Carving a niche for the future
The nawanawa (Cordia subcordata) is a dark-grained Polynesian hardwood used in traditional wood carving. It is also used as medicine and its fruits can be eaten.
Vesi (Intsia bijuga) produces one of the most valuable timbers of South-East Asia. The attractive wood is stronger than teak and extremely resistant to decay. The tree is extremely slow growing, taking 80–90 years to mature.
In Fiji, the vesi has huge cultural significance. It was sacred to ancient Fijians, and used as the main pole in traditional temples and chiefly houses, to build the sacred canoe, and to make the traditional gong used to announce important events. Many native expressions still in use today incorporate the word vesi to demark a person of noble birth or of strong character.
The two species face the possibility of extinction due to unsustainable and poorly planned logging, lack of awareness of their diverse values, failure of recent generations to protect and facilitate their regeneration, and an overemphasis on exotic commercial tree sepcies such as pine and mahogany.
A WWF survey on the island of Kabara, for example, found a high dependence on vesi trees for income generation. Woodcarving was identified as the main or only source of income for more than 95 per cent of households, with vesi being the only tree species used for commercial carving. This demand is leading to an unsustainable level of extraction, with the trees projected to last only 10 or 15 years.
WWF is working on Kabara to develop a community management plan for vesi and facilitate conservation intervention such as replanting, seed banks, and agroforestry. As a first step, WWF is gauging the community's knowledge, interest in, and concern about the vesi and undertaking an assessment of the species through a socio-economic and biological survey. The communities have already expressed their willingness to implement conservation measures that address sustaining the vesi and providing economic gain.
A collaboration between WWF-South Pacific and the Peoples and Plants Initiative is also working to increase local community involvement in the conservation and sustainable use of native plant resources, and vesi and nawanawa in particular.
The collaboration's Fiji Woodcarving Project will help local students undertake a masters degree, as well as help improve the livelihoods of the communities in which the research for the degree took place. The project is currently assessing the woodcarving industry in Fiji, through a literature survey to document the utilization of vesi and nawanawa.
For further information:
Senior Communications Officer, WWF-South Pacific
Tel: + 679 3315 533