Abuzz with entrepreneurial energy, Matuku Islanders in Fiji are gearing up for their inaugural batch of a one-tonne shipment of organic, island-made flour and virgin coconut oil.
Largely traditional fishermen and copra producers, these islanders are now engaged in organic certification for the first time. This is through a partnership with Loving Islands (an Australian social enterprise), the United States Government and the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom).
Matuku Island is located in Lau province, in Fiji’s Eastern Division at a distance of 180 kilometres from the capital city, Suva. Life there is challenging, especially for parents trying to earn a regular income and send their children to school. There is no high school on the island.
The island’s Organic Farming Project is implemented by Loving Islands in the seven villages of Yaroi, Natokalau, Levukaidaku, Makadru, Lomati, Qalikarua and Raviravi and is aimed at creating sustainable income sources with little harm to the environment. Loving Islands, the newest member of POETCom, is a social enterprise that works to provide affordable sustainable development consulting, project management and international market services for remote Pacific Island communities.
Founder Australian Litia Kirwin, who has maternal links to Matuku Island, said the villagers were given organic certification training in 2016 in partnership with POETCom.
Structures to enable trade are set up such that each village has an organic cooperative, consisting of men’s and women’s committees based on a sound approach of utilising available resources and existing skill sets and knowledge to develop agri-products.
‘While the men grow and harvest root-crops, the women make flour, virgin coconut oil and sinusinu (a type of coconut oil),’ said Litia. ‘It is vital we use the current knowledge base and add slowly to it; if we try to introduce too many things at once it can be overwhelming.’
Ms Kirwin said that the Participatory Guarantee System of organic certification, which is collective by nature because of its peer review mechanism, fits in well with the island’s communal principles of work.
‘They do things together, like farming and harvesting, and the PGS has been really beneficial because it uses the community structure to implement the administration of the organic project,’ she said.
‘Together they’ve learnt about organic farming, the creation of compost and doing away with chemical fertilisers. The older generation is happy about the use of traditional knowledge in farming, while the younger farmers are positive about the new way of farming, which is saving them money on chemical fertilisers. Two PGS groups are ready for formal registration.’
‘Once we get the production volumes up, we aim to sell to China,’ said Ms Kirwin. ‘At the end of this year we are looking at introducing cocoa production and essential oils from flowers like frangipani. In this way, we use the abundance of the trees on the island.’
‘It’s not just one person but whole families that leave for schools and jobs in towns and cities,’ said Ms Kirwin. ‘There are many empty houses in the villages. If they can earn a sustainable income here and there are high schools, they won’t need to travel so far away from home.
‘Our key focus will be marketing and shipping, and theirs will be production. Once we get things rolling and exports going, it promises to be a great partnership for the island and its people.’