Vegetation fire and cultural landscapes in Fiji

March 8, 2014

There are three main types of fire in Fiji.  Sugar cane farmers burn their fields to facilitate hand harvesting.  Village farmers clear forest plots, fallow fields, and secondary vegetation for diverse crops using fire.  And finally, the fires that cover the most ground are those set in the grasslands of the drier, lee-side of the islands.  And of course there are occasionally fires that cause trouble – late last year I saw a major fire burning through the pine plantations in southeastern Viti Levu.

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Recognising community rights in ‘political forests’

August 31, 2013

Indonesia‘s courts recently recognised community forests (or customary ‘adat‘ forests) as distinct from state forests (i.e., government land). This is a landmark decision, as shown in an excellent analysis by Elizabeth Kahurani [1].  It overturns a presumption that the state is first and foremost the guardian and manager of forests, and vests more rights in local communities.  In the context of south-east Asia, where states have a poor history of protecting forests (especially in ways that respect local indigenous people), this is an important victory. In contrast, here in Fiji and in much of the rest of the Pacific, the situation is quite different:  most land (and hence forest) is ‘native land’ and belongs to traditional village structures.  Revenue from logging goes to the iTaukei land board and the villages (the forest service just overseas licences), also two state owned companies grow pine and mahogany on leased native and crown land [2]. In Madagascar, the situation is different again.  The presumption of unoccupied land (hence, forests) as state domain comes first, and most significant areas of forestland have been demarcated as parks, reserves, or classified forests.  Since the mid-1990s, neighbouring communities may gain use and management rights to some forest areas, but the forest is still fundamentally the state’s [3]. Rural social movements are much weaker than in Indonesia, and the conservation lobby (which usually tends to favour state control) is stronger, in relative terms.

Indonesia’s decision can be read through the Nancy Peluso and Peter Vandergeest’s ideas about “political forests”.  Their article in Journal of Asian Studies [4] traces the history of the idea of state forests, and how it was constituted dialectically with customary rights: Read the rest of this entry »


Children’s geographies: “which island are you from?”

October 29, 2012

world view of Pacific child

8 year old son’s visual depiction of the world view of his 5 year old brother

How do children perceive their place in the geography of the globe? Probably my earliest memory of some place outside my immediate region is of a place called Arabia that I imagined as an “island” somewhere “down there”. I can still see it like that in my head. I think it must have come from adults around me – in Switzerland – talking about the 1974 oil crisis and my misinterpreting the French word for peninsula, presqu’île (literally ‘almost-island’). Later I learned that geographers and psychologists have made considerable advances in studying the differentiated perspectives and experiences of place by children, Cindi Katz being the name I know the best. But my eight-year old son has been at it too: here is his spontaneous analysis of the “world view” of his 5 year old brother, showing places made familiar through family links. Towns, cities, and continents are all separate islands. Living in the Pacific has clearly influenced the little one’s insular world view, with him asking fantastic questions like “which island is Paris?”…


Acacia farnesiana in Australia and Fiji

March 25, 2011

One of the key questions of our current research project is how, when, and why the ‘mimosa bush’ or ‘cassie’ tree got to Australia.  Acacia farnesiana, also known as Vachellia farnesiana (if you agree with the splitting of the acacia genus) is presumed by many botanists to be native to a broad swath of the Americas, from Bolivia north to Texas.  Yet it exists all around the tropical and subtropical world.  The first British explorers of interior Australia found it growing all over the interior northern part of the continent.  How did it get there, then?  How long has it been there?  The answer matters, because environmental managers these days want to know if a plant is ‘native’ or ‘alien’, as this has repercussions (for better or worse) on how they approach it.

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