International Day of Forests
March 19, 2021 State House, Suva.
Members of the Diplomatic Corp;The Permanent Secretary for Forests and Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries, Mr. Pene Baleinabuli and fellow Permanent Secretaries; Distinguished guests;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning, Ni sa bula Vinaka, Salaam Alaykum, Namaste and Faiaksia.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today to celebrate The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21st March as the International Day of Forests (IDOF) in 2011. The Day celebrates and creates awareness on the importance of all types of forests and creates awareness of the need to preserve and care for the world’s woodlands.
On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.
The theme for each International Day is chosen by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests. Here in Fiji, we are celebrating International Day of Forests today, Friday 19 March, because 21 March falls on Sunday.
2021 International Day of Forests
This year the theme for the International Day of Forests is “Forest Restoration, a path to recovery and well-being”. We only have one Earth, and we need to take care of it. That means doing what we can to protect our planet for the future generations. The world we know needs our efforts now more than ever.
It is under threat from invasive species, diseases such as COVID-19, pollution, forest degradation, deforestation and a warming climate. Our small island nation is not only bearing witness to these threats, we are living with them. We have suffered significant job losses and a decrease in economic activity over the past year, and three severe tropical cyclones. But we persevere, we adapt and we continue growing. And we redouble our efforts to preserve the natural beauty of our islands and the bounty of our ocean—and contribute as much as we can to the effort to fight global climate change.
So how do we do our part to sustain, preserve and even improve our natural environment? During these trying times, we turn to nature itself for solutions. Forests are critical for our survival, and they present us with a valuable solution if we are wise enough to understand them. Forests provide homes for native animals. They purify our water and air, they protect our watershed and prevent flooding and soil erosion. They store carbon. And we all know that the world desperately needs to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
So forests are in the front lines in the fight against Climate Change.
We NEED our forests as much as we need to breathe to stay alive. We NEED our Forests as much as we need clean and safe drinking water. And we NEED our forests to absorb and store carbon to fight against Climate Change.
Native trees are well adapted to climatic and soil conditions in Fiji, so they are particularly valuable for reforestation, and they provide many of the forest products and ecosystem services we often take for granted. But as humans and animals depend on Forests and Trees, they too, depend on us for their existence.
In Fiji, we lose some 4,000 hectares a year to deforestation. This is alarmingly high, given that Fiji’s forest cover is approximately 1.1 million hectares, which is about 60% of the country’s total land area of 1.8 million hectares.
However, only about half of this are intact native forests, which are now often fragmented and surrounded by degraded forests. Human activities that drive forest degradation and deforestation include the demand for fuelwood and charcoal, illegal logging and human-induced fires.
Furthermore, degraded forests are more vulnerable to diseases. They are much like us human beings, in a way: If they are in general poor health, they are less able to protect and defend themselves. Unhealthy, weakened and degraded forests are also more susceptible to pests, weeds and cyclone damage.
In January 2019, I had the honour of launching Fiji’s tree-planting revolution, which started off as four (4) million trees in four (4) years. Our new target now is 30 million trees in 15 Years (30MT15Y). This tree-planting and growing campaign is being implemented Fiji-wide, and I am pleased to announce that more than 6 (six) million trees have been planted to date, and we will add a few more to that total this morning.
This significant achievement has been made possible through collaborative efforts with national leaders, communities, corporate bodies, Fiji Pine Limited and Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations, and individuals such as yourselves. I invite all Fijians to participate in tree planting and growing to expand our forest areas and tree cover, even if this is just in your home gardens.
Please also be SURE to have your trees registered with the Ministry of Forestry so that you can be part of the campaign and make every tree count! When you plant a tree, you plant hope. As Fijians are heeding our call for forest restoration through our national tree-planting revolution, a group of Fijians chose to make a contribution from the heart.
Volunteering their time and resources, PI and BillyBoy Productions, together with DJ WestSide, have composed, produced and released a song titled “Voresi”. This marvellous tune was inspired by the 30 Million Trees in 15 Years campaign. Ratu Nacani Sitima, the music producer, and Maleli Nakasava, one of the song writers and performing artists, are here with us this morning. “Voresi” is the second single that Ratu Nacani (also known as DJ WestSide). The first was “Noqu Bebe,” sung by Manoa Masi.
About the “Voresi” Song
With the 30 Million Trees in 15 Years campaign that we launched in January 2019, Fijians across our nation have been advancing this tree-planting revolution, one tree at a time. While out planting, the Ministry of Forestry’s Acting Director, West Maleli Nakasava, noticed that young people would bring their mobile phones and portable speakers to play music while they planted. And that is how the idea to make a song was born.
In January 2021, Maleli contacted his cousin, Manoa Masi, in Canada to discuss the idea of a “Voresi” song. The two worked together to write the lyrics and teamed up with DJ WestSide to help produce the music for the song. The music video is being done by Junior Erenatau, who lives in the United States. “Voresi” took two and half months from concept to release and is the collective contribution of a group of Fijians living in Fiji and overseas.
I am honoured to launch the song during this International Day of Forests 2021.
Ladies and gentlemen, as it was my honour to plant a tree to launch our national campaign two years ago, it was also my honour to replant an Ivi seedling at Suva’s triangle this morning. We know that all living things must eventually die, but the severe damage done to that tree was a blow to the entire country. It had become a landmark, an island of natural beauty in the city, and a comforting and sheltering friend for generations of Fijians.
Over the years, the Ivi Tree had been damaged by various cyclones, most notably Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016. And then, of course, Tropical Cyclone Ana in January 2021. The Ivi tree at Suva’s Triangle is testament to the resilience of Fiji and her people, as although the tree has weathered many storms, it continues to stand tall. The seedling, which was cultured from the existing tree, will grow to replace it over time and thus ensure that this iconic symbol of Suva’s resilience remains indefinitely.
Ladies and gentlemen, forest restoration involves the replanting of forests that have been lost. Restoring lost forests can help to protect biodiversity and fight Climate Change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it. But restoration is only a part of our work.
We must also save our existing native forests that are working overtime to lock up carbon stocks and provide us with so many benefits that we take for granted.
Sustainably managed forests have a key role in meeting several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and providing solutions for growing a green economy. But beyond that, sustainably managed forests make good sense. They are good for us and good for all our fellow inhabitants on Earth. Fiji’s tree-planting revolution is our contribution to a global effort in our corner of the world.
It not only benefits us, it localises the objectives of the United Nations’ International Day of Forests, which highlights the importance of forests for each and every one of us.
I wish you all a Happy International Day of Forests!
Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad and may Almighty God bless our Beloved Fiji and People.