A spirit of hope for better livelihoods and healthy, nutritious food for their families marked the launch of the UNDP Farm to Table project in Saivou district, in Fiji’s Ra province in August.
Teary eyed village headman Mario Keni of Nabalabala village, one of 12 communities engaged in the project said a new day had dawned with hope for a prosperous future after the devastation of Cyclone Winston. “There is so much excitement again, we mostly just planted root-crops but our plantations were destroyed and it was hard to start again,” Mr Keni said. “Part of the change we want to make is to plant more short term crops as well and we are happy we will be assisted to secure markets with the help of FRIEND Fiji.”
The Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND) is partnering with the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community of the Pacific Community in implementing the two-year project that involves the organic certification of farmers’ vegetables and root crops and connecting them with domestic markets.
In launching the project, Asif Chida of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji said the biggest advantage the people of Ra have, is fertile soil and their natural resilience.
“You lost your homes, belongings, even your livelihoods and even if the strong winds reshaped the landscape, it didn’t take away your resilience and this project will work with you to secure some income and more importantly your own food and nutritional security,” Mr Chida said. “I’m really looking forward to the organic niche products coming out this district.”
Mr Chida added Fiji can be a flagship country for the organic brand capitalizing on the increasing growth of the multi-billion dollar global organic market. “The Olympic gold in rugby sevens has made Fiji famous and this can be another marketing dream that brings back real income to our farmers,” he added.
The provincial office of Ra that helps guide development planning for the itaukei communities observed the perfect timing of the project..
Roko Tui Ra (leader of the provincial office) Mosese Nakoroi, said the provincial office is just in the initial throes of encouraging more itaukei engagement in sustainable resource development. “A recent economic assessment of the province labelled Ra province as the poorest in Fiji but we know that is not true,” Mr Nakoroi said. “We are resource rich and a lot of this potential has not been utilized which has been a focus of the provincial office and this project is happening at the most opportune time,” he added.
FRIEND Fiji director Sashi Kiran said communities like Saivou district enjoy healthy diets consisting of natural grown foods increasingly rare to people in urban centres.
“Connecting these farmers with markets allows food and nutritional security benefits for urban dwellers as well as channel monetary value back into the communities and this is what we intend to pursue for Saivou farmers.
“Some of these markets we want to connect farmers to are hotels.”
Good soil health, climate resilience, improved biodiversity are other values promoted through the project. Villagers will also receive training in organic standards highlighted in the Pacific Organic Standard as well as certification training over the period of the project.