Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community


Posted On: March 20, 2018

When the freezer truck started calling in at Nativi, the farming experience changed for the farmers of this remote village in Ra Province on the northern side of Viti Levu in Fiji.

Thirty-one year old farmer, Ilai Nabole, recalls feeling relief. ‘Now we don’t have to pay $40 for a carrier van to take our crops to the market,’ he said. He was speaking to the representatives from the Sustainable Development Goal Fund (SDG-Fund) and the United Nations Development Programme Pacific Office in Suva, who were on a monitoring visit. They watched as the driver, Navi Cavalevu, loaded the freezer truck with Ilai Nabole’s cucumbers and leafy greens like rourou (taro leaves) and ota (wild ferns) from his farm gates.

Navi then made the two-hour drive to Tagaloli hills, about 120 kilometres away, and delivered the vegetables to the iTukuni Restaurant that serves only organic food.

iTukuni Restaurant is owned by the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND), which employs Cavalevu. He has been making his vegetable runs since 2017, the second year of the project Engaging Youth in Fiji and Vanuatu in Organic Farming: A Farm to Table Chain Approach. The project is implemented by FRIEND in partnership with the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) and supported by the SDG-Fund and UNDP Pacific.

Ruci Yauvoli from UNDP Pacific observed the relief farmers felt, especially the women, in having the markets come to them. ‘With the high costs of transportation to the market, it’s a wonder they made enough money for anything else,’ she said.

‘The freezer truck is a purchase of the project,’ she continued. ‘Other activities that were implemented include training in organic production and post-harvest handling. The farmers we have been interviewing, especially the women, are excited. They now have bank accounts and are saving money.’

FRIEND also invited Westpac Banking Corporation to work with the villagers in setting up their savings accounts.

The farmers’ cash is deposited into their bank accounts three days after the vegetables are delivered to iTukuni, and a portion of the money is saved compulsorily.

Fifty families from five villages in Saivou and Natokaimalo districts – Nativi, Nabalabala, Navuniyaumunu, Raviravi and Naivutu – supply vegetables to iTukuni. Together, the five villages are home to about 400 unemployed youths and are surrounded by more than 100 acres of potential farming land.

The link between the village farms and iTukuni demonstrates the farm-to-table value chain approach promoted by the Engaging Fiji Youths in Organic Farming Project. The project goal is to use organic farming as a tool for youth employment.

Half of the youth population have been trained in organic production. The challenge is getting them involved in farming on a commercial basis.

‘Scaling up farming efforts from a subsistence to a commercial level takes time. It’s one of the lessons learnt from the project,’ said Ruci Yauvoli. ‘We observe, though, that women are the most active participants in farming. That is perhaps another goal of the project – to work with the women to increase their earning capacity. They are excited about having bank accounts and saving money. It’s the first time for many of them.’

‘Most of the young men have been involved in the rehabilitation projects, working with military engineers to rebuild homes that were affected by Cyclone Winston,’ explained Yauvoli. ‘That is their priority at the moment and, once that’s done, hopefully we will see more young people setting up their commercial organic farms.’

Over the two years of its implementation, organic farmers who are trained in the Participatory Guarantee System of Organic Certification will get certified. Ideally, as their farm production increases, they will be able to supply more than just the iTukuni Restaurant; they could be supplying hotels.

Traversing long distances between the farms and the markets, fresh fruits and vegetables can lose their freshness and crispness and effectively their quality as a product. Keeping them fresh and organic secures markets. This is where the freezer truck becomes a critical player in the supply chain.


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