Carbon trading: Drawa at forefront of conservation efforts
Lutukina Village women’s savings group. Picture: SUPPLIED/NAKAU
By VILIAME TAWANAKORO
AS the world continues to grapple with climate change, the community of Drawa in the highlands of Cakaudrove province, Vanua Levu, is setting an example
for sustainable development. After 10 years of successful forest conservation and carbon trading, Drawa is now experiencing the tangible benefits of their innovative approach.
From economic growth to environmental preservation, their efforts are yielding impressive results. According to the Ministry of Forestry, this pioneering move has led Fiji to be one of the 15 countries in joining the carbon trade program by signing an emissions reduction payment agreement, making it the sole Small Island Developing State in the Pacific to do so.
Diving deep into the story of Drawa’s triumph and uncovering the secrets to their thriving community, the community was confronted with a tough decision.
Their old-growth 4,120 hectares of forest, which had sustained them for generations was being targeted for logging. Similar to numerous indigenous communities
throughout the Pacific region, the customary landowners of Drawa found themselves in a predicament where they had to balance the preservation of their forests with
the need to generate income for survival.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) senior project officer with Live & Learn Fiji, Beato Dulunaqio said the logging coupes had already been mapped out and community members were starting to clear the forest for timber.
“But just as they were faced with the prospect of losing their forest forever, the eight mataqali, or clans, of Drawa were presented with an opportunity to save it,” he said.
“The Drawa community stood at the forefront of environmental preservation by embracing the Nakau methodology.”
Recognising the significance of their forest, the Mataqali established the Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative and pioneered the use of “payment for ecosystem services” (PES) to safeguard it.
Mr Dulunaqio said their efforts were bolstered by the support of Nakau and Live & Learn Fiji, with whom they formed a strong partnership to launch a pioneering
carbon trading initiative.
“The community’s unwavering commitment to environmental conservation serves as an inspiration to many others, and their success stands as a testament to the
power of collective action.”
The ownership of the project and forests lies with the Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative, which comprises more than 400 native Fijian landowners from three villages.
Every year, this initiative produces more than 18,000 carbon credits. The Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative also serves as a habitat for various endangered species such as the Barred tree skink (Emoia trossula), the Vanua Levu slender tree skink (Emoia mokosariniveikau), and the remarkable Fiji ground frog (Cornufer vitiana).
The Drawa rainforests, situated on the Wailevu-Deketi Highlands, provide sanctuary to a diverse range of flora, including 385 plant species, of which 47 per cent are exclusive to Fiji.
The area supports 22 native bird species, making it an officially recognised important bird area in Fiji. Mr Dulunaqio said the success of this project allowed Live & Learn Fiji to replicate the model for Fiji’s ecosystems adaptation-based project.
“This Conservation Project, also known as REDD+, is also the first ever carbon trading business in Fiji,” he said.
“This has informed the National REDD+ Unit within the Ministry of Forestry, which aims to educate eligible communities to preserve their forest and natural resources and incentivise them to sell their carbon credits.”
Mr Dulunaqio said the success of this project showed that Fijian communities could be leaders in forest conservation
that also provided economic, social and climate resilience benefits.
“After winning the Energy Globe Award in 2020, Drawa has not only been recognised in Fiji and the Pacific but globally.
“They have taken the first step towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 in taking action to combat climate change and its impacts,” he said.
Robbie Henderson, Nakau’s chief executive officer, said the Drawa project proved eco-friendly community development was achievable.
“It maintains the community’s reliance on nature without posing a threat to its resources,” he said.
Carbon credits income and development
Carbon credits has fuelled the community progress in investing in a sustainable future. A decade has passed and the community now derives a substantial income from forest carbon credits, while the forest remains intact.
The community has ventured into the rainforest honey business, which serves as an alternative source of livelihood and promotes nature-positive community development.
Drawa Project business manager Waita Curuvale said the honey business, which involved harvesting and selling honey at local markets, empowered women to take ownership of their economic development.
“We ensure that the income from credit sales is properly shared as many things are done by women. They really appreciate the benefits coming from the project,” she said.
“Observing our forest in the Drawa block and understanding the methods of preserving and safeguarding it, while also allowing our people to reap economic benefits, has transformed our perspective on the significance of forest conservation.”
Echoing the sentiments of the women from Lutukina Village, Ms Curuvale said the combined benefits of the project significantly transformed their mindset towards economic opportunities.
“One of the major advantages they observed is the ability to upgrade their toilet facilities,” Ms Curuvale said.
“In the past, several families lacked proper sanitation, but with the revenue generated from carbon sales, women in the community are gradually constructing flush toilets to improve their families’ living conditions.
“This development has greatly benefited the community, and the women are proud to have played a role in it.”
Apart from the upgraded toilets, women and families in Lutukina have enjoyed other advantages. These include access to bank accounts, scholarships for school fees and educational equipment for students, and the creation of useful networks where women have a stronger voice in local governance and cooperation with non-governmental organisations operating in the region. The honey business and forest carbon have had a positive impact on the lives of the people in Lutukina.
Nakau has also ensured, as outlined in their methodology, that women have equal access to the income generated by the carbon project and have a say in how it is reinvested.
Resilient rainforests: Lifeline in extreme weather
When Cyclone Yasa struck Drawa in December 2020, the villages, infrastructure, and food sources in the area were severely impacted, just like much of Fiji.
However, the intact and healthy rainforest was able to provide support to the community. According to Peni Maisiri, chairman of the Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative, the cyclone had a significant impact on the villages, particularly the Drawa block.
“The community relied heavily on the fishing grounds in the forest, which remained intact despite the cyclone,” he said.
He emphasised that leaving the forest intact could bring many benefits to the community.
Jerry Lotawa, the lead ranger with the Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative, explained that the forest provided the village with food, including prawns, eels, fish, seeds, and fruit, as well as clean drinking water.
He also highlighted the importance of the Drawa forest carbon project in changing the community’s attitude towards managing the forest sustainably.
Without the project, Jerry believes that the community’s attitude towards the forest would have been different, nd they may have continued to cut down and burn trees.
“The project brought a new idea to the community, emphasising the importance of managing the forest sustainably and minimising damage to the environment,” he said.
Projects in Development Nakau CEO, Robbie Henderson said the valuable expertise and knowledge gained from the Drawa initiative can serve as a source of inspiration for other communities that are facing similar challenges.
“It demonstrates that carbon projects can provide essential economic assistance to people without causing harm to their forests,” he said.
“As the global community gathered at COP27 and COP15, the need for urgent nature-based solutions to combat our climate and nature crises has become more crucial than ever before.”
Mr Henderson said these international forums emphasise the importance of implementing solutions that safeguard the environment, preserve biodiversity, and support local communities.
“Preserving intact primary forests that can support carbon projects is a key strategy for companies striving towards achieving net zero emissions through offsets,” he said.
Nakau is presently collaborating with local partners and communities in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea to establish new projects.
Viliame Tawanakoro is a final-year student journalist at USP’s Laucala Campus. He is also the 2023 student editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication.