The second wave of COVID19 had a wide-ranging impact in Fiji, with the tourism industry bearing the brunt of the impact. The majority, if not all, hotel employees in the Nadroga-Navosa province were laid off, and farmers who supplied to hotels were placed on hold, forcing them to seek alternative revenue streams.
Many of these hotel workers had little or no money when they returned to their villages, forcing many of them to start working on farms, which provided an additional source of income during the pandemic. One of the challenges they faced was a lack of resources and tools to work on village farms and plantations.
The UN Development Program's Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) COVID-19 recovery assistance project was able to assist 21 communities along the Coral Coast, including villages and settlements in December 2021.
The assistance was to provide nine different types of farming tools, 13 different seedling varieties, 50 water tanks (1000L), crop calendars for information, and a multimedia kit to enable online learnings and workshops in the villages to those affected.
UNDP worked with the Ministry of Agriculture, which provided a list of 500 eligible farmers as well as the manpower required to deliver the tools to the most remote villages. The assistance of the provincial office in Nadroga-Navosa was also beneficial because it served as a link to the villages in carrying out 'Sevusevu' – the traditional Fijian protocol performed when visitors arrive at a village – as well as working toward a common goal of alleviating poverty, reaching unreached rural villages, and ensuring they are supported for their livelihood and food security for every household.
20-year-old Setariki Roiroi of Togovere village, said there had been no assistance of this kind since he was a child in the village, so this was the first and largest amount of support they had ever received.
The village, which is about a two-hour drive from Sigatoka, has a farming cluster of 15 people that is growing.
Roiroi, who was also laid off from a neighboring resort, stated that UNDP's assistance has come at an opportune time, with borders and hotels reopening, and that their main priority now is to plant chilies and supply to the coral coast's chain of hotels. He said that they have received many membership applications from non-cluster members since the arrival of the tools and seedlings.
Manoa Veremalua, a retired bank officer who heads the farming cluster in Tore, Cuvu district, said his main priority is to guide the cluster's young farmers. The cluster, which was formed in 2014, has continued to align their priorities and goals with the government to alleviate poverty, create job opportunities, reduce youth crime, and ensure food security.
Veremalua stated that the arrival of the tools and seedlings will be extremely beneficial to each of the farmers in achieving their objectives. "As a result, we anticipate that once the hotels are fully operational, we will be able to consistently supply root crops such as sweet potatoes, bananas and plantains, cassava, and so on before we supply vegetables to these Coral Coast hotel chains from January to January. I also believe that with the goals we've set, we'll be able to supply to the rest of Fiji's markets on a consistent basis. We did it in 2016, and I believe we can do it again in 2022."
The 60-year-old retiree also has big plans to supply Fiji's Flour Mills with sweet potatoes and carrots starting in the first quarter of 2022.
Makereta Liku, a female recipient from Balenabelo village in the district of Baravi, plants pawpaws with her extended family and sells them in markets in Suva, Nakasi, and Laqere.
One of their challenges, however, is competition from other pawpaw farmers in the province, as well as climate change, which is causing pawpaws to ripen very quickly.
The 30-year-old expressed gratitude for UNDP's prompt assistance, saying, "many of us farmers have been trying for a long time to get some of these tools but due to the cost we were unable to but now there's no room for complaints because it's here and this will only help us the cluster of Balenabelo to move forward and focus on our plantation to continue to supply to markets in Fiji."
Sakiusa Draunimolea of Navola village in the district of Nasikawa said they weren't expecting such a large assistance from UNDP, but they are grateful because they have seen firsthand how the virus has forced them to return and toil the land, so the tools will be extremely useful.
"These tools aren't meant to sleep in our homes. UNDP has brought everything we require, so there is no reason for any farmer here not to be productive after this. It simply means that we must be very productive because all the tools have been provided, and I will ensure that we must be successful in the next three months. This also implies that, to be successful, farmers must devote less time to non-productive activities and devote more time to their farms."
25-year-old Kalisito Rauicava of Votua village on the Queens highway is another young person setting a good example in the province. 14 women are among the 31 members of his cluster. He says that the group was formed when the first wave of COVID19 arrived in Fiji, causing many of the village youths to be laid off. He adds that as one of those affected, he and his family faced numerous challenges upon their return to the farm.
"We faced a lot of difficulties, especially for those of us who worked in hotels, because we were used to receiving salary from our jobs, but this has pushed us to the point where we don't have any money at all. Others who were laid off faced difficulties in learning how to farm because we lacked sufficient knowledge of farming techniques, but we were able to learn quickly from our elders and other farmers in the village."
"Now, with the arrival of these tools from UNDP, I believe this will strengthen our capabilities to plant more, harvest, and sell for our families, as well as for the youth group or the cluster," the outspoken lass of Votua added. He emphasized that the pandemic has also taught Votua's youth the value of backyard gardening and farming.
The scoping assessment to determine which villages to support was the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture. The villages were selected based on their connection to Agri Tourism, particularly for tourism workers who were unemployed during the COVID19 pandemic. The 500 farmers were chosen based on cluster groups established by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The villages supported were Namatakula, Vucilevu, Navola, Komave, Biausevu, Votua, Tagaqe, Namada, Tore, Semo, Nabau, Emuri (Vavinaqiri, Nalele), Togavere, Vunatovau, Balenabelo, Naivibuli, Vunayawa and Raiwaqa.
Akosita Ratumaimuri, Communications & Research Officer - Inclusive Growth Unit, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, email: email@example.com