Pacific

Kiribati’s purchase of Fiji land under scrutiny

A student inspected land bought by Kiribati in 2014, and questioned whether it was to hold a population or whether the land was actually bought just as a statement. A North Carolina geography and development student James Ellsmoor has inspected the land bought by former Kiribati president Anote Tong as a climate change mitigation and […]

Peni Shute

January 17, 2016 8:04 am

A student inspected land bought by Kiribati in 2014, and questioned whether it was to hold a population or whether the land was actually bought just as a statement.

A North Carolina geography and development student James Ellsmoor has inspected the land bought by former Kiribati president Anote Tong as a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy.

Part of the Naviavia village, the ownership of which has been retained by the Anglican Church. The hills and forest behind have been sold to the Government of Kiribati. PHOTO: James Ellsmoor.
Part of the Naviavia village, the ownership of which has been retained by the Anglican Church. The hills and forest behind have been sold to the Government of Kiribati.
PHOTO: James Ellsmoor.

The purchased land is the 5500 acre Natoavatu Estate, a freehold property in Vanua Levu. The Government of Kiribati purchased the estate for US$8.77 million in 2014.

Radio New Zealand reports that Ellsmoor, who recently visited the plot of land, says it is very remote with inhospitable hilly and a swampy terrain.

I question whether the land was ever intended to hold population or whether the land was actually bought just as a statement. It will be very interesting to see in the coming years what happens, whether the new president will decide to do something with this land or it will remain stagnant.

Ellsmoor says the land already has a community of displaced people living on it. He added saying the welfare of the community of about 500 ethnic Solomon Islanders living on the land who are descendants of colonial slaves kidnapped to work on Fiji’s sugar plantations is also a concern, as they have no land rights elsewhere in the country.

Naviavia villager navigates river through swampland area of Kiribati-purchased land. PHOTO: James Ellsmoor.
Naviavia villager navigates river through swampland area of Kiribati-purchased land.
PHOTO: James Ellsmoor.

Radio NZ media reports in 2014 states Anote Tong had said Kiribati lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the financial market crash of 2008 and the purchase of land is to provide financial stability.

Given the financial markets are just playing a lot of uncertainties, investing in real estate like that is not a bad idea. There is no doubt in my mind the value will go up in a time, in a very short time, with stability, political stability in Fiji, everything will improve.

James Ellsmoor has studied Geography and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Auckland. His research focuses on policy responses to climate change in Pacific island countries.

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