Taveuni, Fiji’s third largest island, is known for its thriving agricultural sector due to rich volcanic soils and almost daily rainfall. It is here that 32-year-old Maria Lowana Maivalenisau and other farmers from the Delaivuna, Vuna and Waimaqera communities have come together to begin the work of building greenhouses on the many farms in their settlement.
Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Human Development (YESDev) Project, young farmers and entrepreneurs throughout Fiji have now been adopting organic farming techniques and learning how to produce value-added products to create and maintain sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families. YESDev has been working with communities in Taveuni (Delaivuna, Vuna, Waimaqera) over five sessions since October 2017 to engage youth in organic farming and social entrepreneurship.
With supplies provided by YESDev, Maria’s farm was chosen as the ideal location for YESDev’s first greenhouse in Taveuni. Greenhouses serve to protect seedlings and plants by acting as shields against harsh weather conditions and pests. Other farmers in her community who attended the YESDev sessions, joined in to help in the completion of the greenhouse where Maria excitedly plans to nurse her leafy vegetables and other valuable root crops.
“On my farm I grow lettuce, cabbage, dhania, tomatoes and long beans. I also grow yaqona and dalo without using any chemicals,” she said. Even though Maria has a certificate in Office Administration, her passion for farming led her to seek out learning opportunities to improve her farming practices. “YESDev really benefitted us a lot. I have learnt a lot about organic farming and the ecology of the land. I love farming so it’s really empowering that I can create my own source of income from it.”
The resilience and camaraderie of YESDev’s Southern Taveuni participants, despite continued difficulties faced after the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016 is evident. Farmers and budding entrepreneurs work collaboratively in support of each other despite the constraint of naturally available resources and planting materials, which is aggravated by the absence of traditional village community structures and poor or costly transportation. Together, and with Maria’s greenhouse as an example, they will work together to build other greenhouses in their villages.
In addition to Taveuni communities, YESDev also operated in the Nabouwalu (Wainisevu Bible School), Seaqaqa (Nanivuda, Naividamu) and Tukavesi (Vunikura, Tukavesi, Lumiboso and Koroivonu) areas to assist over 80 youth, a key segment of the population, to overcome challenges in fulfilling their potentially important roles. The youths were instructed in sustainable soil management methods, including natural means of tackling plant protection problems. YESDev in collaboration with Loving Islands has improved young farmers’ ability to identify and naturally manage their pest, disease and weed problems. Income generation opportunities were the highlights for the project with the training, production and finally sale of virgin coconut oil (VCO), VCO soaps, VCO body balms and honey, by and for the young entrepreneurs and their communities. Over 30% of YESDev’s participants were women entrepreneurs, successfully participating in the Organics for Income Drive.
“The YESDev Project gives participants the tools to accomplish their short and long-term business plans. Farmers and other entrepreneurs are now able to apply the principles learnt, in their communities and work together to create, market and distribute their products in an inclusive and sustainable way,” said Srijana Rana, Team Leader, Inclusive Growth at UNDP’s Pacific Office in Fiji.
“Against the backdrop of globalization and urbanization of the economies, the Fijian agricultural sector is struggling to remain competitive against the cheap agriculture imports. The farmers that are hit the hardest are the ones that are following green indigenous organic farming practices. However, support from projects like YesDev, has been assisting local farmers, agribusiness entrepreneurs and certification bodies to work together to create, market and distribute the produce. Our partner Loving Islands, highlights that the rural farmers are now able to adapt the indigenous knowledge and practices with new, affordable and appropriate green technologies to meet the critical market requirements such as the volume, quality and traceability of the produce and remain competitive in the market,” she added.
For Maria, her sense of independence and fulfillment from organic farming comes not only from the ability to earn a living that supports her family but being able to provide her children with better and healthier food alternatives. “My children are taking healthy foods like vegetables to school instead of buying noodles. It (organic farming) really benefits me, my family and my community.”
YESDev is implemented by the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji in partnership with Loving Islands (lead training partner) and supported by the Governments of Fiji and Australia. The initiative seeks to ensure that Organics for Income is known and practiced by 80 youth in the remote areas of Vanua Levu and Southern Taveuni. The YESDev training sessions enabled the youths to be agriculturally and economically productive, inclusive, non-discriminatory and promoted gender equality and women’s empowerment.
For more information, or media interviews (if applicable) please contact:
Kandy Serrant, Knowledge and Communications Specialist, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Tel: 3227 504, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Litia Kirwin, YESDev Trainer, Founder/Director, Loving Islands, Email: email@example.com