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3.04: Fiji

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    Abstract: Fiji is a nation of tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean. With its beautiful beaches and lush biodiverse rainforests, it is very little wonder why Fiji is a vacation destination almost everyone has heard of. However, Fiji is much more beyond a beautiful travel destination, it is also a developing nation which faces a very real, and potentially devastating, threat brought about by climate change. Fiji is made up of islands with almost 90% of the population residing on the coast, thus, most of their infrastructure and population is susceptible to sea level rise. This has already started to effect specific communities, in early 2014 residents of Vunidogoloa village were forced to relocate due to increasing effects of climate change. Rising sea level was not the only factor in this relocation effort, as impacts of climate change in this region also include increased storm strength, increased likelihood of flooding, and decreased precipitation. Furthermore, the food system of Fiji is especially vulnerable as it is heavily reliant on importation of low-quality high calorie food, and the agriculture is shifting increasingly towards European style cash crop monoculture and away from traditional knowledge systems. Thereby increasing the vulnerability of crops due to extreme weather events and disease while also lowering the quality and nutritional value of the Fijian diet. In addition, the main industry of Fiji, tourism, faces a dire future plagued by a decrease in travel to small island states due to more extreme weather in these areas and numerous other factors. Fiji is facing the dire impacts of climate change, and it will only get worse, unless something is done to remedy the situation soon.

    Fiji Case Study

    Fiji is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, consisting of 332 mountainous volcanic islands, approximately 110 of which are inhabited (see Appendix Fig 1 at end of chapter; Central Intelligence Agency, 2020). Fiji’s overall climate is tropical marine, which means that it is quite humid and there is only a small amount of temperature variation between the coldest and warmest months (Kumar, et. al. 2013). The ecosystems present on the islands of Fiji are extremely biodiverse, consisting mainly of rainforests, freshwater swamps, mangrove swamps, and beach vegetation (Ash, 1992). All of the ecology of Fiji has traditionally played an important role in food security of Fiji as they acted as sort of a backup food source in case of drought or flood (Shah et. al., 2018). Ecologic diversity of Fiji is also a large draw for tourism, the largest industry of Fiji. However, these ecosystems have come under pressure in recent years, both from humans and natural events like tropical storms. One of the major threats to the rainforests is agriculture, as Fiji has moved away from traditional agriculture to a more European system, more and more rainforests are being cleared to make way for agricultural crops (Ash, 1992). Logging is another threat to the rainforests of Fiji; in fact, when Ash wrote his paper in 1992, it was estimated that all “production” forest would be logged by 2020, which would leave approximately 2,700 sq km of unlogged forest on the islands of Fiji. However, this estimate proved to be dramatic, a 2011 estimate of the forest cover on Fiji was that around 55.7% of Fiji’s land was forested (Central Intelligence Agency, 2020), nowhere near the figure that would be expected if rates of deforestation Ash based his estimate on held true; however, logging still poses a major threat to Fiji’s rainforests. An additional effect of logging and forest clearing for agriculture is the decrease in biodiversity on the islands, because as the forest is cleared, the naturally diverse forest is often replaced with only one or two varieties of plants (Ash, 1992). The biodiversity of Fiji is important for a multitude of reasons, and thus important to conserve. The best strategy for conservation of the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Fijian landscape is effective forest management, ensuring that the biodiversity is preserved, namely by maintaining a high proportion of long-lived trees, as well as obtaining the necessary resources for continued success (Ash, 1992).

    Figure 1. A picture of Vunidogoloa village after being relocated. Shown in the picture are houses built on stilts in order to reduce flood damage to the home. “The new village relocation site of Vunidogoloa“, Piggott-McKellar et al., (2019), CC BY-ND 4.0

    As global sea levels continue to rise, island countries such as Fiji are disproportionately affected. In early 2014, residents of Vunidogoloa village were forced to relocate due to increasing effects of climate change. Rising sea level was not the only factor in this relocation effort, as impacts of climate change in this region also include increased storm strength, increased likelihood of flooding, and decreased precipitation. Even though the houses in Vunidogoloa village were built on stilts to prevent flooding, as shown in Figure 1, floodwaters have become so high that these houses are being flooded anyway (McNarma, 2015). The Fiji government is planning similar relocation efforts and uses a process of identifying at risk communities and planning relocation logistics for them when these communities eventually need to move. A flaw in this process although is that many of the guidelines put in place for these planning procedures were a rushed response to climate change effects and could have negative impacts on the communities they are attempting to relocate. This could include not having the proper infrastructure to support such a heavy influx of residents to communities deemed safer. There will need to be massive amounts of funding from the government to bring the power grids, water supplies, housing requirements, etc. up to standard able to support the new residents. They will require things such as food resources to be imported before the new demand at local farms is met. This will lead to a decline in their economies, as these communities will drive the government into further debt and people will become poorer. These changes also harm the well-being of people in this communities. The place they are being forced out of is their home and contributes to their identity. A study conducted in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, from 2009 confirmed that the land people there are living on holds deep cultural and sentimental value to them. The majority of residents there, when asked if they would leave, said no, citing “reasons of lifestyle, culture, and identity” (McNarma, 2015). These concerns should be considered when making plans on whether or not communities should be moved, and where to move them.

    As an island nation, obtaining sufficient resources to maintain a growing population can be difficult. At this moment Fiji generates enough electricity to support its population; however, Fiji is barley generating sufficient energy and does not have additional energy to export. Thus in the future they may need to start importing energy, which could be made more expensive due to climate change—due to climate change potentially making energy more expensive to produce and transport, and more expensive to import (Central Intelligence Agency, 2020). Fiji relies heavily on rainfall for water to irrigate crops and provide water to people since much of their ground water is at least mildly salinized (Shah et. al., 2018). In addition to this, when analyzing Fiji’s population and land area it can be determined that Fiji must rely on outside countries for some resources including food and water. Their agricultural density is around 570 people per square kilometer of arable land (Central Intelligence Agency, 2020). This number is almost five times larger than that of the US, which means that in Fiji five people rely on the same amount of agricultural land as one in the United States, indicating that Fiji must import resources to feed its population. Just as Fiji imports water, massive amounts of food are imported and exported each year (Shah et. al., 2018). The food that is imported as part of the Fijian diet is often lower-quality and nutritionally inferior food and makes up approximately 58% of Fijian caloric intake (Shah et. al., 2018). This system is both extremely vulnerable to climate change and a major driver of the high obesity rates in Fiji (Shah et. al., 2018).

    With an agricultural system so reliant on precipitation, droughts have a huge effect on their agricultural economy. Recently, Fiji has been experiencing decreases in precipitation, leading to a decline in already limited freshwater reserves located on the islands. These droughts have many far-reaching effects, the most important of which are decreases in agricultural productivity, livestock, and livelihood. Fiji naturally has a wet period from December to April and a dry period from May to October, although these critical seasonal changes are becoming less predictable, and a recent El Niño period from 2015-2017 exacerbated the dryness. In addition to this, Fiji experienced an unseasonal drought from October 2015 to February 2016 (Pearce, 2018). This is problematic as it doesn’t give freshwater resources located on the islands the replenishment they need from rainwater. This leads to anxiety and stress among locals who are trying to care for their families by securing basic needs such as food and water. Prior to 2012, Vusama was completely dependent on rainfall for livestock and agriculture, with family groups maintaining 11 wells. All but one of the village’s 11 wells ran dry by 2016, and the village now relies on water imported through a borehole that fills 10,000 L tanks that are then used to pipe water to individual houses (Pearce, 2018). The reason these wells ran dry is believed by locals to be caused by decreased rainfall, and a lack of maintenance of the wells after the borehole was introduced in 2012. This has negative implications for the villages water resources because the borehole alone is not enough to satisfy the villages water demands. These negative impacts could include water rationing, restricting water to only be used at certain times, and other regulations put out by the government. This will significantly change the way of life there and the economy there will suffer due to decreased water.

    But how does a nation with about 23.3% of its land dedicated to agriculture have a food system so vulnerable to climate change (Central Intelligence Agency, 2020)? One major contributor is the type of agriculture practiced in Fiji. When Fiji was colonized, the style of agriculture was switched from polyculture, with multiple varieties of each food, focused on feeding people to monoculture focused on making money (Shah, et. al. 2018). As discussed in the Food Systems chapter, monoculture tends to lead to crops much more susceptible to diseases, climatic changes, and extreme weather events, an extremely worrying fact on tropical islands where diseases and extreme weather events are quite common and whose average temperature and number of extremely hot days are increasing (Shah, et. al. 2018; Kumar, et. al. 2013). The issue of food security is very important to deal with as even a 1% increase in food prices would be enough to push 1,000 Fijians into poverty (Government of Fiji et. al., 2017). One of the best methods for combating food insecurity and making Fiji’s food system climate resilient would be utilizing traditional knowledge systems to shift Fiji’s food production, storage and preservation methods to a much more traditional approach (Shah, et. al. 2018). Important steps to achieving this are increasing on farm diversity, making local food both the more affordable and desirable option, and reestablishing the forests of Fiji as a backup food supply in case of a weather event which causes food shortages, like droughts or floods (Shah et. al., 2018).

    The tourism industry has become the main industry of the island more recently. Once a sugar cane producing island Fiji now turns its resources to the tourism industry. Tourism has brought in almost double the amount of money for foreign exchange compared to sugar cane. This huge gap has only grown in recent years as visitors from the US, Australia, and the UK have led to a 6.2% increase of the industry (Becken, 2005). While Fiji’s main industry has remained strong in the last decade it is anticipated to suffer as results from climate change begin to take full effect on the small island state. Almost 90% of Fiji’s population and infrastructure are located on the coast in low lying areas which therefore will result in flooding and infrastructure damage due to rising sea levels. Sea levels are anticipated to rise 23-43 cm by 2050 and up to 1.03 m by 2100 (Becken, 2005). This would be devastating for the small island state because many insurance policies do not include damage done by activities due to climate change. Additionally, the money that would need to be poured into relocated infrastructure further inland would be enormous. Also, coastal erosion due to changing wind patterns is predicted to be devastating to the tourism industries beaches. In combination with more extreme weather and the increase in vector borne diseases resorts will be facing a decrease in tourism movement throughout the world. Since tourism is the main industry for Fiji, solutions are necessary to keep this island state economically strong. This has led to early planning from results in coordination with the government to not only mitigate the coming changes, but additionally do their part to fight the problem. Resorts have already begun implementing eco-friendly habits in every room. They have become more aware that changes must be made in the way that business is conducted so that business may be conducted in the future (Ayala, 1999).

    It has become apparent that Fiji is a perfect prototype for many similar island states. They have the resources to make changes that should and will hopefully be used by other islands to promote a better future. The future presents Fiji with a complex set of issues that if not met with urgency could be devastating to the country, however, preparation and planning will undoubtedly mitigate many future impacts that climate change will have on the small island state.

    Figure 1. Map of assets and vulnerabilities of the island of Fiji related to climate change.


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    Central Intelligence Agency. (2020). Fiji. The World Factbook.

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    3.04: Fiji is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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