The Sago Network for Asia and the Pacific – SNAP was inaugurated in Bangkok last week. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti was there as one of the inaugural invitees.
NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s work on the Fiji Sago Palm has been recognized by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) and, as a result, was invited to the inauguration of SNAP – the Sago Network for Asia and the Pacific.
The SNAP will be a voluntary partnership of stakeholders promoting research, utilization, conservation and sustainable development of sago palm and its products with an overarching goal of enhancing the contribution of sago palm to food security.
Nineteen specialists from seven countries met in Bangkok for two days to set up the network and draw up its first Work Plan. Dick Watling represented NFMV. One of the priority policy recommendations coming out of the meeting was for national organizations to advocate strongly for the introduction of policies countering the widespread conversion of sago palm wetlands for other purposes, something extremely relevant to Fiji.
The sago palm is best known for the production of sago starch. When grown in a suitable environment with organized farming practices, the sago palm has a yield potential of 10-15 metric tons of dried starch per hectare per year. This starch yield is approximately 3-4 times higher than that of rice or wheat.
Unlike other sago palm species, the Fiji Sago Palm does not have potential for significant starch production but provides a very high quality thatch which is much sought after but its harvesting is being undertaken unsustainably.
The sago palm is extremely hardy and is one of the few tropical crops that can tolerate wet growing conditions, including growth in peat swamps which are unsuitable for most agricultural production. It is tolerant also of floods, drought, fire and strong winds. Its large fibrous root system traps silt loads and removes pollutants, faecal contaminants and heavy metals from the environment where it is grown. Given its relative tolerance to salinity, the sago palm offers protection to low-lying coastal areas from extensive saltwater flooding by storm surges. Sago forests serve as excellent carbon sink for carbon sequestration, thereby mitigating greenhouse effect and global warming arising from the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Sago palms, therefore play an important role in environmental protection toward the conservation of traditional ecosystems and biodiversity. They also contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage in rural communities.
Soga, the Fiji Sago Palm is an endemic and endangered Fijian palm. Currently, isolated populations are mostly confined to the Province of Serua where, in recent years, the harvesting of leaves for thatching has become an important source of income to over 300 rural households. The supply of seko (the heart of palm) is not sustainable since only wild populations are harvested by felling the palm with no new replanting practice. The growing demand has also led to the practice of felling the palm to remove all the leaves as well as the palm heart (Seko). If the current unsustainable rate of harvest continues, Soga will no longer be a source of income for these communities within the next five to ten years. Soga habitats are also threatened by large scale coastal drainage schemes, new residential and agricultural subdivisions. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti has been working with partners including the Environment and Forestry Departments, the National Trust and the Serua Provincial Office in developing the Soga Sustainable Harvesting and Conservation Project which seeks to both conserve soga and sustain a rural industry.
Important achievements to date include:
- Increased awareness and control of harvesting by landowners
- Fiji Sago Palm Recovery Plan agreed by all stakeholders and endorsed by the Department of Environment
- Sustainable Harvesting Guidelines now widely agreed with and adopted
- Sago Palm Restoration Guidelines drafted and being field tested
- Introduction of Peach Palm as alternative to Seko palm heart trade with full support of the Ministry of Agriculture
- Successful restoration of 10ha Culanuku site