A strong step forward has been taken for community based natural resource management in Fiji with the recent decision to appoint 14 new full-time Conservation Officers who are university qualified and who will live and work in each province (yasana) across the Fiji Islands.
The move substantially increases the on-ground resources required to assist provincial councils, districts and villages with the sustainable management and conservation of their natural resources.
The Officers will help boost implementation in the Conservation Unit within the iTaukei (indigenous) Affairs Board. The Board was established in 2011 after conservation was identified as a pressing need in Fijian communities.
The Board is an independent statutory body that regulates the affairs of the iTaukei people - Fiji's largest landowners, who own 87% of the land, and managers of Fiji's inshore marine resources. Local communities trust Board officers to listen to their concerns and the Board has already established lines of communication and coordination.
The new Conservation Officers are a valuable resource and connection point for government institutions, NGOs and local communities. They will provide a focal point for capacity building, information exchange, and education in relation to environmental issues, sustainable development and use of resources. They will be able to increase representation of iTaukei communities in national decision and policy making regarding land and marine resource management in Fiji.
With their focus on issues related to fisheries, forestry, agriculture, and mining, a Ridge to Reef framework will underpin their approach, understanding that what happens in one part of the country impacts everything downstream.
BIOPAMA will be engaging with the Officers to record their experiences and help them connect with regional counterparts, in addition to assisting in further development of their own skills and with identifying information or capacity building needs within community.