Exploring Agricultural Development
The stunning, red fruit shaped like the mythical dragon and to which it owes its name elicited admiring ‘wows’ and ‘oh my’s’ from the visitors.
It is a bright, clear, dry day in August. The dragon fruit shone in the sun that bathed the Taiwan Technical farm in the Salad Bowl of Fiji, Sigatoka.
The visitors from Wallis and Futuna bombard Godfrey Ah Sam with a million questions. So excited are they to see the variety of fruit trees, the gigantic guavas and rows on rows of vegetables.
‘We supply the local supermarkets. We are never able to sustain demand so quickly our vegetables and fruits run out,’ explained Godfrey.
The French territory of Wallis and Futuna imports most of its vegetables. The local agriculture sector is largely subsistence.
The goal then of the delegation, that included the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Economy, village chiefs, members of the private sector and farmers, is to absorb all they can from the Fijian experience of agriculture and return home with ideas to grow the sector by raising it to a commercial level.
‘We were especially happy to see the value added aspect of the work, something beyond just planting,’ explained Lauriane Verge, the head of the delegation.
Verge is the President of the Chambre de Commerce d’Industrie des Metiers et de l’Agriculture (CCIMA), a member of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) and focal point for the development of organic agriculture.
‘The Fijian experience is what we want to learn more of. We are literally neighbours and our people have been visiting each other for many, many years, exchanging ideas and cultures and integrating through marriage,’ Verge added
‘This is just another level of that exchange.’
Deputy Secretary for the Fijian Ministry of Agriculture Vatimi Rayalu said closer relations would be fostered with Wallis and Futuna considering the geographical proximity of the two nations.
‘Our ancestors have been sailing and visiting each other for generations. Testament to this is the strong Wallis and Futuna community in Fiji.’
The delegation that arrived in Nadi on September 3rd first sought traditional blessings for their trip from the Vanua of Vitogo where they were traditionally welcomed.
Their first visit for the week was to Fiji’s largest piggery farm located along the Vuda Back Road in Lautoka. The scale and breadth of the Vuda Piggery astounded the visitors. The pig population in Wallis and Futuna reportedly outnumbers the humans. The piggery offered ideas for the commercial development of their pig resource.
Next stop was the Fiji Meats Abattoir not far from the piggery followed by Reddy’s Poultry Farm in Vitogo.
Reddy’s Farm began as a backyard family poultry small business with roadside sales and now supplies frozen ducks to supermarkets around Fiji within the span of two decades. It is literally a tale of struggle and perseverance raising the profile of poultry business from the boondocks to a successful, thriving venture.
Anglers that regularly comb Yasawa and Lautoka fisheries were just berthing at the Fishermen’s Wharf in Lautoka when the delegation arrived.
Octopuses and fish, crabs and stingrays excited the visitors particularly the setup of the fish market by the Ministry of Fisheries.
Divisional Fisheries Officer Neomai Turaganivalu explained the process used by fisheries officials stationed at the market to weigh fish, check types and size before anglers are allowed to make any sales.
‘This is a way we can document catch sizes and types of fish for data. This way we can protect the fisheries from overfishing,’ Turaganivalu explained.
Wallis and Futuna do not have a commercial fishery. The visit provided a good springboard for starting one right. The Fijian example is the result of trial and error over many years.
‘We didn’t always do data collection this way. In fact, data was not collected at all on a daily basis and the result is some of our fisheries our overfished.’
Next stop was the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND) and a sumptuous organic lunch at iTukuni Restaurant.
A day later, the delegation walked the length of the Sigatoka Research Station and neighbouring Taiwan Technical Farm where the dragon fruits and quinper guavas bloomed.
At the Nasau Youth Training Centre still in Sigatoka, the visitors observed the composts setups, vegetable gardens, pesticide making and manure developed by students as part of their organic farming training.
The idea to send some students from Wallis and Futuna to train at Nasau took root.
‘We don’t have such school back home. In developing our agriculture sector we need to make sure it is done organically. We need capacity,’ Verge said.
Making traditional pottery to the sweet melodies of a Fijian drum made for a good lunch break at Lawai village in Sigatoka.
Lawai women have been creating potteries, historically for storing food and water and now for touristic purposes.
The Suva rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of the visitors witnessing the slicing of massive Wahoo catches at the Fiji Fish factory in Lami or at Flower Power, where huge filters held back big debris and allowed the fine compost goodness to get through.
At the government forestry nursery in Colo-i-Suva, the group wandered amongst rows on rows of indigenous Fijian and imported timber tree seedlings, sold at a minimal cost for reforestation.
For the team, one of the highlights of the trip was Grace Farm Road. The massive vegetable, rice and root crop commercial farm marked with rows on rows of greenhouses and acres of rice land is located at Navua, outside Suva.
The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePacT) of the Pacific Community (SPC) was an opportunity to witness the tissue culture bank of all kinds of Pacific crops like taro and breadfruits.
The W&F visit culminated in a dinner with Government representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry.
At the dinner, Rayalu observed the fruitfulness of sharing development ideas with Wallis and Futuna and was keen to see the greater role that Fiji can play in the process.
Atelea Vaitootai, from the Primary Sector Commission of W&F observed the ideas of farming, processing and food production in Fiji that could be easily adapted to suit needs in Wallis and Futuna.
He identified as a useful, beneficial visit.