A burning question? : fire, livelihoods and sustainability in the Navosa region of the Fiji Islands : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University
The relevance of the sustainable development approach for land conservation in tropical hill regions is often assumed, but is seldom evaluated against local realities. This study analyses the causes of land degradation and unsustainability in the seasonally fire-prone region of Navosa, Viti Levu, Fiji Islands. A complex and multi-layered set of connections exists between livelihood strategies and the environment in this region where fire is used as a tool. Traditional institutions governing land management have been undermined, however, and the sustainability of the vanua (or land-people nexus) is threatened. Despite their reliance on fire, local participants reported uncontrolled burning (caused by a minority of villagers) and deforestation leading to land degradation, lower productivity and damage to fisheries. Degradation was increasing parallel with escalating human and animal populations, despite relatively equitable, resilient and livelihood-enhancing cultural institutions. Non-indigenous models of resource use, imposed by colonial and neocolonial authorities, have exacerbated land degradation and compromised indigenous resource management. Traditional tenure and leadership are impeded, leading to inequities in access to land as populations increase, and leaving local leaders unable to enact conservation. An intrusive market-based economic system encourages increased resource exploitation with little regard for environmental sustainability. A traditional model of agroarboriculture and indigenous development in the form of still-observable (but largely disused) irrigated terraces suggests the relevance of a sustainable alternative based on indigenous knowledge. To achieve sustainable development in Navosa, the emphasis should be on socio-environmental amelioration rather than on economic development (which exacerbates degradation), and to this end, local participants expressed a desire for particular conservation strategies.