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Social enterprise makes waves

Filipe Naigulevu
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A SMALL Fijian social enterprise is certainly looking to make waves in small grassroots communities in a bid to provide inclusive sustainable economic development.

Loving Islands — a registered Australian and Fijian social enterprise — has been assisting communities, particularly in the remote island of Matuku in the Lau Group, through an extensive organic farming project.

The enterprise was founded by Litia Kirwin, an Australian with iTaukei maternal links who was raised in both Australia's tropical North East coast and the island of Matuku.

With a passion to raise the standards of living across remote Pacific communities, Ms Kirwin also had to ensure that Loving Islands maintained the environmental integrity the pristine Fiji Islands are known for.

The enterprise in August last year began the Matuku Island Organic Farming Project (MIOFP) in a bid to build the production capacity and quality of organic farmers on Matuku.

The project is a 13-month training program designed to develop income opportunities for Matuku Island communities through the sale of organic products.

Supported by partners; the US Embassy's Regional Environment Office in Suva and the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) of the Pacific Community (SPC), the project further aims to develop income opportunities for Matuku Island communities through the sale of organic products.

"We started an organic awareness training program in August last year kindly funded by the US Embassy in Suva in partnership with POETCom," Ms Kirwin said.

"My enterprise that we are running this though is called Loving Islands so we are really about setting up conservation activities and linking that to market activities."

But what is more intriguing behind this enterprise is that it seeks to empower Pacific Island communities through the provision of market-driven services that alleviate poverty, promote gender income equality and foster inclusive local governance capabilities.

The initiative also seeks to increase the business confidence among grassroots people such as the islanders of Matuku and also enhances their climate change resilience. The previous on-island training sessions on Matuku last year also saw the successful production of their first production run of virgin coconut oil (VCO), coconut oil, coconut flour and tapioca flour.

"After 10 months, we are now at the marketing stage and we use value added goods, like coconut oil, cocoa, tapioca flour and things like that," Ms Kirwin said.

"We also focus on building the domestic organic market in Fiji and we will move to exports later this year.

"So we have got seven villages on the island of Matuku. Unlike Cicia, they took a whole island organic certification approach, we have taken it individually.

"We feel that this is the work that you put in at an individual level which produces more effective outcomes for us which is good."

The enterprise has also been assisting Matuku's budding organic farmers with their Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a peer-based review method of organic certification for small clustered farming groups through farm auditing on the island.

This was done with positive results and a more visible inclusion of biodiversity and agro-ecological farming practices across most farms.

"With this project, we have now got a network of 76 organic farmers. I think by having this network we now have been able to get agriculture to take that next step which is really important for the communities," Ms Kirwin said.

"So we basically are providing them with the resources they need to create incomes and improve livelihoods."

The enterprise has also conducted workshops on soil inputs, organic fertilisers, manures and pesticides to address the concerns in some villages of farmers still using chemical weed killers.

This move also saw the tightening of the on-island PGS system that resulted in the certification of land areas limited to wild harvest coconut areas.

Ms Kirwin also highlighted certain challenges such as the remoteness of their location on Matuku which hindered access to markets.

And the first sustainable incomes of the project have been achieved, the communities are still in dire need of purpose built infrastructure and production equipment to immediately reduce labour intensity and improve quality assurance of goods.

"We have a remote location and our access services and infrastructure is extremely underdeveloped," she said.

"But we have managed to produce more value added products like tapioca flour and the cocoa season has just started so we will have cocoa powder, hopefully chocolate products and more beauty and body products by the end of this year."

Other organic products expected to be a result of the project this year include organic virgin coconut oil, organic flours, spices, and soaps from local ingredients.

Loving Islands so far has staff members comprising only of Ms Kirwin and Mosese Coriakula who is the project co-ordinator with more plans to introduce a sales and marketing personnel to co-ordinate their market access/reach.

With links to Australia, Ms Kirwin said they had secured certain markets which they hoped to export to later on this year before looking to other export markets.

POETCom had also provided communities on Matuku with new open-pollinated seeds for the production of corn, tomatoes, eggplants and chillies for value-added processing later in the year.

With big plans and growth momentum this year, the enterprise and communities on Matuku are also looking to establish the Matuku Organic Farmers' Co-Operative.

This will act as the legal entity for the groups' activities and organic certification.








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