Strong, determined and humble are three words that come to mind when you meet Mesake Dralolo. A casualty of the lay-offs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mesake did what most Fijians are doing and that is to go back to his roots. Mesake, who worked in the Tourism sector, took this set-back into his stride and returned to his village of Koromakawa, Wairiki in Labasa. Through sheer will and determination, the 40-year-old has made up his mind to make things work on the farm.
Mesake urgently needed an interim source of income to make ends meet before his farm produce could be ready for harvest. His prayers were answered in the form of the Ridge to Reef Programme (R2R) tree planting initiative as Mesake is one of several individuals participating in this program. The income that he earns from planting trees in his area through this programme is helping to sustain him and his family.
The R2R programme is funded through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and is managed by the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of Forestry is one of the implementing agencies responsible for delivering the program outcomes. With the objective of trying to preserve biodiversity, ecosystem services, sequester carbon, improve climate resilience and sustain livelihoods through a ridge to reef management of priority water catchments on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, the programme empowers communities to plant trees and pays them for their efforts.
“I am very lucky to be able to take some money home just by helping to plant trees and it is not only that, I know what I have planted will benefit my children and those that come after them,” Mr Dralolo said.
“I know I am doing my part to keep Fiji green and to fight climate change. I thank the UN and the Fijian Government for thinking of people like me who have lost our jobs. I am definitely not left behind and I know this Government cares for all Fijians,” Mr Dralolo said.
Minister for Forestry Honourable Osea Naiqamu met with Mr Dralolo during his visit to Koromakawa Village in Labasa last month in which he stated that the R2R programme under UNDP is part of the Fijian Governments green recovery strategy to restore nature.
Minister Naiqamu said Fiji’s R2R programme has come in leaps and bounds as it will bolster Fiji’s national system of marine protected areas (MPA’s) through an enhanced, representative and sustainable system of Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA) including greater protection of threatened marine species.
Minister Naiqamu added this basically means how we manage our ridges and catchments also determine the health status of our reefs and marine life.
The project will further negate the impacts of land-based activities through the development and implementation of integrated catchment management plans including mangrove protection, the adoption of appropriate sustainable land-use practices and riverbank restoration in adjoining upstream watersheds as well as restored and rehabilitated forests.
These terrestrial protected areas, coupled with an increase in the permanent native forest estate, including through assisted natural reforestation and degraded grasslands will also contribute to Fiji’s REDD+ strategy through enhancement of carbon stocks.
The protected area networks rehabilitated through this programme will help conserve threatened ecosystems such as lowland and tropical and moist forests and endangered species of plants, amphibians, reptiles and freshwater vertebrates and invertebrates.
As the name implies, the Ridge to Reef project aims to cover all activities from the ridges through the catchments and out to the sea and reefs to ensure a system of high biodiversity, rehabilitated, well managed and protected flow of ecosystem services.
Under the R2R programme which started in 2015, four selected priority catchments were identified and these include the Ba and Waidina Catchment in Viti Levu and the Labasa and Tunuloa Catchment in Vanua Levu.
27 villages from around these four catchment areas will benefit directly from the R2R project and the indirect benefits will filter down to all Fijians of our beloved nation.
Source the Fijian Ministry of Forestry website.