In April 2021, a multi-sectoral training on agriculture, forest conservation, water management and hygiene was conducted for villagers from Lovoni, Vuniivisavu and Nasaumatua villages on Ovalau Island. The training was carried out as part of the Watershed Interventions for Systems Health in Fiji (WISH Fiji) project. The training addressed knowledge and skills gaps identified by communities and partners during the development of Water and Sanitation Safety Plans in October 2020 for the Bureta subcatchment.
The training was led by the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Medical Services, and Forestry, Department of Water and Sanitation, Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, and the Lomaiviti Provincial Council, through the WISH Fiji project. The four-day workshop combined classroom activities with field practical and demonstration.
In addition to improving watershed management, the training was supported some of the actions identified in an Ecosystem-Based Management plan that is being developed for the whole of Ovalau Island to manage the island’s natural resources, and to ensure any development for the island is sustainable.
The villagers were given an introduction to basic sustainable landuse management. This involved looking at unsustainable landuse uses and provide new approaches and ideas for improving landuse practices. For example, the villagers learnt and discussed the benefits and opportunities for organic farming, including improved human health and livelihood benefits. Currently, there is concern that the use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals associated with farming, are polluting the natural environment. Farmers in the upper Bureta subcatchment developed a deeper understanding of how development upstream can effect ecosystems and people downstream.
Researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture spoke on the different diseases that affect livestock and crops. Participants learned how to avoid introducing crops and animals that are infected. Furthermore, farmers were reminded of the need to prior approvals from the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and the Ministry of Agriculture should they be uncertain of produce and/or livestock that may be infected by pests and/or diseases, including those that may be zoonoses.
The Ministry of Agriculture also carried out training on alternative livelihood and income generating ventures such as the production of breadfruit, plantains, cassava and taro flour that can be sold as an alternative to wheat flour. There are health benefits associated with these products because food additives and preservatives are not needed as much as compared to wheat flour produced in factories.
The practical and hands on exercises were popular with villagers. Demonstrations were carried out on a number of alternative crop production methods such as tree planting, seed propagation and farming and horticulture techniques. They also learned about marcotting, grafting and budding, fallowing and crop rotation, and agroforestry. The idea was to help communities increase crop yields from existing pieces of land, to reduce the need for clearing new land or forests for agriculture.
The Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry also provided training in how to establish village nurseries. Nurseries can provide a steady source of viable vegetable crops and trees to address food security, livelihoods as well as for the re-establishment of forest cover buffer around zones around primary water sources and rivers. Much of the training focused on the important ecosystem services provided by forests, such as natural water purification and water retention, that are critical especially during the dry season. Moreover, birds, insects and other animals that live in forests perform important ecological functions such as seed dispersal and pollination.
The Water Authority of Fiji highlighted the importance of maintaining the cleanliness of the dams as well as reservoirs and the distribution pipes, and the key role water committees played in their villages. The WAF Rural Water Unit supervisor Mr Koroi Kakaivalu spoke on the need for water committees to take ownership of the water projects as they were essential for the health and wellbeing of the community. Mr Patere Sionunu from the Department of Water and Sanitation further elaborated on government policies regarding water and sanitation facilities in the communities, and the required criteria from villages to access government assistance.
Lastly, the Divisional Health Inspector for Lomaiviti, Ms Margaret Senilawala provided training and shared information on good hygiene and sanitation practices, and the importance of protecting primary and secondary drinking water sources. The villagers were reminded that the messages and practical sessions undertaken through the week contributed to a healthy and comfortable living environment.
Overall, this multi-sectoral training provided a unique opportunity for communities to better understand the relationship between watershed health and human health, and arm them with the knowledge and skills to further both those goals.
This blog was produced by WCS staff Eferemo Kubunavanua and Mereia Ravoka.