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.
Ilai Nabole, a 31-year-old farmer, recalls feeling relief. “Now we don’t have to pay $40 for a carrier van to take our crops to the market,” he said. Instead they sell to iTukuni – a special kind of restaurant that plays an important role in addressing the high rate of youth unemployment in the country while promoting healthy eating options. The restaurant is perched atop the Tagaloli hills in Ba province with breathtaking views of the Ra coastline, where Nabole lives and farms 120 kilometres away.
Itukuni uses only organic root crops, vegetables and meat in the special dishes it offers, from lovo to spicy Indian curries. Its clientele comes from near and far – foreign diplomats, tourists and some local residents.
The existence of the restaurant symbolises changing consumer choices. More are mindful about what they eat because of the prevalence of NCDs. There is also awareness of the benefits of organic food for human health. The rise of NCDs in Fiji has been alarming over the past decade. As in many Pacific Island countries, NCDs are a major health risk, causing thousands of deaths every year. Unhealthy diets high in fat, sugar, salt and processed foods are largely the cause.
In its engagements around the country, FRIEND promotes healthy eating habits. Its efforts include the freezer truck, which maintains the freshness of the vegetables during the two-hour drive from Nabole’s farm. He is not the only farmer. Other young men and women involved in organic farming supply iTukuni through 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 POETCom and supported by the SDG Fund and UNDP Pacific. iTukuni is owned by FRIEND.
Fifty families from five villages in Saivou and Natokaimalo districts – Nativi, Nabalabala, Navuniyaumunu, Raviravi and Naivutu – supply vegetables to iTukuni. Together, the five villages, which are surrounded by more than 100 acres of potential farmland, are home to about 400 unemployed young people.
The link between the village farms and iTukuni demonstrates the farm-to-table value-chain approach promoted by Engaging Fiji Youth in Organic Farming. The project’s goal is to use organic farming as a tool for increasing youth employment.