Preserving culture, protecting villagers in Fiji

27 Apr 2010

Tai Butani is the only person left in Lomawai village who continues to produce salt from the mangrove ponds, a tradition that has been part of village life for generations.

Lomawai village lies on the Island of Fiji, and is well-known for its salt producing tradition. UNDP Global Environmental Facility Small Grants Programme co-funds a project started in 1999 by the World Wildlife Fund. This project has allowed Tai Butani to conduct workshops and pass on her knowledge to local women.

“I collect the water from the pond in a pan, cook it for 24 hours, and once it evaporates it becomes salt. Once the water dries, you can immediately see the salt,” she explained.

Tai uses natural resources to harvest the salt from the salt ponds in the mangroves. By tasting the water, she is able to tell when the salt is ready to be harvested. She explains that it would not be possible to make salt without the existence of mangroves, because their density keeps the saltwater inside the ponds.

The community conservation project undertaken by UNDP also aims to protect mangroves and build awareness of their importance. Before the project began, villagers in Lomawai were using mangrove trees as fuel and building huts. This led to the loss of 11 hectares of mangroves and 3 hectares of salt ponds in 40 years.

Fiji has the highest incidence of cyclones in the Pacific. Mangroves serve as natural protection and reduce potential damage after natural disasters. They also function as a natural barrier for the shore line and protect the local population from cyclones, flooding, and heavy rain.

Sholto Fanifo, UNDP GEF Program Associate mentions that the Lomawai community’s main source of income is fisheries. “They mentioned that they’ve been losing fish over the years, and they’ve had to go further out to find fish and sell them. So this project is actually providing them a source of livelihood that’s closer to their homes.”

By helping villagers learn how they can produce salt using mangroves, UNDP helps villagers protect their natural resources, and provides village women a much needed, new source of income.

Diana, one of the beneficiaries of the project, is learning how to harvest salt from Tai. She is happy to keep the village traditions alive. “It’s important for me and the women in the village, because we are learning. Because it is a tradition...and we can carry on with it,” she said.

“I have told the villagers that it is important we continue to revive and teach our young ones about the art of cooking salt. That is what we are known for, and my people need to see this natural resource as a means of bringing about development in Lomawai village,” said Tai Butani.