In the Pacific, we recognise forests and trees as important natural resources that provide everyone with economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits.

Message from Pacific Community Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga

On 21 March, we join the world in celebrating ‘International Day of Forests’. This year’s theme, ‘Forests and Water’, highlights the links between forests and water and the need to do much more to manage these resources sustainably.

The area of forest cover in Pacific Island countries and territories varies enormously, from more than 75 per cent of some islands to less than 5 per cent of others. Fiji’s forest cover is estimated at 56 per cent.

Forests act as natural water filters by helping to prevent soil erosion and lessen sedimentation in water bodies. They help protect and rehabilitate areas prone to soil degradation and erosion in upland areas. When trees are cut down, land areas are vulnerable to erosion, increasing the effects of flooding during the rainy season and drought in the dry season. Forests also help to mitigate the impacts of disasters, which can disrupt the source and supply of fresh water.

We need to ensure that our forests and trees are sustainably managed, conserved and expanded so that they continue to provide products and services that are important for our well-being, now and in the future. Indeed, the new Sustainable Development Goals include the need to safeguard forests.

As the region’s principal scientific and technical organisation, the Pacific Community (SPC) is supporting development across some 25 sectors, including sustainable forest management. Our scientists work with many partners to implement forest management measures.

For example, we are part of Reforest Fiji, a project in the sugarcane belt of Viti Levu. With support from the European Union, Reforest Fiji is assisting farmers, among other groups, to supplement their incomes through the production and sale of tree seedlings and establishment of woodlots and commercial tree plantations. Reforest Fiji will also promote tree planting to protect environmentally sensitive areas, including ridges and stream banks.

Thousands of tree seedlings survived tropical cyclone Winston, as I was able to see for myself when I travelled to north-west Viti Levu with the European Union Ambassador for the Pacific, Andrew Jacobs.

A few days ago, we announced that we would be making more than 250,000 tree seedlings available through Reforest Fiji to help affected communities recover. The seedlings include teak, mahogany, pine, two types of eucalyptus and the native tree species, vesi. Reforest Fiji, through SPC’s Land Resources Division, will work with the Fiji Forestry Department to identify and supply priority areas most in need of reforestation.

Importantly for the Pacific, maintaining relatively large areas of healthy and high diversity forests and trees will help us adapt to the effects of climate change by protecting coastal areas, farm land and water catchments, and by providing wood for shelter and housing and a source of medicine and food.

We would like to encourage everyone to celebrate International Day of Forests and to remember the importance of forests to our planet.

We reiterate our commitment to work together with our member countries and territories and our partners to invest expertise and funding in sustaining healthy forests and building our resilience to climate change, for the benefit of present and future generations.

Note: This message was first published in The Fiji Sun on 21 March 2016.

Media contact:
Vinesh Prasad, [email protected]

Useful link:
Pacific Community Director-General’s video message for International Day of Forests and World Water Day 2016 on YouTube.