Organic food is a high-value niche market with export potential, but there are challenges for Pacific farmers seeking to access this market. These include the cost and complexity of achieving organic certification, lack of capacity to navigate the intricacies of regulations for organic exports, and poorly developed local market awareness of organic food. However, with their traditional farming systems and low use of chemicals, Pacific farmers are well placed to achieve success in this market.
POETCom, the regional organic network supported by SPC, has been helping smallholder farmers to access the organic market and in 2012 initiated an alternative, locally managed, low-cost certification system based on peer auditing, called the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS).
In Fiji, the first PGS pilot was set up on the island of Cicia, where the traditional land holders had already banned the use of agrochemicals. Working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the newly established Cicia Organic Monitoring Agency, POETCom built the capacity of farmers and worked with them to develop the PGS system. In 2015, Cicia became the first fully organically certified island in the Pacific.
With support from POETCom, several other PGSs have since been established in Fiji, e.g.:
It has taken time to build the organic market in Fiji, but results are now evident.
The project in Cicia focused on VCO. Initial sales were inconsistent as markets were identified and value-chain issues addressed, but over the last few years there has been steady growth in local sales: 900 litres in 2017, 1400 litres in 2018, and 2000 litres in 2019.
In November 2019, Cicia made its first harvest of six tonnes of PGS-certified organic ginger. The crop was successfully marketed nationally, providing over FJD 7300 for the farmers of Cicia. Honey production on Cicia is being converted to an organic system and an organic-based eco-tourism development began in 2019.
Similarly, Matuku Island’s Loving Islands brand had impressive sales worth over FJD 13,200 in 2019.
Market interventions can take several years to yield results. While certification is key in the organic food market, other value-chain elements must also be addressed for success.
The intensive and participatory nature of PGS development contributes to strong ownership and sustainability. Since the SPC project ended in 2015, Cicia farmers have worked to maintain their PGS certification.
Certification raises awareness of issues connected to organic foods and related consumer demand and can open up further opportunities. For example, communities in Fiji are now benefiting from soil carbon trading and ‘organic tourism’.
Finally, a successful pilot trial can leverage funding. Since 2016, over USD 5 million has been leveraged off the success of this Fiji pilot to expand PGS to other PICTs.