For most people, seeing is believing and only then, will they go out and follow what is being done.

This is the perception that 62-year-old Dawasamu villager, Maleli Rakula has about life as he takes the lead in replanting 5 hectares of land that he occupies after Tropical Cyclone Winston damaged most of the forest cover at Dawasamu in Tailevu on February 20-21, 2016.

Rakula is a Forest Warden in the district of Dawasamu and his role entails monitoring of harvesting operations.

The former forester who has 37 years of experience after working for the Ministry of Forestry for 14 years and later on for Fiji Pine Trust said his love of nature keeps him connected despite retiring in 2013.

“I started work at the Ministry of Forestry way back in 1976 and I later joined Fiji Pine Trust. I resigned from Fiji Pine Trust in 2013 and since then I moved back to the village,”  Rakula said.

“In 2016 after Tropical Cyclone Winston struck and damaged our homes, our crops and killed our livestock, I felt I needed to help rebuild our district.”

Rakula decided to engage himself in becoming a Forest Warden in order to help redress the lost forest cover that was destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

“Our role as wardens is not easy because from my experience people expect to see positive results first then they will start doing what you expect from them.”

“That is why I have started to replant 5 hectares of my land with 45 coconut trees, 5 breadfruit trees and also with pine trees and native trees such as damanu and dakua salusalu.”

Rakula has another 15 hectares of land to replant and he will get there slowly.

“I am just happy that peoples perspective are changing now after seeing what I am doing,” Mr Rakula said.

“I want to challenge my former colleagues in the Ministry of Forestry to practice what (or as) you preach. If we are to change peoples’ mindset about sustainable forest management and conserving our forests, then it has to start from us first. We have to be planting trees in our own homes before we go out telling the community at large.”

Rakula said the urge to replant or plant more trees has to be a family affair.

“I have always preached the importance of planting trees and conserving our forests to my family. My wife Sisilia and I have a small nursery whereby we sow pine and other seedlings. No man is an island and I cannot redress our forests on my own. I have counted on my family to help me change the mindset of people in my district.

“I have 4 sons and 2 daughters and my youngest son is a fifth former at Dawasamu Secondary School. I have another son who has somehow followed my footsteps after attending a workshop on chainsaw operators at the Forestry Training Centre at Colo-i-Suva in April this year.

“From the certificate my son attained after that workshop, he is now working with a forest-based company in New Zealand.”

With the forestry sector contributing about $40 million to Fiji’s economy annually, 28 Forest Wardens from around the country were reminded of the crucial role they play in helping Fiji to sustainably manage its forest resources in February this year.

In February this year, Ministry of Forestry’s Permanent Secretary  Pene Baleinabuli acknowledged the willingness of the forest wardens to be the eyes and ears of the Fijian Government in their respective provinces.

He stated the wardens will help the Ministry improve its monitoring of harvesting operations and especially to ensure the Ministry is able to capture the accurate value that Fiji’s forestry sector contributes to the nation’s economic growth.

Baleinabuli said the wardens could help the Ministry of Forestry staff in encouraging landowners to plant more trees.

“You all play a vital role in helping our beloved nation to sustainably manage our forest resources, so that we could continue to champion climate change by protecting our natural environment and eco-systems and at the same time, where necessary, to wisely harvest out forests for socio-economic development.”

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