From Sustainable Agriculture to Water Security, DISGS Grants Propel Economic Growth and Social Change in Fiji

June 10, 2024

Some of the Drua Innovation Small Grant Scheme recipients with Fiji's Deputy Prime MInister and Minister for External Trade, Cooperatives, Communications, SME's and Corporatives Mr Manoa Kamikamica, and the Resident Representative for UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Ms Munkhtuya Altangerel during the award ceremony earlier this year.

UNDP

In the very heart of Fiji’s scenery and dynamic community life, a quiet but impactful change is happening, thanks to the Drua Innovation Small Grant Scheme (DISGS).

Beyond its aims of fostering economic development and sustainability, this pioneering initiative is fundamentally changing lives, not just for its recipients but for their workers and families as well.

Partnering with the Government of Fiji, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji, and with support from the Government of Luxembourg, this initiative is supporting transformative development, not just for its recipients but for their workers and families as well.

Aligned with the global goals of UNDP, the DISGS plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth, sustainability, and gender equality in Fiji.

Following a robust selection process, 13 private and community-based Enterprises (awardees) successfully secured grant funding from the DISGS earlier this year, heralding a new era of innovation and economic revitalization. These grants, totaling FJ$900,000, represent more than just financial support; they signify a vote of confidence in the entrepreneurial spirit of Fiji.

For the awardees, the impact of the grant extends far beyond the financial support it provides. It serves as a catalyst for innovation, enabling them to pursue bold ideas and initiatives that may have otherwise remained unrealized.

From eco-tourism ventures to sustainable agriculture projects, each grantee is empowered to drive economic prosperity, thereby strengthening, and uplifting their communities.

Bula Coffee representative, Luke Freytt giving the UNDP team a tour at their location in Sigatoka.

UNDP

Bula Coffee, one of the awardees, located near the renowned Sigatoka Sand Dunes and in operation since 2011, has been making a difference in the lives of up to 5,000 locals, whom they purchase coffee beans from.

The company has built a positive working relationships with Fijians from around 38 villages, ranging from Nadroga to Rakiraki on Viti Levu (Fiji’s largest island) and also in Dreketi and Saqani in Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island). Bula Coffee’s man on the ground, Luke Freytt says that they’ve realised the positive impact that their business has created in the lives of those that are picking coffee beans for them.

“We’ve received success stories from some of our pickers – where some have even stopped in the market just to tell how the coffee money has helped them, whether it's to put themselves through tertiary education or help setup a new life, away from a domestic violence relationship,” he said.

With thanks to the DISGS grant, Luke can upgrade the company’s current industrial coffee roaster to ensure production efficiency, consistency, and quality. Luke’s passion is driven by the available natural resources through coffee and cocoa. It is the reason why he started the company and has teamed up with villages to harvest and roast wild organic coffee beans.

Bula Coffee continues to work with community-based coffee growers to enhance their production capacity and grow the Fijian coffee brand through capacity building of local staff and upgrading equipment to diversify its product line.

As community centric initiatives grow and thrive, they create employment opportunities, lifting individuals out of poverty and empowering them to build better futures for themselves and their loved ones – even it means ensuring the availability of basic needs, such as water. 

The water tanks after being loaded on to a shipping vessel for transport to the island of Cikobia,

Cirikalia Youth Club members constructing platforms for the water tanks; the process also involved the cutting and replanting of trees.

The Cirikalia Youth Club on Cikobia Island, another DISGS awardee, inspired by Club Chairman Dr Jekope Maiono’s passion to assist fellow islanders, exemplifies this transformation. The club’s vision is empowering the youth of Cikobia through a sustainable livelihood approach that benefits the island's residents.

Entrusted with this responsibility by his grandfather, Dr Maiono views it as both a duty and a passion:

"Over time, it has become both a duty and a passion for me as I witness the positive impact it has on our community."

The island's reliance on two old boreholes leads to severe water shortages in the summer, causing residents to migrate and children to use contaminated water.

The club's first phase of funding through DISGS, has successfully secured ten water tanks, prioritizing households with school-going children and widows. The initiative is aimed at resolving the Cikobia island’s water crisis and catalyzing livelihood training and sustenance for residents.  

Dr Maiono recounts, "Many residents of Cikobia are migrating to the mainland due to the harsh conditions on the island. During the summer, children are forced to bathe and drink contaminated water. The government sends shipments of water to the island, but only families with tanks can store it."

The community's response has been overwhelmingly positive, with former Mata ni Tikina of Cikobia (Divisional Representative) Jasa Ratumuri, expressing deep gratitude for the Club’s efforts.

"Thank you for always remembering us in the village. The people of Cikobia are immensely proud of the work you guys are doing to ensure that the residents of Cikobia have access to their basic human needs and can maintain their dignity," he said.

Grace Trifam Ministry Fiji, is a faith based non-profitable NGO that delivers empowerment and capacity building programs to community-based women and youths.

The DISGS champions women led solutions innovating in the climate adaptation and resilience space. Six out of the 13 awardees are women led initiatives that are not only having transformative impact amongst their beneficiaries but also inspiring other women to pursue the entrepreneurial journey.  

Other awardees of the grant include:

(1)    Centre for Appropriate Technology & Development (CATD) - working on innovative low-cost climate resilient building solutions using mud bricks,
(2)    Juice Fiji - promoting locally produced health juice from through climate resilient farming solutions,
(3)    EK's Vegetable Hydroponic - showcasing the innovative possibilities of urban vertical backyard farming, 
(4)    Paddle Nature Fiji - championing sustainable tourism solutions through restorative nature-based solutions,
(5)    Habitat for Humanity Fiji - piloting innovative gravity fed water and sanitation solutions for climate vulnerable rural communities,
(6)    Kalitiana’s Enterprise - employing a diverse team to produce sustainable agricultural products incorporating digital and climate-resilient farming practices,
(7)    The Attic Fiji - creating resilient livelihoods through empowering traditional craftmanship,
(8)    Grace Trifam Ministry (GTM) Fiji - empowering rural women to utilize traditional skills to generate alternative resilient livelihoods,
(9)    Marama Niu - unlocking the economic potential of rural communities through coconut nectar production as a healthy alternative to sugar, 
(10)   Tavua Ridge Farm – incorporating and diversifying into agro-forestry to improve barren land soil fertility with best practices that is gender inclusive and environmentally friendly
(11)    Zonah United - facilitating high value addition for agricultural products supporting local farmers.

As these projects unfold, they are set to serve as proof of concepts, demonstrating the potential for replication across the Pacific region, laying the foundation for a more prosperous and equitable future.

For more information contact:

Risiate Biudole, Communications Analyst, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji | risiate.biudole@undp.org