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Laws governing Fiji’s forestry industry are about to change and this is being done to curb illegal logging practices, which have been damaging forests and reducing revenue for resource owners.
Currently, the forestry industry only contributes 0.6 per cent of the GDP, which amounts to less than $40 million (US$20 million).
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Forestry Pene Baleinabuli said the ministry intended to address the legislation changes this year.
He said this was needed to increase the input from the industry and protect resources and resource owners.
“Before the end of the year the legislations need to be addressed. We had a review done in 2016. We will update that and do our rounds of consultations within this month. This will happen between now and July,” Baleinabuli said.
“Through the consultations we want to find out what the Government, through the ministry, can do to help the industry grow and increase our contribution to Fiji’s economy.
Right now, it is very low, 0.6 per cent of the GDP, just below $40m (US$20 million) for the past couple of years.
“Something is not right somewhere. As you have heard, we have the resources, our forest cover is close to 60 per cent,” Baleinabuli said.
“What is happening is that we are not able to capture accurate information on the types and volumes that is being harvested.”
Baleinabuli said legislation was one component of the changes that would happen.
He said the other strategy was to reposition the ministry so the work on the ground could be done.
He said a directive had been issued to staff of the ministry on what the expected outcome was.
Illegal logging does happen and the laws do not offer hefty enough fines or punishment to deter logging companies that encroach onto land they are not supposed to harvest from.
Ministry of Forestry’s Research Officer Sanjana Lal said new legislation would address illegal logging.
She said logging in the native forests had decreased, ensuring a healthy population of native trees.
“Logging has decreased in our native forests, which is the direction we wanted to set in the first place anyway. The reason we extended the plantations is because climate change is a global issue so we are trying to while satisfy the national economic targets,” Lal said.
“We also have made global commitments for climate resilience.
“We are targeting to increase more plantations and we have a plantation policy in the pipeline. Currently, it is in a draft form.
“This will guide us towards planting of more forests. When we say plantation; it does not only mean pine and mahogany.”
There is also a growing concern among many that many of Fiji’s native forest species had been lost.
Lal debunked this theory. She said their research showed otherwise.
“We have not lost any native species. In fact, the top 10 priority native species we had are not endangered and nor are they rare. They are in abundance. And our native forests are able to regenerate,” she said.
“So, when we remove forests, we don’t remove everything. We take trees of a certain diameter. This ensures that the progeny is still there to seed the forests.
“One of our key focus areas is to update our legislations and subsequently the regulations. Some of our forest legislations need to be strengthened. Our legislations were quite old and there were loopholes and that is why loggers were able to get away. The fines were very small.”
Baleinabuli said resource owners were priority for the ministry.
“This has been an issue raised time and time again. The resource owners miss out on revenue that is needed to improve their lives,” he said.
“And then the second group to lose is the Government through the revenue or the taxes that should come. When Government loses out, the whole country loses out.”
The National Budget was announced last week.
The Ministry of Forestry’s annual allocation was reduced by half a million dollars.
“From $17m (US$7.8 million) we have been given $16.5m (US$7.6 million), but what it essentially means for us is that we have to work smarter to deliver all the responsibilities,” Baleinabuli said.
“Nothing will not be delivered. Despite half a million less. This actually compromises of some of the capital projects that are already underway or about to finish.
“We are trying to place more emphasis on research and development. It should focus on establishing relationships with scientific institutions both locally and abroad. We are currently doing our comparative analysis or a global scan in countries around the world that are very advanced in developing their forestry resources.”
Baleinabuli said the ministry’s focus was sustainable forestry development so the resources can be used now and for future generations.... PACNEWS
SOURCE: FIJI SUN/PACNEWS
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