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Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Fishing for the future in Fiji

Environmental wealth of rural communities

Three quarters of the poor live in rural areas. They depend largely on natural resources for their livelihoods. They are farmers, fishermen and small-scale miners. Each day they make decisions on how to use their environment. In reality, these people are stewards of the environment.

By Philip Angell, World Resources Institute

World Poverty Distribution

The development of the Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Areas Network (FLMMA) emerged against a backdrop of continuing depletion of Fiji’s inshore fisheries. That depletion accelerated in the 1990s, mainly due to increased commercial fishing, as well as larger harvests by subsistence fishers. The decline in marine resources has had a significant impact on the livelihoods of rural Fijians, most of whom depend on local fish and shellfish catches for some or all of their income – and for their daily protein. With fish stocks on the decline, some 30 to 35 per cent of the households in Fiji’s coastal villages fell below the poverty line.

The use of Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) to restore inshore fisheries is based on customary systems of community marine tenure supported by modern methods of biological monitoring and assessment. Key to the LMMA approach is community involvement in designing simple management structures. Experts from FLMMA partner organizations, such as the University of the South Pacific, the Peace Corps and the Fijian Fisheries Ministry, provide technical information and advice to support community decision making.

LMMA communities set aside a portion of their traditional fishing grounds as restricted areas to allow marine resources to recover. The location and size of these tabu areas are determined by the communities themselves. As fish and shellfish species recover in tabu areas, stocks also gradually increase in nearby parts of the LMMA where fishing is allowed. This “spillover effect” offers substantial benefits to communities.

Since the creation of Fiji’s first LMMA in 1997 – covering 24 hectares near the village of Ucunivanua on the east coast of Fiji’s largest island – the use of LMMAs has spread rapidly throughout Fiji and the broader Asia-Pacific region. By 2007, the size of the network in Fiji had expanded to include some 213 LMMAs, involving 279 villages and covering almost 8,500 square km of coastal fisheries, or about 25 per cent of the inshore area. The programme has been so successful that Fiji’s national government has formally adopted the LMMA approach.

The economic and environmental benefits are clear: in Ucunivanua itself, average household income rose from just over FJD 430 per month in 2002 to about FJD 990 in 2006. The community of Daku in Kadavu province saw average incomes rise by more than 30 per cent in one year. In addition, there has been increased consumption of fish in LMMA villages. Some 75 per cent of surveyed households in the Navakavu community reported eating more fish than five years ago: in non-LMMA villages an equivalent drop in fish consumption was reported. These changes were the result of increased fish catches in restored areas.

Communities engaged in LMMA work tend to retain high levels of commitment to the programme, indicating their sense of ownership and economic stake in these enterprises. For example, a survey of the Navakavu community showed it considered its LMMA to be crucial to its well being and to that of future generations.

Yet challenges remain. In some remote communities, poachers are a problem and enforcement efforts have been mixed. Remote villages also lack sufficient infrastructure to access markets and so find it hard to improve living standards. Another problem is that not everyone in LMMA villages can depend for their livelihoods on the managed fisheries: alternative means of income have to be found to support fast expanding populations. The same problem exists in more remote villages.

These challenges are not minor ones – but since the formation of the LMMAs they are being faced in a far more confident, resilient and capable way.

The Equator Initiative

The Equator Prize is an international award that recognizes local efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The biennial prize is awarded by United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Initiative. Over the past five years, the Equator initiative has attracted more than 1000 nominations for its Equator Prize. Of these, 75 community initiatives stand out as exemplary cases. Research shows that these initiatives are most successful under conditions of collective understanding of the value of ecosystem-derived resources, secure property rights to these resources, low-barriers to market participation, multiple beneficial partnerships and strong effective leadership. They can be a powerful tool in international efforts to protect the environment and promote human development.

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Did you know?

In 2002, USD 58.2 billion world fish trade was from developing countries, exceeding the value of the combined net exports of rice, coffee, sugar and tea.

In Guinee, one third of the vessels were illegally fishing in a prohibited zone, largely taking catch from the area designated for artisanal fishers – leading to a probable loss of USD 84 million shrimp, fish and octopus.

Sources: FAO. 2007. The State of World Aquaculture 2006; MRAG. 2005. Review of Impacts of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing on Developing Countries.

World Poverty Distribution

Success in the Sahel

In 1970s and 1980s – years of environmental crisis – there were few trees remaining in Niger. Wind-blown sands razed farmers’ young crops and they often had to plant crops three times to succeed. Since the middle of the 1980s, in the most densely populated parts of Niger, farmers have begun to protect and manage young trees and bushes regenerating on their cultivated fields. This is natural farmer-managed forest regeneration.

Some trees fix nitrogen from the air on their root system which helps to maintain and improve soil fertility. Improved soil fertility leads to higher crop yields. The trees and bushes protect crops against wind and sand, and farmers now often need to sow only once, which increases the length of the growing season. Women are perhaps the biggest winners. They spend much less time now on the collection of firewood than they did 20 years ago – about 0.5 hours per day now instead of 2.5 hours per day in 1984. They also now own 80 per cent of the goats and sheep which provides them with income. Fodder is much less of a problem now than 20 years ago, as the trees produce seedpods and leaves which are a major source of fodder in the dry season.

The most important incentive for tree regeneration by farmers was a change in perception of ownership of the trees. In 1985, the perception was that trees were owned by the State, but now farmers perceive an exclusive right to the trees on their farm. Farmer-led tree regeneration has happened on at least 5 million hectares – once barren, sandy soils almost devoid of vegetation now have 20–40 or more trees per hectare. This is a spectacular scale, unique for the Sahel and probably even unique for Africa. In this form of forest regeneration is not spread evenly though – it is strongest in the regions with higher population densities.