Posted 14 August 2011, by Geraldine Panapasa, The Fiji Times, fijitimes.com
CIKOBIA. One of many outer islands hit by devastating natural disasters. The impact of Cyclone Daman in 2007 left a number of villagers homeless, without food and water. Aid of cooking and eating utensils, kerosene stoves and clothes were flown to this isolated northern island to help lessen the stress of the situation.
Four years on, the island continues to suffer the brunt of passing cyclones, strong winds and adverse weather conditions. Add on the effects of climate change to the environment and their food sources, particularly marine life and the villagers are weary their beautiful island would cease to exist if nothing is done to address those problems.
But the people, the family unit, the close-knit community of this remote island have pulled through the difficult times to form a committee, aligning itself to Government’s Look North Trade Policy with hopes of a better, sustainable future.
The women, in particular, have taken a sturdy stand to develop and restore their natural resources in a manageable way. This was one of the aims of a two-week long Cikobia Women’s Crafts and Sustainable Livelihoods training workshop in Labasa at the end of last month.
The event was sponsored by the Global Environment Facility small grants program under the United Nations Development Program and hosted at the Soqosoqo Vakamarama Macuata House.
Forty-two participants, men and women alike, with links to Cikobia grabbed the opportunity to learn about crafts and sustainable livelihood practises in an effort to complement restoration activities on the island.
“Natural disasters are always hitting Cikobia. Now that the climate is changing, there will be more times (like this) ahead,” said Penina Namata, the environment adviser for the Cikobia Women’s Club development committee, and a passionate advocate of sustainable development on the remote, outer island.
“Cyclones have been happening and I think the frequency of the last ones gave them (Cikobia islanders) a wake-up call to realise that Cikobia will not be there forever if they don’t act now.
“This made them want to set up a nursery to nurture all the natural resources; planting voivoi, magimagi and yasi plants since our coconuts have been attacked by rhinoceros beetles. We have also set up seaweed farming. We may not be able to harness rare pearls but we have put the lines out and inviting the pearls to develop.
“In Cikobia, no man is a man. They do everybody’s work. If you want to eat, you’ve got to learn how to cook because it’s a tough environment and you have to do things for yourself to survive.”
Survival, not only to meet rising costs of almost everything and anything, but to ensure one’s culture and traditions are not lost through the constant struggle to meet daily needs and wants. This, according to Cikobia development committee volunteer Francis Areki, was another aim of the training.
“It’s also trying to remind communities that culture is based on the abundance of your natural resources. The (closing day) was to showcase the culture of the Cikobia community, working with other departments and non-governmental organisations in terms of integrated natural resource project,” he said during my four-hour visit to the Friendly North town.
“It’s trying to get the community to replant a lot of the natural resources related to handicrafts. It’s to encourage the women. There are a lot of activities happening on the island like the model farm development, trying to replant native trees used for scented oils and traditional crafts. It’s really difficult to encourage the community to do those restoration works if they don’t see some of the outcomes of the resources.
“The workshop was to revive some of those traditional crafts and link it back to the work that’s happening on the island. For example, masi which was usually produced in abundance on Cikobia back in the day is a practise the women say has not been done in a while.
“The training got some of the older Cikobia women to teach younger women how to produce it so they could make use of the natural resources on the island and upskill some of the raw skills in terms of contemporary arts and crafts they could use to sell for income.”
Areki said part of the intentions of the committee was to look at eco-tourism potential on the island because of the abundance of biodiversity like significant areas for seabird colonies, turtle nesting and a plentiful supply of coconut crabs which has ceased to exist on some islands.
“Some of the historical sites are also on the island; it’s known to be one of the major Lapita settlements. They have some archaeological sites left on the island. Crafts can actually link that to eco-tourism. When tourists come over for days, the community has these things available to show,” he said.
“The pilot seaweed plant was something the community didn’t view as important until two women from Ono-i-Lau came and showed them they could do other things like seaweed soap which is quite lucrative in other markets.
“They also looked at the production of Virgin Coconut Oil, strengthening on independency from imported goods from the mainland. We’re also trying to emphasise sustainable agriculture through model farms on the island and the diversification of copra production.”
While so much can be done to ensure a copious supply of natural resources, Areki says the onus was on the community to make a move towards sustainable development.
“It boils down to one thing; you need to plant more crops and sustain natural resources to sustain culture, handicraft and income opportunities, encourage youths to stay on the island and those not working on the mainland to go back to the island to sustain development there,” he said.
He said the main thematic area for the GEF small grants program is to promote sustainable development in the context of biodiversity preservation including land degradation and other aspects of the environment.
Meanwhile, the Cikobia islanders have pledged to support restoration works and implement their 20-year development plan for the sake of their future.