Suva, Fiji - Rural and urban markets in Vanuatu are central to the livelihoods of the people especially the poorer households who depend heavily on the income they earn from their small scale market operations.
These operations are dominated by women, 23 of whom had an opportunity to travel to Fiji for the first time to gain knowledge and practice to implement in their home farm and market in Mangalilu village, Vanuatu. The exposure visit to Food Processors Fiji, the Koronivia Agriculture Research Station and Nausori Municipal Market helped them see the great potential of marketing and agro- business in Vanuatu. The local arrangements for the visit were supported and coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) while the women took their own initiative to visit Fiji at their own expense.
Lerina Kalsong and her fellow villagers were surprised and impressed by how the local produce can be packaged for export, how pest and weed can be controlled, and how local market can be operated efficiently.
Majority of market vendors in Vanuatu produce crops and vegetables in their gardens to sell at the market and earn for their families. Many were unaware that coconut leaves turning yellow and the fruits that look withered can be prevented, and many were unaware that chestnut during its season, can be sold to generate income. Market vendors did not see their daily task as a business with the potential to go bigger.
The training programmes on financial literacy, basic business skills and farm management were provided to the market vendors who are also producers in Vanuatu by UNDP in partnership with the Shefa Provincial Government Council (SPGC), Australian Government, UN Women and the National Bank of Vanuatu. The training aimed to improve the socio-economic security and rights of market vendors especially women market vendors through improving financial and business skills, increasing access to financial services, and increasing production and incomes.
The training topics were designed to meet the needs of local market vendor-farmers and training materials translated into Bislama, one of the official languages of Vanuatu.
Ms Kalsong was among the 35 market vendor-farmers participated in the training conducted at Mangalilu village in June 2016.
After Tropical Cyclone Pam destroyed their gardens, the women had started rebuilding again. They earned some income by clearing debris and selling fish, and as they harvested, they went to the market to sell their produce every week.
“We learned from the training that selling at the market is business - producing vegetables and crops, selling them, making profit and saving. And now I saw it in this market, both women and men working equally and so efficiently,” Ms Kalsong shared after talking to vendors at the Nausori Market.
Despite their central role in the lives and livelihoods of many households, markets in Vanuatu are fairly basic operations. Food wastage is high, there is limited product differentiation, products sold are very seasonal and there is limited value-added through either packaging, processing, or conscious marketing of a range of related products.
Gaining financial literacy and basic business skills from the training, market vendors are more aware of their potential, eager to learn more and try new ideas.
“We want to produce our local crops and promote our products just like Fiji. We want to change our markets, we want to improve our markets,” said Kalsong.
The training programmes as Continuing Market Business Education (CMBE) and Increasing Agricultural Productivity & Income of Vendor-Farmers (IPI-VF) have been conducted in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and continue this year targeting more rural women market vendor-farmers in those countries. CMBE and IPI-VF training activities are implemented by UNDP in partnership with the local governments, UN Women and regional banks, as part of the Markets for Change project.
The Markets for Change project is a six-year, multi-country initiative that aims to ensure marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. A UN Women project, Markets for Change is implemented in partnership with UNDP and supported by the Australian Government.