Esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to offer you a warm welcome to Gordon House. It is a great pleasure for us at the High Commission, together with our partners at BirdLife International, to the launch a new three-year project here in Fiji, worth nearly a million Fiji dollars, over £300,000, which will help to deliver innovative new models in sustainable forest management.
The UK is the proud sponsor of this project, which is funded through the Darwin Initiative: Britain’s global flagship for conservation.
The Darwin Initiative demonstrates a sustained commitment by the UK Government to the protection of biodiversity around the world. For us this is a top priority.
The Darwin Initiative was established by the UK at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to assist developing countries that are rich in biodiversity to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions.
Over the years Darwin projects have pioneered groundbreaking work in conservation. They have helped to protect the newly-discovered snub-nosed monkey in Burma, built capacity for the next generation of conservation professionals in Liberia, conserved marine biodiversity in Pakistan and will, of course, help develop sustainable forestry management here in Fiji.
Since its creation 21 years ago, the Darwin Initiative has supported a total of 834 projects in 157 countries, worth £100 million in total. These have included 33 new projects announced last year, valued at £8.5 million. It is a record of which we are proud.
And the Pacific has been a major focus of the fund. Since 1997 over 35 projects have been funded across the region, helping to preserve wildlife and natural environments in Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
As you can see, Darwin projects are diverse, they are inventive, and they are always ambitious. And I am pleased to report that recent changes in the administration of the fund mean that the Darwin Initiative is now open to bidding internationally by all parties, not just British-based organisations.
I would like to finish with a word about our partners. BirdLife International have a fantastic track record of success in protecting endangered species of birds and in working alongside communities to help develop more sustainable approaches to the management of their natural resources – not just in Fiji, but across the Pacific and throughout the world. They are a valued and trusted partner. And working with the Department of Forestry, the Ministry of the Environment and the local implementation partners, Nature Fiji MareqetiViti, will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of this important project here in Fiji.
I look forward to seeing this develop and I wish this important project the success it so clearly deserves.
Thank you. And I will now hand over to Samuela Lagataki of the Fiji Forestry Department.