Market vendors embrace economic empowerment opportunities

Posted June 27, 2022
Meliki Butukoro

Meliki Butukoro of Navotu village, Sanima in Kadavu.

Photo: UNDP

Meliki Butukoro and her husband moved from Suva to Navotu village in the district of Sanima in Kadavu with their two children in 2019. Life was difficult for them because they had no idea how to make a living in the village. “I can honestly say that things were difficult when we first moved to the village, and I used to feel embarrassed about selling root crops and vegetables at the market.”

All of that changed in 2020, when she was selected to participate in a capacity building session with other farmers in Vunisea for the Markets for Change (M4C) Financial Literacy and Organic Farming Basics training – to upskill farmers on natural farming systems without the use of man-made chemicals, as well as to receive vegetable seedlings and farming tools. “I can say that the lessons have helped me grow and gain more knowledge and understanding. The second training I attended was in Vunisea, where we were given seedlings and farming tools to support in the growth of our farm. When the crops and vegetables were mature and ready for harvest, I decided to sell them at the Vunisea market to earn some money. This is my third year at the market.”

Meliki Butukoro

Meliki displaying two of the doormats she stitched from discarded fabrics collected from the village.

Photo: UNDP
Meliki Butukoro

The doormats Meliki stitched from discarded fabrics.

Photo: UNDP

Meliki’s business sense has also inspired her to encourage the women of the village to look for alternatives to weaving mats, farming, or fishing for a living. Ruci Volivoli, for example saw the potential for growth on the island and seized an opportunity to start a screen-printing business. 

Ruci Volivoli

Ruci Volivoli of Drue village, Sanima in Kadavu.

Photo: UNDP

The 49-year-old mother-of-two realized no one in the village was screen-printing, so she decided to pursue this avenue as well, using the little knowledge she gained during a screen-printing training in 2018 and seeing the opportunities Meliki was exploring. “I was also hesitant to sell at the market, but I decided to take some of my tie-dye materials to the market and was surprised that it was sold and many liked it, so this pushed me to do more because I sit there at the market and people who come to buy crops and vegetables end up buying my tie-dye materials, so that’s when I became more confident to sell my materials at the market.”

Ruci is weaving mats to sell in order to buy her own sewing machine, as demand for pillowcases, curtains and bed sheets has increased.

The Markets for Change project was recently in Kadavu to create awareness to Vunisea market vendors and farmers about the Parametric Microinsurance product, which Meliki and Ruci benefited from. The M4C team also engaged seven financial and social service providers for market vendors and farmers on Fiji’s fourth largest island, particularly women, so they can access financial and social protection services.

Ruci Volivoli

Ruci Volivoli.

Photo: UNDP

The women, however, would have struggled to advance in business without the support of their spouses and families. Mosese Tuvoli, President of Vunisea’s Market Vendors Association for over 20 years, stressed that this is only possible if there is communication in the homes. “Today’s training was very good because some of the topics were centered on men, so I will speak on behalf of the men that this comes down to open communication, understanding, and focusing on our family, especially the future of our children. I would like to encourage everyone, especially men, to take advantage of these learning opportunities because you get so much out of them that will bring about positive change, and I would also like to encourage men to allow their wives to attend such trainings. Change your mindset, and you and your wife would benefit greatly from attending these trainings.”

Mosese Tuvoli

Vunisea Market Vendors Association President Mosese Tuvoli.

Photo: UNDP

Mosese thanked the UN Development Programme for its continuous support to farmers and market vendors over the past two years and emphasized one area for improvement - to encourage farmers to seize opportunities for capacity development and growth.

This opportunity was seized by Epeli Qaravanua, a 28-year-old farmer who has been caring for his mother since the loss of his father a few years ago. Since 2020, Epeli, the youngest of four siblings, has received support from UNDP where he has learned the value of saving money for both long-term and emergency purposes. With plans to renovate the family house within the next three to five years, he is not waiting for financial assistance from his older siblings who live and work in Suva, but instead he is putting his financial literacy trainings to use. “I always take advantage of the market’s presence. I used to visit the market without realizing it had financial value. But now that I know, I am making the most of it.”

Epeli Qaravanua

Epeli Qaravanua receives his Certificate of Participation in the Financial Literacy Training (Pre-requisite) for Parametric Microinsurance Product from M4C Project Manager Vilisi Veibataki.

Photo: UNDP

At the Vunisea market, Epeli sells kava (yaqona), root-crops and vegetables.  

Changes in gender roles were a notable achievement during the financial literacy training at Waisomo village in the district of Tavuki and Navotu village. In comparison to the previous two years, where most of the men participated and women catered, there was a large turnout of women at the training because men supported their wives, sisters, and mothers to attend.

65 percent of the 110 people who attended were women.

The Markets for Change project is implemented by UN Women in partnership with UNDP and the Governments of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Contact information:

Akosita Talei, Communications and Research Officer, Inclusive Growth Programme, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, email: akosita.ratumaimuri@undp.org