Forestry Consultation | Forest experts map the way forward

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Some members of the Fiji Forestry Professionals Association during their first consultation meeting at SPC Narere on April 21. Picture: SUPPLIED

On Friday, April 21, 16 individuals from the forestry sector, led by the former permanent secretary for Fisheries and Forests Samuela Lagataki, came together to hold consultation for the establishment of the Fiji Forestry Professionals Association (FFPA).

The meeting was held at the Pacific Community’s Narere campus. Presenters at the meeting included Graham Wilkinson of Australian Forestry Professionals Association, Jalesi Mateboto (SPC) on the Pacific Network of Forestry Professionals; Steve Hazelman of Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community; and Daniel Tagivakatini from the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations, Viliame Rokovu from the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests.

Also represented in the meeting were FNU, Fiji Mahogany Trust, and Fiji Hardwood Corporation. The FFPA is established under the Fiji Forest Policy 2007 and has a total of over 50 members.

The FFPA will play the important role of developing human resources and setting the professional standards for its members to service the demands from various agencies across the forestry sector. Forestry is both a science and a profession.

The association will focus its attention in developing forestry as science and a profession, and focusing on the deeper understanding of the science behind forestry.

Members of the association will include all interested individuals who are involved in one way or another in forest related activities. This includes foresters, conservationists, environmentalists, climate change specialists, social and community workers, training providers, industry, and other forest specialists.

These individuals form a pool of expertise, experience, and skills which the forestry profession is known for. During the meeting Mr Mateboto provided a brief background on the technical trainings and capacity building the SPC Land Resources Division had been doing for its member countries in the Pacific Region including Fiji.

But requests for more training and capacity buildings keeps coming from countries in the region in many areas where training and capacity building had been carried out in the past for the member countries.

This situation poses the key question: Where had all these individuals that had been trained in the past gone to? When the countries are being asked, the answer is that they are still in the country, but are no longer in service or in the system in order for their knowledge and skills to be utilised.

This is where the association plays a key role, and that is to ensure that all the skills that are out there are being recognised and utilised. It is within this context that the Fiji Forest Policy encourages the establishment of the association to ensure that all knowledge and experience within Fiji is tapped into and put into good use in moving Fiji’s forest sector forward.

The achievement of the goals of the Fiji Forest Policy is based on a number of key principles one of which is the recognition of the collective responsibility of all stakeholders including public and private sectors, resources’ users, landowners, civil societies and interest groups.

During the forest policy consultation that occurred from 2003 to 2005, stakeholders agreed that the implementation of the Fiji Forest Policy will require significant knowledge and expertise in various forestry related fields.

A significant number of professionals and experts are out there in the public and no longer in the formal system of government, which if co-ordinated properly can provide a pool of expertise that can fill significant capacity gaps.

Forestry Professionals Association that exists in developed countries such as the US, NZ, and Australia are key examples. Such bodies have huge potential for building professionalism and improving professional standards in the forestry sector if harnessed properly with a clear purpose and direction.

Examples of such bodies in Fiji include the Fiji Veterinary Association, Fiji Environmental Law Association, Fiji Nursing Association and Fiji Medical Association. Such bodies have matured over the years and now play significant roles in the development of standards and human resource within their various field of profession.

Since the endorsement of the Fiji Forest Policy in 2007, significant developments occurred in the forestry, agriculture, and land use sectors, that had significant implications on the expected future roles of forests and forestry in the immediate future.

Expanding government commitments are reflected in latest government policy and strategic documents that will be driving future developments and require significant areas of new expertise in the forestry and land use sector.

The Center for Global Development, under its sustainable forest initiative, identified 10 areas under the 17 SDGS which well managed forests can make a positive contribution towards.

These are: Poverty – (SDG 1); Hunger – (SDG 2); Good Health and Well Being – (SDG 3); Clean Water and Sanitation – (SDG 6); Affordable Clean Energy – (SDG 7); Decent work and Economic Growth – (SDG 8); Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – (SDG 9); Climate Action – (SDG 13); Life Below Water – (SDG 14); Life on Land – (SDG 15).

In itself, the role of forests in addressing climate change mitigation challenges requires a further expansion of the Fiji Forest Policy in that particular area. This is called the Fiji REDD+ Policy.

FFPA will be holding the second meeting with its members to adopt its constitution and elect office bearers in preparation for registration.

Once it has been registered, and with close consultation with the Forestry Department, the association’s initial area of focus will be as per the mandate in the forest policy.

The details will have to come from a stakeholder workshop which the FPFA will have to hold to make sure that its area of focus addresses the real current needs of the sector and aligns against its mandate under the Fiji Forest Policy.

The FFPA is extending its invitation to all interested individuals who had been or are currently engaged in forest related profession. For more information please send email to Jale Tauraga jtauraga@gmail. com or Amelia Waqanibeqa

• SAMUELA LAGATAKI, a former permanent secretary for forestry, is heading the establishment of the Fiji Forestry Professionals Association. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily of this newspaper.