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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Public Urged Not To Plant Invasive Species In Samoa
Authorities say native flora needed to maintain soil integrity

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, Jan. 28, 2013) – The Ministry of Forestry (MOF) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) are working together in combating the planting of unwanted plants in Samoa, and that focus includes the two species of Albizia chinensis plant (tamaligi) the Paraseri (tamaligi uliuli) and silk tree (tamaligi pa’epa’e) which are growing widely in the country.

The Albizia or tamaligi as commonly known is planted by people for various reasons at various areas. The Ministry had noted that some of the families are planting tamaligi around their residence for beautification and the shade.

The recent Cyclone Evan that left many families homeless saw a multitude of tamaligi tree trunks being swept down to sea by heavy flooding. This was proof of how widely the plant had dominated the lands especially around river banks. Moafanua Talosina Pouli (ACEO MNRE Forestry Division) said there is no history of how the plant came to Samoa.

No one at either Ministry knows the originality of the tamaligi and the purposes why it was brought into the country. Moafanua said that before Parliament addressed the issue last week, the Ministry had already laid down its plan for the next five years to combat invasive plants and the reforestation of the lands.

"However we have to review that plan after Cyclone Evan," said Moafanua.

"The Ministry has a long term strategic plan for replanting the forest even before Parliament addressed the issue," said Moafanua.

"We have been planting and encouraging people to plant Samoan plants and trees such as Ficus obliqua (aoa), Terrminallia catappa (talie), Intisia bijuga (ifilele), poumuli and many other Samoa plants which helps keep the soil intact," said Moafanua.

So far the Ministry could only confirm and identify 18 of the most common Samoan plants left from the 100 native plants and the number of invasive plants identified in the country has reached 15 since 1999. A survey is needed to analyze whether the number for both species is increasing or declining. "These plants are the sources for collecting water hence the encouragement to grow them," said Moafanua.

President of the Samoa Farmers Association Toleafoa Afamasaga said that "the importance of the environment is vital to the survival of the people however it wont stop a person from selling his tree to feed his family." Toleafoa was speaking on the reality of how a person weighs the importance of choice making for survival,

Toleafoa had witnessed some farmers destroying some of the Samoan trees to make way for their taro plantations. Seeing the problem, Toleafoa had engaged the services of the Ministry and NGO’s to conduct workshops at some of the villages to help farmers identify how they could farm without harming the environment.

The tamaligi plant according to environmentalist Fiu Mataese of the O Le Siosiomaga Society (OLSS) is a "nuisance" to the land. "It does [have] its use as a timber but not a soil upgrader," said Fiu.

"Tamaligi and most of the invasive plants found their way into the country through individuals bringing them in as ornamental plants," said Fiu.

Whilst it may be beautiful, it also destroys the environment and other plants. For years, OLSS had spearheaded workshops and training in the community with the hope that knowledge and understanding the importance of the environment is planted into the minds of people. However, "money always prevails"

Environmentalist and Member of Parliament for Aana No 4 Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster strongly criticized the government for not concentrating on planting trees and plants that help conserve and preserve the goodness of the environment and all that grows upon it. He told Talamua that there is a need for government to allocate lands for the purpose of preserving these Samoan plants.

The Ministry is also spearheading non stop awareness programs for people to avoid cutting down trees around river banks. Despite these awareness, the recent flooding proves that people ignored the warnings and that the awareness programs failed to make a difference.

Asked what the Ministry is doing to upgrade the awareness, Moafanua echoes what Toleafoa and Fiu said about people always choosing money over warnings. "The Ministry will continue with its awareness programs," said Moafanua. Fiu said that people only regret their actions when natural disasters strikes and it would be too late to act.

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