We visited remote areas of eastern Fiji over more than a week in April 2017. My research project is looking at how sustainable eco-enterprise initiatives can support community resilience to climate change. The project is a collaboration between Melbourne University, Climates, and Going Green Enterprises Ltd (GGE). GGE are looking to invest in environmentally sustainable initiatives and community climate resilience building projects. They are currently harvesting sea cucumber in Taveuni for export and are interested in exploring the potential of a hatchery on Qamea to replace their wild catch business and rehabilitate reef ecosystems. My research is investigating how developing communities, particularly those vulnerable to climate change, can enhance community resilience and income generating capacity through these local enterprises, and by accessing external finance systems, ranging from climate finance funds (such as the Green Climate Fund), to micro finance (such as peer-to-peer development or crowdfunding). The field trip occurred during the Easter break, involving qualitative research through semi structured interviews, participatory hypothetical exercises, and focus group discussions.
Qamea Island is an hour’s boat ride from the nearest stores on Taveuni. As a result, most food is grown on household farm plots or caught daily from the sea. The small scale solar electricity on the island is primarily used for lighting, with minimal battery storage. The coastline is mostly protected by mangroves; however where the mangroves have been removed to make space for boat anchorage there is substantial coastal erosion. As the land is scoured by the sea, people are going further and deeper to fish to put food on the table, and make an income. The communities of Qamea are used to experiencing tropical cyclones, however an unprecedented landslide in December last year has had a huge impact on the physical and mental resilience of the island communities. One person commented that since the landslide, the town has “paused”; some people haven’t planted new crops this year, while others are focusing solely on repairing the damage. Dreketi lost 5 houses, their school, their government-run medical centre, and extensive areas of farming land. Togo was more fortunate, losing farming land but fewer buildings.
The initial results from the field work showed that there is a very strong sense of community in Qamea. That said, the women’s committee expressed a lack of real influence in the male dominated decision making hierarchy. Many village women described how their boredom between household duties, and were interested in exploring their own business opportunities. The untapped intellectual and labour resources of the women offer significant opportunities for the communities. One interview questions was: “What is your ideal vision of Dreketi, and how can you get there?” The response to that question was surprising, with many people stating that they had never thought that way before. Hearing of past negative experiences with business and property deals highlights the importance of community-led project design and management of future initiatives. The sustainability of future initiatives relies heavily on community ownership of the project.