By Kelera Serelini- Varawa

All the hard work and determination of mataqali Nadicake, landowning unit within the village of Kilaka in Kubulau District, Bua Province, paid off after the iTaukei Land Trust Board signed a lease agreement with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for 99 years to safeguard and ensure the long-term protection of Kilaka forest.

This will be the first forest conservation area that will be managed by the community in partnership with WCS, and is a great example of community engagement in forest conservation in Bua Province.

The landowning unit has been voluntarily protecting its forest since 2006 and will now be receiving rental payment for Kilaka Forest Conservation Area that covers 402 hectares of native, near-pristine, highly biodiverse forests.  Kilaka Forest is a national priority for Fiji that has received the endorsement of the National Protected Areas Committee.

WCS, in consultation with the landowning unit has developed a management plan for the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area that was launched by the Fiji Minister for Forests, Mr Osea Naiqamu in November, 2016 to assist the landowners in protecting the mature native trees greatly sought by logging companies, traditional medicines and the diverse plant species.

The Ministry of Forests has also trained two members of the landowning unit who have now become registered forest wardens. These wardens will play a key role in ensuring rules and activities in the management plan are adhered to, observed and closely monitored.

WCS Policy Adviser, Ruci Lumelume who has been working with the Kilaka communities says the lease agreement would be the first of its kind in the Bua Province whereby communities are directly involved in the protection of their forests.

“The conservation lease signifies a stronger and closer partnership between WCS and the landowning unit Nadicake that holds the tenure for the Kilaka forest,” she said.

“The conservation lease ensures that the native indigenous species of trees in the forests are protected and maintained, clean water source is also maintained and sedimentation often caused by logging affecting the coastal areas and reefs downstream is minimised and controlled.”

Fiji as signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kilaka Forest Conservation Area would contribute to Aichi target  11 to protect at least 17% of  terrestrial areas especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.

The forest is an important carbon sink and therefore contributes to Fiji’s commitments on climate change.