II. INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR INTEGRATING ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
C. Institutions dealing with resource management and conservation
The Department of Agriculture is one of the largest government departments in terms of budget allocation and staff. It has an extension presence throughout the country and operates a number of research facilities. The Department of Agriculture also operates the quarantine service that is responsible for safeguarding Fiji from the introduction of exotic plant and animal pests and diseases. It has been quite successful in achieving that objective and Fiji's relative disease-free status has become an important "natural" resource.
The environmental issue which is of most concern in the Department of Agriculture is the loss of agricultural productivity through land degradation. Most of the first class arable land is currently being utilized. Hence all current and future agricultural expansion will be into marginal hill land which is prone to high soil erosion and subsequent soil degradation. If farmers continue to ignore the use of soil conservation methods, the ability of agriculture to provide the nation with basic food requirements will be unsustainable. A Soil Conservation Section was formed in the Department of Agriculture in 1949, with full-time conservation officers. Those officers not only promoted soil conservation practices, but also assisted farmers with the construction of contours and drains. At that time, Fiji was at the vanguard of soil conservation promotion in tropical areas, and pioneered such developments as the use of vetiver grass in contours. In 1953, a Land Conservation and Improvement Ordinance was ratified; the Ordinance made provision for various conservation orders relate to soil conservation practices in agriculture, the prevention of overgrazing, the protection of vegetation cover and the prohibition of land-damaging sledges. The Ordinance also established a Land Conservation Board to promote the wider extension of land conservation practices. The Soil Conservation Unit was responsible for the implementation of the Ordinance and met with some initial success.
With independence in 1970 a Land-Use Section was established within the Department of Agriculture, of which the Soil Conservation Unit became a part. The priority had become to encourage economic development through the expansion of commercial agriculture onto previously unused land and by bringing villagers into commercial agriculture, especially sugar production. Thus emphasis shifted from active erosion control to land-use planning. Staffing and resources allocated to the Soil Conservation Unit were reduced to the point were it existed on paper only. The Land-Use Section became the secretariat for the Land Conservation Board. However, the focus was mostly on the improvement of drainage and not land degradation. In recent years there has been renewed interest in the Land-Use Section becoming involved again in soil conservation. That interest has yet to be matched with the allocation of resources.
The Department of Fisheries is responsible for the development of fisheries within the EEZ and territorial waters. The fisheries sector is not only an important export sector but is also important for its contribution to subsistence and nutrition. The Department of Fisheries is in charge of regulating and controlling fisheries at optimum utilization and the long-term sustainability of marine resources. The environmental issues of concern in the Department of Fisheries are the management of coral reefs, policing regulations on the sale of undersized marine produce, and the prosecution of users of dynamite and poisons for killing fish.
(c) Department of Forests
The forests are a significant source of foreign exchange, rural employment and subsistence. Forestry contributes an estimated 1.5 per cent to GDP in Fiji. The official vision of the Department of Forest is "to develop the forest sector to become the major foreign exchange earner for the country, at the same time complying with environmentally sound and sustainable practices". Its operations have mainly concerned the control of logging operations and the establishment of plantations. Water catchment management and biodiversity protection have unfortunately received little attention. Within the Department of Forest a disproportionate share of resources have been devoted to plantation development at the expense of other areas such as natural forest management, logging control and protected areas. That has created an imbalance in operations. The Department of Forest continues to support the conversion of prime natural forest to monoculture mahogany plantations, even though large non-commercial forest and degraded forest areas are available.
NLTB was established in 1940 to manage the leasing of native land . Acting on behalf of landowners, it oversees leases, the collection and distribution of rent, and the monitoring of land use. NLTB has sweeping powers to ensure sustainable land use by tenants. NLTB leases require the lessee "to farm and manage the land in such a way as to preserve its fertility". A certificate of bad husbandry can be issued, on the basis of which a lease can be terminated. The Director of Agriculture is responsible for issuing certificates of bad husbandry, and only one such certificate has ever been issued. Rent collection has become the primary NLTB objective.
However, NLTB wants to do more on the environmental front. On its own initiative it has begun compiling an Environment Charter which is expected to be a significant policy document. As proposed in the National Environment Strategy, the charter needs to be clearly drawn up and extended to all parts of its estate (soil conservation, forest conservation, pollution etc.). The policy also needs to be transparent and explicit and, above all, implementable. Considerable resources will need to be made available for its implementation and the explanation of its purpose to landowners. It may be advisable to provide financial incentives to encourage the adoption of soil conservation measures. For example, tenants who undertake soil conservation measures would qualify for lower rental rates.
(e) Land Conservation Board
The Land Conservation Board (LCB) was established in 1953 under the Land Conservation and Improvement Act. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is responsible for LCB under ALTA. The Ministry's Land-Use Planning Section serves as the secretariat. LCB was intended to promote the wider extension of land-use conservation practices., but it has proved quite successful as an umbrella entity for local area Drainage Boards. In contrast, it has been quite ineffective in the control of land degradation. LCB still exists after being resurrected following many years of dormancy. However, it remains ineffective because it lacks a budget and full-time secretariat staff.
The responsibility of NLTB towards preserving land fertility is overlapped by the duties of LCB. Since that conflicts with NLTB financial interests in constraining lessees, it has left the responsibility of preserving fertility to LCB. While LCB has the legal power to perform that role, it has not done so. That can be explained by a lack of resources, problems with coordination between ministries, bureaucratic inertia and, most importantly, a lack of political will.
Currently, LCB provides a forum, but plays no effective role in managing land degradation issues. Nor, for that matter, does any other institution. However, it has the potential to be a very important body with regard to addressing the problems of land degradation. It has a 'horizontal structure' within which the key agencies belong (i.e., government departments, such as agriculture, forestry, and land; NLTB; and the Fiji Sugar Corporation). Thus, given the resources and political will, it could effectively coordinate watershed catchment management and land conservation programmes.
Several studies have recommended how the effectiveness of LCB could be improved. Taking some of those recommendations into consideration, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is currently attempting to upgrade LCB, by strengthening the capacity of its secretariat, the Land-Use Planning Section. Such a move is an appropriate step if the Department of Agriculture is to meaningfully address the issues related to land degradation. However, there needs to be a major change in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry policy direction, resource allocation and political will if the problems of land degradation are to be adequately addressed.