Na Turaga na Tui Labasa;
Na Turaga na Tui Mali;
Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Her Excellency the Korean Ambassdor, Ms. Cho Shinhee;
Government Officials;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and good afternoon.

This year has been unlike any in our lifetimes, as the corona-virus has rapidly spread around the world, claiming lives and crippling entire industries. But while the virus dominates headlines in international media, we in Fiji know that our greatest threat – that of climate change – has not paused for COVID-19.

There was no more brutal reminder of that reality that the arrival of Cyclone Harold in the midst of Fiji’s outbreak of the corona-virus. We decisively COVID-proofed our cyclone response, successfully evacuating communities and providing relief to affected families without allowing the virus to spread. Today, we’re well over 70 days removed from our last case, Fiji is thankfully COVID-Contained, and families are recovering from the cyclone’s fury.

But that all goes to show both the urgency and the impact of building our resilience to the rising seas, stronger storms and changing weather patterns.
Even with the serious health and economic challenges of COVID-19, Fiji cannot afford for climate action to fall on our national agenda – particularly, when it comes to adapting our economy.

But not every adaptive measure takes the form of a concrete seawall or a reinforced school building. Increasingly, we’re looking to our environment, harnessing nature to protect communities from climate impacts like erosion, flooding and sea level rise.

That’s what today is all about, as we officially open this new Vetiver Grass Nursery – a project that aims to strengthen the eroding shorelines of riverside communities. And I’d like to thank the Republic of Korea for providing 200,000 US Dollars towards this nursery, an investment that will help lend security to Fijian families for generations.

Many of us may know vetiver grass by the name “Ghatra” It’s a non-invasive plant – meaning it doesn’t threaten other plant life. It’s a resilient species which can lend that very same characteristic to Fijian communities. Its root systems stretch deep down into the soil it occupies, stabilising it to the encroaching waters, providing a natural frontline defence system between Fijians and raging river waters. Here, this nursery will consistently grow high-quality vetiver grass planting slips, creating a sustainable cycle of resilience-building that will steadily help adapt the North to climate impacts.

This new Northern nursery in Labasa is complemented by two others; one in Nadi and one in Nausori. Across Fiji, newly planted fields of vetiver grass are already staving off floodwaters in more than 30 communities, as Fiji has helped pioneer this climate-resilient, nature-based solution; one we hope to see emulated the world over.

Even through the challenge of the corona-virus crisis, Fiji’s priority – at home and on the world stage – is focussed on a blue and green recovery, meaning a recovery that upholds the stability of our climate as well as the health of our oceans, from the fields of vetiver grass on our shorelines, out to our coastal reefs and on to the high seas. That’s why I’m proud to also deliver a new boat to the people of Vorovoro Village which will be put to use protecting their reef from poaching and overfishing.

I’ve said since the start of this pandemic that any effort to recover the Fijian economy cannot excuse a renewed assault on ocean eco-systems. No nation – including Fiji – can risk returning to over-fishing, to unprotected oceans and to the pollution of our natural environment. Nor can we allow climate action to fall casualty to COVID-19. Instead, we must keep the course, we must lead with big ideas on the international stage and empower local communities to carry that vision forward at the grassroots level.
We must protect the beauty and bounty that Fijians in the North have known for generations. And we must show the world how sustainable and resilient progress can chart the way forward to brighter days.

Before we open this nursery and hand-over this new boat, I want to thank everyone who has made my tour of the North such a success this week. I always look forward to spending time on Vanua Levu, especially when we have the chance to welcome new development and extend new services to your communities – I look forward to when we next can meet again.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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