been working closely with WCS and TLTB for the past three years to establish the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area that covers 402 hectares of native, near-pristine, highly biodiverse forests. The conservation lease will ensure that native indigenous species of trees in the forests are protected and clean water sources are maintained both for the community of Kilaka, as well as those residing downstream on the Kubulau coast.

As part of the conservation lease, communities will receive royalties based on the value of forest timber on their land, and rental payments. A management plan developed by WCS in close partnership with mataqali Nadicake, and endorsed by the Ministry of Forests on 24 November, 2016, will guide the management of the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area. The management plan also contributes to the broader development plan For Kilaka Village, created and endorsed in 2016.

Currently in Fiji, conservation leases through TLTB are the main mechanism to establish forest conservation and providing landowners with an alternative to logging or the clearing of their forests. This is important in areas where communities are heavily reliant on their forests for many of the ecosystem services they provide, including clean drinking water and traditional medicines.

In handing over the lease agreement, TLTB General Manager Mr Tevita Kuruvakadua said the lease would create a  positive impacts to the environment, to the local community of Kubulau and to the national and global environment.

Landowner representative and Chairman of the Trustees Committee Rogasiano Matai was in tears when he said “we are happy that we are able to secure the lease for the benefit of our children.

“It was not an easy feat as there were a lot of ideas on whether to log the area or mine the bauxite. For us we are thankful to WCS and TLTB for making this a reality for the good of all and perhaps where others can learn from,” he added.

WCS Fiji Program Director, Dr Sangeeta Mangubhai said “this is a historic occasion today as we recognise the incredible commitment mataqali Nadicake has made to themselves and their children, and the gift they have given Fiji as a nation. The protection of these forests will ensure communities have continued access to clean water, protect important catchments in Kubulau District, while contributing to their own development needs and aspirations.”

Fiji is signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area will contribute to Aichi Target 11 to protect at least 17% of  terrestrial areas by 2020, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Kilaka Forest is a national priority for Fiji that has received the endorsement of the National Protected Areas Committee under the Ministry of Environment.

The forest is an important carbon sink and therefore contributes to Fiji’s commitments on climate change. The conservation lease is timely as Fiji’s prepares to host the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, in 6−17, November, 2017.