A village in one of Fiji’s biggest province Nadroga is taking steps to produce the country’s first community owned organic coffee beans to tap into international premium markets. The village in the highlands of Sigatoka recently established it’s Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of organic certification following training provided by the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) housed within the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
Participating in organic certification will link their coffee to buyers in far flung locations like New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia and possibly the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As part of the village’s PGS setup, POETCom conducted awareness on the organic principles of health, ecology, fairness, care and the maintenance of culture and traditions.
These are principles that underpin the Pacific Organic Standards or the guide to organic system development in the Pacific. The community also received training on the mechanics of PGS that includes mapping coffee growing areas and practical exercises on carrying out a peer review of each other’s coffee growing areas.
POETCom Organic Systems Extension Officer Stephen Hazelman said as villagers convert to organic principles they become active participants in the growth of green economies. Organic farming systems rely on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control methods.
“PGS is a quality assurance system developed by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that actively engages the coffee community in carrying out peer reviews of harvesting processes to ensure organics principles are maintained,” he said. “It’s one built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchanges.”
Organic principles that apply to the village have been adapted from the Pacific Organic Standards. Mr Hazelman said the certification of the villager’s coffee should be concluded by the end of 2015 ahead of the start of the 2016 coffee harvest season in February.
“There are three phases of certification; the land where coffee grows to determine through testing harmful foreign chemicals for example fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides have not been added; compliance of individual harvesters with organic principles and certification of Bula Coffee Company processing and packaging facilities,” he said. “This will involve checking the company’s equipment and processes to ensure compliance with standards protected by the Pacific Organic Standards and food safety standards.”
On successfully completing the certification process, the community and the Bula Coffee Company will be allowed to use the Organic Pasifika mark that guarantees the organic integrity of a product that bears it. Fijian owned Bula Coffee Company as the village’s sole coffee buyers is providing crucial market linkages channelling income to the community that largely depended on root crops for their livelihoods.
“Markets prefer organic coffee indicative of the changing habits of coffee drinkers that increasingly choosing products that are not harmful to the environment and promote fair labour principles,” company director Luke Fryett said.
“Bula Coffee is committed to ensuring sustainable livelihoods for grassroots communities in Fiji, through harvesting, processing and marketing of coffee that grows wild in remote places for many years.
“We are not only about a great cup of coffee but also about giving communities a better shot at life,” he added. The villagers have also pledged to maintain organic standards, as a way of life.
Organic certification system promotes benefits for the environment, links community products with niche markets offering premium prices and also serves as a development tool. The community is now keen on implementing efficient waste management plans and organic by-laws.