Modeling land use sustainability in Fiji Islands

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2017

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A synthesis on land use changes and agroforestry in Fiji Islands

Alternatives on GIS&RS for forestry applications in the Pacific Islands

Socioeconomic drivers of shifting cultivation in Fiji Islands: a geographical

Land suitability for the plantation of important tree species in Vitilevu Island, Fiji



Fiji islands are among the most dynamic economies in the South Pacific, with rapid changes on infrastructure and industrial developments, tourism and commercial agriculture; even though they often come alongside environmental impacts on endemic biota and ecosystems that are not well understood, not much is invested on research to plan a sustainable use of land. Parallel unsolved concerns are land tenure issues in which ancestral community ownership coexists with modern markets; tensions over land leases between ethnical groups and high population growth trigger land use intensification, and rise of emigrations, of landlessness, of unemployment and finally of poverty. Therefore, it is of a national interest to asses these trends for long term sustainable land use planning; even nearly 3500 years ago a record of regulations aimed to achieve sustainability and equality: [3] … for six years you may plant crops in your fields, prune your vineyards, and gather what they produce. [4] But during the seventh year, you must let the land rest. [8] Count seven of these years seven times for a total of 49 years... during that time there will be seven ·years of rest [9] and proclaim liberty to everyone living in the land... everyone is to return to their own property (Leviticus 25).

In this document, the first chapter is a synopsis of land use in the rural areas of Fiji islands, its evolution, types, problems and alternatives, the second chapter is a review of some common free gis packages available in the internet useful for forestry and land use evaluations, their number and degrees of sophistication are ever growing; the last two chapters are applications, first on detecting the severity of land use intensity in relation to other socioeconomic parameters, and second on the planning of the best places for planting trees of economic or ecological importance. The articles were presented at international conferences, they are in no way a comprehensive treatise on the subject; my main purpose is to ignite the interest of students and staff working in the forestry field to try on and propose projects of various types, scales and complexity, with just a standard PC and access to internet and library resources. Thank you very much,

David Lopez Cornelio

A synthesis on land use changes and agroforestry in Fiji Islands


Agricultural development has a long history in Fiji Islands, since colonial times it evolved around sugarcane plantations; currently it is diverse, expanding and intensifying according to market demands and opportunities; with collateral environmental impacts such as soil erosion on hilly regions, unchecked agrochemicals usage and soil and water pollution. Agroforestry provides one of the best alternatives to increase yields on hilly terrain, diversify land production, maintain ecological systems and sustain other rural industries; however, its broad practice is still limited in the islands. Strategic long term planning and well implemented and integrated programs that combines traditional and new technologies are therefore necessary.

1.0 Introduction

Agroforestry is defined as the deliberate incorporation of trees into, or protection of trees within, an agro ecosystem in order to ensure its short and long term productivity, cultural utility, and ecological stability (Thaman and Clarke 1990). Agroforestry systems incorporate new economic opportunities with different benefits, markets, and production risks than commodity farming (Gold et al. 2004), serving as a model for integrative land use management systems currently being developed in response to global concerns. The prospects for regular availability of tree products can also reduce farmers’ risk in the event of crop failures. Forty years ago they started to be promoted by western aid organizations working on marginal lands, a decade later low intensity indigenous cultivation systems were adopted and new criteria were identified for successful land use management strategies after decades of environmental damage (Turner 1980). Today, sustainability, stability and equality are as important as efficiency on agricultural production and yield optimization of timber different products and uses (Garret and McGraw 2000). Future concerns focus on fossil fuels substitution. The article discusses the historical, geographical and socioeconomic background of Fiji Islands to recommend directions on research and development of agroforestry systems.

2.0 Geography and land use evolution

Almost 70% of the land area of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu islands (87% of total Fiji Islands area) is steep mountainous terrain (Ushman 1984) (Figure 1). Viti Levu covers over half the total land area of the islands and is home to roughly three quarters of the population. Both islands are steep and volcanic with a rainy, tropical climate; the wet areas being in the south, the east and center are covered with dense vegetation and forest, while the drier west is savannah grassland. Mangrove forests dominate the coasts. Only 16% of the land is used for arable farming in valleys, river deltas and coastal plains. Patterns of crop planting are determined by variations in rainfall. Mean monthly temperature ranges from 23⁰C in July and August to 27°C in January. The humid southeastern shorelines of the big islands get 3,000 to 5,000mm per year (FMS 2015).

The islands have formed from volcanic materials and sedimentary rocks, deposited towards the eastern margin of an ancient massive oceanic plate or platform. Extensive volcanic eruptions in Rotuma, Koro, and Taveuni islands raised limestone reef and alluvial terraces (Leslie 1997).

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Figure 1. Slope and LUC classes. Source: Twyford and Wright (1965).

Nine of the eleven soil orders are represented in Fiji Islands (Leslie 1997); they are histosols (saturated or peaty soils), andisols (young, from volcanic parent materials), oxisols (oxides or Fe and Al, strongly weathered), vertisols (clayey soils), ultisols (strong weathered with an argillic horizon), mollisols (dark coloured surface horizon, high in organic matter and bases), alfisols (weak to moderately leached with an argillic horizon, low organic matter in the topsoil), inceptisols (weakly altered from parent material by leaching and weathering), and entisols (very young soils with little development of soil horizons). Coastal soils are young and sandy, developed soils are on flat and stable remnants of old plains and terraces. Soils from non-acidic rocks have deep red mottled profiles and iron oxide concretions in the upper horizons. Profiles from acid rocks are high in wet areas, tend to be yellow, mottled red, clayey and not well drained. Crops are exposed to nutrient deficiencies, coarse textured shallow soils in low atolls have low capacity to retain water or nutrients and the availability of trace elements is also low due to soil alkalinity. Potassium (K) deficiency is widespread in the islands, others reported are on nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), sodium (Na), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo) and cobalt (Co) (Asghar et al. 1986).

Class I soils covers only 355,902ha (19.4%), 22% in Viti Levu and 15% in Vanua Levu; they are first class soils suitable for cocoa, mango, dalo and sugar cane without modification. Class II soils comprehend 193,277ha (10.5% of Fiji total area), of which 8% are in Viti Levu, 13%, in Vanua Levu and 43% in Taveuni, they require minor soil conservation works. Class III soils group 587,002 ha, 42% in Vanua Levu and 29% in Viti Levu (figure 2). The largest class (IV) comprises 702,391ha (38.25% of Fiji), considered unsuitable for agriculture (Leslie and Ratukalou 2002).

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Figure 2. Major land utilization classes (%). Source: Twyford and Wright (1965).

First occupants arriving from Australia and New Guinea domesticated sago, Colocasia taro, Canarium nut, a kind of banana, Saccharum edule (duruka), kava, Pandanus, Burckella and Pometia, including the management of coconut, 2-3 species of pandanus, Inocarpus fagifer (tahitian chesnut), Canarium indicum, Spondias dulcis, Pometia, Pangium, Terminalia, Burckella, Calophyllum, and hardwood trees for handicrafts around 4000 years ago (Clarke 1993 and Kirch 1984). As cultivation of sago moved from New Guinea to the Solomons and Vanuatu, Metroxylon sagu shifted to M. salomonense, and the epidemic M. vitiense in western Polynesia and Micronesia emerged. Common wild vegetation is a mixture of introduced mission grass (Pennisetum polystachyon), wire grass (Sporobolus spp.), and thickets of guava scrub (Psidium guajava), with remnant trees of ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia) and vadra or screw-pine (Pandanus tectorius). Typical trees in the range 150-365masl include baka (Ficus oblique), vau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), koka (Bischofia javanica), ivi (Inocarpus edulis), vesi (Intsia bijuga) and vaivai (Serianthes vitiensis) (Kuhlen 1994). The traditional multiple uses of Cocos nucifera (Coconut palm), Hibiscus tiliaceus (Beach hibiscus) and Mangifera indica (Mango) and a comprehensive list of useful trees according to main characteristics and tolerances, origin, main products and main uses were described in detail by Thaman et al (2010). After the first settlements were well-established, there was a period of indigenous agroforestry enrichment and deforestation that lasted tens of thousands of years in Papua New Guinea, and 800-3000 years for most of the islands of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia (Thaman et al, 2010). In the early 1800s most of the land area was under forest (Leslie and Ratukalou 2002). Large fires were reported in the 19th century, burning for as long as a week. Ecosystems were modified by tillage, mounding, permanent clearance of forest, control of fallow cover, drainage, irrigation, ponding, exclusion of livestock, weeding, prevention of erosion, and deliberate fertilization. Currently a complex mosaic comprising fern lands, open grassland, reed grass and largely man-induced savannah revert to forest cover in a slow and steady succession process if the land is under fallow. Fire-maintained fern-grass savannas are common on infertile, eroded, or truncated red soils (talasiga) with few casuarina and pandanus trees. The talasiga grasslands are considered by most to be artificially induced by slash and burn practices, however Nunn (2003) points to nature-induced fires and the temperatures and sea levels rise during 750CE–AD1300, increasing aridity, decreasing food supply by 80% and leading to the formation of larger human settlements. The construction of Ring-Ditch fortifications of at least 350m diameter demanded 11,000man days of labour, the movement of over a million cubic feet of soil, and the use of 6000 posts, 11000 lenghts of bamboo, and 6000 plantains to place between the posts (Parry 1977). Intensive, highly productive and sustainable systems developed in pre-colonial times provided techniques and basic principles for farming difficult environments (Denevan 2001). Yams, more consumed in the past, were planted on terraces facing the tradewind, enforced with bamboo shoots to retard soil erosion (Twyford and Wright 1965). Traces of them are dispersed in 39 localities in the Sigatoka valley (Parry 1987) with sizes of 0.5-50ha range, and of 4-10m range width. Aerial photos verify the once intricate hydrological system of nineteen century terraced gardens in the Rewa and Navua deltas, now largely abandoned. In the Nakauvadra valley, streamside elevated terraced gardens are stone-faced, some walls are of over two meters in height and over a meter of fill beneath the garden soil (Kulhken 1994). Before colonization land supplied all family needs, although the gardens were of larger size than today, the actual cultivated areas were limited by the tools available, and the administrative units were also smaller than today.

3.0 Land tenure and agricultural development

A large quantity and variety of traditional food crops grown in Fiji (figure 3) are a “hidden strength” in the economy (ADB 1996). The Pacific islands in general have some of the highest rates of nutritional disorders and nutrition-related non communicable diseases in the world (Thaman et al, 2010). Farmed areas are larger in Western and Northern regions, these two regions also hold the largest remaining areas of native forests and tree plantations (figure 4). The agricultural industry had a growth of 3.4% in 2013 driven by increases in sugarcane, yaqona, taro, and coconut production. Sugarcane output increase of 25.8% was due to improved supply and milling efficiency (Reserve Bank of Fiji 2015); it recovered from a decline by 26.2% in 2012 year (Reserve Bank of Fiji 2013). Sugar is mainly grown in the drier north eastern side of the islands by around 22,500 farmers, each cultivating 4-5ha on average producing up to 400,000 tons per year (Reddy 2003). The state Fiji Sugar Corporation manages the sugar industry making contracts with growers and processing sugar cane at four mills.

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Figure 3. Volume of agricultural exports (tons). Source: MAPI (2007). Root crops (not included in graphic) comprised a total of 11,929 tons.

Since the mid-1990s squatter settlements in Fiji expanded rapidly largely due to a halt on agricultural land leases (Thorton 2009), a problem that may fuel deforestation since one of the most visible ways to fix ownership in developing countries is by land clearing, even if the opened space is not used productively (Smith et al 1995). Eighty four percent of the land is hold under customary ownership, 38% of it is leased, only 85 of the total land area is of freehold and 3.8% belongs to the State (Walsh 2006). Customary tenure that provided in the past for elements of taxation as contribution in labor, food or service to the community, is now ineffective due to the patterns of inheritance, the increasing distances to the farms (Crocombe 2001), and its inability to provide permanent use rights to farms larger than 3ha (IBRD 1965) which constitute 40% of the total farms in Fiji Islands. A second factor is related to sugar cane production decline by 42% once the land reverted to Fijian ownership, with consequent delays on planting and poor cultivation practices (Prasad 1984). However, most native Fijians do not have real access to land (Crocombe 2001). Although the predominant view is that long term leases encourage the buildup of permanent structures and planting of perennial crops (Ushman 1984), some argue that they are not necessarily essential for first-best investment incentives, and that rental markets are hardly ever pro-poor (Ciamarra 2004). The common view is that future strategies will have to enhance production in accordance to the land capability and assist on downstream production and marketing (Leslie and Rokatuvalou 2002).

Most Fijian rural households include a wage earner, they produce both food and cash crops, many earn additional income from fishing. Wet areas produce coconuts, ginger, cassava, taro, kava, bananas and breadfruit; areas with intermediate rainfall produce vegetables, cocoa, passion-fruit and maize, and in minor scale sorghum, tobacco, sweet and Irish potatoes and turmeric. Dry areas produce upland and irrigated rice, mung beans, pigeon peas, yams, citrus fruit, pineapples and mangoes. Over 40,000 households rely mainly on coconut sales (copra) (Thaman et al. 1993). Breadfruit tree is used for making canoes, bamboo for fishing poles, housing and rafts; other native trees with high demand for woodworking and handicrafts industry are vesi (Intsia bijuga), nawanawa (Cordia subcordata), and mulomulo (Thespesia populnea). The plantation sector groups twenty five coconut estates, often with beef cattle and dairy farms with over 50 cows. The government has several large farms for livestock research and breeding stock distribution (Leslie and Ratukalou 2002). Other common livestock are poultry, goats, and pigs.

Sixty nine per cent of the population resides on Viti Levu island while 20% and 10% in Vanua Levu and Taveuni islands respectively. Ethnic Fijians reside in nuclear villages, the households are normally economically inter-dependent (Chandra 1983). The fijian word for land (vanua) includes the people attached to it. Indo-Fijians households by contrast show no economic inter-dependence. Farm size varies as follows: 2.81ha at Western, 2.54ha at Central, 11.29ha at Northern and 3.09ha at Eastern Districts (Macfarlane 2008). Smallholder systems, in some cases with several households per farm, can be of subsistence, semi-commercial or highly commercial. A source of inequality in farm size is the demographic differentiation, as households appear, grow and mature, the changes in land holdings reflect the fluctuations in the demand for land associated with each stage, resulting in a successive subdivision of land (Chayanov 1966).

The country implemented a framework for evaluating sustainable land management (FESLM) and a decision support system (DSS) to assist on organizing land use in accordance to its real capability at farm, village, watershed, and regional scales by integrating socioeconomic and biophysical data with indigenous knowledge (Rais et al. 1997). FESLM aims to enhance production, reduce the level of production risk, protect the natural resources, be economically viable, and socially acceptable (FAO 1993). Its performance is monitored by checking crop yields, nutrients balance, forest regeneration capacity, soil cover maintenance, soil and water quality and quantity, net farm profitability, and participation.

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Figure 4. Main types of land use per division in Fiji Islands. MAFFA (1992).

4.0 Agroforestry systems: current situation and future

Contour hedgerow is the principal agroforestry method of soil conservation with annual crops to reduce run-off, increase infiltration and reduce soil loss through the effect of the barrier, maintain soil organic matter through leaves and root residues, and lead to a progressive development of terraces by accumulation of soil upslope of hedgerows and stabilization of rivers by stems and roots (Young 1997). Trees or perennial crops are planted as a barrier along the contours of a slope, and agricultural crops are planted between them (McDonald et al. 1997). Major interactions in hedgerow intercropping that affect crop yields are related to soil fertility, competition, weed control, and soil conservation particularly on sloping lands. Hedgerow intercropping might increase the yield of the closest crop rows on the sheltered side (Huxley et al. 1994) and in short periods of time (Banda et al. 1994), control soil erosion (Kiepe and Rao 1994), and reduce soil evaporation when pruning are applied as mulch (Tian et al. 1993).

Depending on the specie, trees improve soil fertility and modify the microclimate under their canopy. The magnitude of change depends on canopy and root characteristics, age, size and trees density. Boundary plantings generally reduce crop yields but the effect extends over a relatively small area. The productivity of an agroforestry system depends on: (1) the complementary of resource use by the components, (2) the efficiency of nutrients cycling, and (3) the net value of harvested tree products relative to the net value of crop products (Rao et al. 1998). Tree desirable characteristics include a supply of viable seed, fast growth, nitrogen fixation and copious biomass production for use as mulch, fodder, and fuel wood. Selected shrubs and tree should: i) be adapted to the local soil and climate conditions, ii) have low demand for nutrients and be nitrogen fixing, iii) contribute to soil conservation and biodiversity, iv) be culturally accepted by farmers and v) provide economic products. For this, some areas that need research are the study of litter fall and associated processes, net primary productivity, carbon sequestration, microbial competition, root competition, albedo-reflectance changes at the landscape level, silvopastoral systems, economics, pharmaceutical products and conservation biology (Gordon et al. 1997).

In the mid-1970s the Native Land Trust Board identified land growing cane as “arable”, irrespective of local slopes (Leslie and Rotukalou 2002). The land use section of the Ministry of Agriculture developed a farming model for steep slopes in which three hedgerows (kava, pigeon pea, pineapple, vetiver grass) are placed 20m apart. Vetiver grass hedges are more effective on controlling soil erosion than pineapple barriers or traditional farming (figure 5). The grass is also traditionally used in thatch making and handicrafts but hedgerows established in sugar cane farms 40-50 years ago were removed to prevent its uncontrolled propagation (Craswell et al. 1998). Areas growing sugar and ginger at slopes over 8⁰ are prone to high soil erosion, the same with broad burnt areas of cane trash, native forests and pine plantations (Galletly and Swartz 1974). Sustainably or not, the forestry sector based on pine and mahogany production increased by 10.9% (FBoS 2014).

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Figure 5. Soil erosion rates at Waibau plots, Fiji with a slope range of 24-29⁰. All treatments were cropped with cassava. Source: IBSRAM (1996) and Ratukalou (1998).

Alternatives to tree hedgerows are rows of pit pit (Saccharum edule), valangur (Polyscias grandiflora), gaga (Heliconia bihai) and banana (Craswell et al. 1998). The benefits of the hedgerow treatments at early stages after establishment do not outweigh the costs to the farmer, unless the specie planted on the contour is a cash crop such as pineapple (Pratap et al. 1 996). The sloping agriculture land technology (SALT) is a form of alley farming in which annual and perennial crops are grown in bands 4-5m wide between rows of legume trees and shrubs. In a line planting system, trees are planted in lines at 10x1m or 15x1m spacing at east-west direction to maximize sunlight intake, with interplanted crops between lines.

Silvopastoril systems are intensively managed production systems. Their commercial viability is influenced by land ownership patterns, soil conditions, climatic factors, proximity to timber and livestock markets, and transportation infrastructure (Sharrow et al. 1996). They may outperform pastures and forests as carbon sinks. Sharrow and Fletcher (1994) found that Douglas Fir trees associated with pastures in Western Oregon accumulated approximately 740 kg ha-[1]yr-[1] more carbon than forest, and 520 ha-[1]yr-[1] more than pastures during the 11 years after planting. Increased tree growth of 5 to 10% can be achieved when proper timing, intensity, duration, and class and type of livestock are applied to young conifer forests where palatable understory grasses or shrubs are competing with trees (Sharrow et al. 1996). Plants that can be shaped into hedges are cassava, gliricidia and Erythrina tree species). Live stakes are also used to support climbing plants such as black pepper, betel, vanilla and yams (Verheij and Waaijenberg 2008). Economic risks decrease because livestock and forest components require different inputs, share few common diseases and pests, and sell into different markets; in addition, trees can have a climate-stabilizing effect on livestock, resulting in less energy consumption and lower mortality.

Recent tree introductions with increased importance in Pacific islands agroforestry systems are Albizzia sp., Cassia sp., Gliricidia sepium, a range of eucalyptus or gum trees, caribean pine (Pinus caribaea), big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and jambolan (Syzygium cumini) (Thaman 1994). Leaves and pods from Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia maculata, Erythrina species (drala) and Calliandra calothyrsus contain high amounts of crude protein, ideal as animal feed in dry seasons (Singh 2001). When intercropped with coconut palms, they control weeds, improve soil structure and copra yields. Fodder is obtained by cutting at 50-150cm height every two months, and fuelwood by pruning every 3-4 months (Rosa 1993). Casuarina equisetifolia, australian kauri (Agathis robusta) or mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) are planted in a few rows along the perimeter or along the roadside border of the allotment, or sometimes as a small woodlot on part of the allotment (Thaman et al. 2010). Kellas et al (1995) recorded higher pasture production at 10.5m and 18m distance from the tree line than in open pasture systems, although production tended to decrease when tree density increases. Mahogany (Swietenia mahogani L .) is large, fast growing timber specie that does not fully utilize solar energy and soils at early stages of the life cycle. Datta and Dey (2009) successfully transplanted five weeks old chilli seedlings into four years mahogany plantation at 5x3.5m spacing. In Labasa turmeric is intercropped with cocoa plants, and tissue cultured bananas and sweet potatoes with Mahogany, Vesi, and Dakua trees at the farm borders (, and turmeric is with cocoa plants. Santalum yasi , a semiparasitic oil producing shrub with high demand, was observed with 16 host trees in Viti Levu farms (Goswami and Singh 2014). Widely studied but hardly associated with crop farms in Fiji, coniferous trees are of easy site adaptability and rapid response to intensive management, their conical crowns allow more light to reach the forest floor and are less likely to be browsed by livestock (Sharrow and Fletcher 1994).

5.0 Discussion and conclusions

Fiji Islands are undergoing increasing pressure to increase cropping areas and shorten fallow periods between crops, resulting on severe cases of soil erosion and nutrients deficiencies. The slow conversion of mono cropping into agroforestry systems brings economic and ecological benefits in the medium and long term; however most farmers are still driven by short term decision making due to land tenancy insecurity and misinformation on sustainable land use practices. It corresponds to the government to establish policies that specify a minimum number of trees per hectare that should be planted by the tenant, and to provide simple technical guidelines for intercropping with different crops. These guidelines can be based on latest tested trials and on ancient traditional practices widespread in the South Pacific, incorporating both fijian and indo-fijian interests and culture in the market. Agroforestry systems provide ways to manage scarce natural resources that balances environmental stewardship, financial feasibility and social responsibility. Although the islands have great potential to develop them enhancing agricultural yields, controlling soil losses, and mitigating climate change effects; basic research on their socioeconomic impacts, species ecology, symbiotic and allelopathic relationships, appropriate low cost down streaming techniques and marketing are needed. Unsolved land tenure issues discourage long term investments on land development; however, planting delays and/or overextended fallows ultimately restitutes soil fertility. The re-establishment and intensification of appropriate time-tested systems of tubers (or others) cultivation like irrigated terraces, and forest taro production are recommended in hilly areas. Ambitious agricultural plans like the ones described in the national 2020 agriculture sector policy agenda need to stress the importance of research and extension, the opening of new markets for organic products, prices stability, and transparent land rights that will prevent both land misuse and overuse, and encourage long term investments. Future land reformation plans will have to be implemented step by step according to local conditions, facilitate productivity, overcome the legacy of colonial tenures, and reestablish a more effective organizational structure within groups of joint landholders.


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Modeling land use sustainability in Fiji Islands
Fiji National University  (College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Fiji National University)
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David Lopez Cornelio (Author), 2017, Modeling land use sustainability in Fiji Islands, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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