Skepticism over Kiribati purchase of Fiji land
Academic researchers are investigating the practicality of Kiribati purchasing land in Fiji as a climate change adaptation strategy.
Academic researchers are investigating the practicality of Kiribati purchasing land in Fiji as a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy.
The land in question is a 2,210 hectare property at Natoavatu Estate on Vanua Levu purchased by former president Anote Tong in 2014 in what he described as a bid to enhance the economic and social resilience of Kiribati in the face of climate change.
But North Carolina geography and development student James Ellsmoor who recently paid a visit to the plot of land told Koroi Hawkins he thinks there may have been another motive for purchasing the land.
JAMES ELLSMOOR: Well I think it is a very interesting case study. I think it is something that has been discussed a lot and in fact whenever Kiribati is talked about in terms of climate change around the world this piece of land is mentioned but no one had done that much work beyond the basics of Kiribati has purchased this land and I had heard rumours that actually since Kiribati had purchased it nothing else has happened in the last two years. And so I really wanted to kind of see for myself what was the reason, what was the truth there and find out what the plans were in terms of for the villagers for Kiribati and whether it really was possible to move the whole population of Kiribati to a small remote part of Fiji and the practicalities behind that.
KOROI HAWKINS: I understand that the president, the former president Anote Tong in response to some questions about this strategy also said that the land might be used for like farming and for generating revenue for Kiribati if they lose their farming lands and such.
JE: Originally the statement that was used when the land was bought was that it would be to relocate people from Kiribati in the event of Atolls being flooded and later on the government of Kiribati changed the way they talked about it and have recently said that they would use the land for farming now seeing this area of land there is definitely room to farm there it is possible. However it did seem quite a strange proposal that he said that I actually spoke with people from the church and from other local groups who said the reason it was sold was because it was not profitable and they didn't see any profit in the land and they said it made much more sense selling it on to be used by someone else. So in my own opinion it would have been more useful to buy any food to import to Kiribati on the open market for importation to Kiribati. This land is quite remote it is on Vanua Levu the second biggest island of Fiji it is about a three hour drive from the nearest town Savu Savu and there is only a dirt road between there. So the idea of growing land ( I think he means food) to then ship all the way to Kiribati from this specific plot of land does seem quite a complicated way of doing things.
KH: Wrapping up all of your findings what is your final analysis of the whole situation?
JE: I think that Anote Tong has done some fantastic work in raising the awareness of Kiribati and the plight of Pacific Islands particularly Atoll Nations I think buying of this land has been very important as a part of that and in doing so they have put pressure on countries such as Australia and New Zealand and elsewhere around the world to accept refugees or to say that they will take climate refugees in the event of sea level rise. However it does seem that there is more to this and that I question whether the land was ever intended to hold population or whether the land was actually bought just as a statement. Just so the Kiribati government are able to say that they are making these preparations. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years what happens. In the last two years the land has not been used. So if the new Kiribati government, whether the new president decides to do something with this land or it will remain stagnant. My one major concern is for the 500 villagers on this plot of land as they are not indigenous Fijians they don't have any land rights within the country. There is questions as to whether they will be able to sustain themselves having taken the land that they have farmed for many generations, having that taken away from them.