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Going the organic way

Filipe Naigulevu
Monday, November 06, 2017

ORGANIC farming is fast dawning as a bright spot in Fiji's agriculture scenery, with moves from stakeholders to grow this niche sector even further.

And while this sustainable farming method has its environmental and health benefits, it also has a rich potential to generate income.

Realising this, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has implemented a project that seeks to enable more than 80 youths to increase or develop their farming income through the use of organic regenerative farming practices.

UNDP's Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Human Development (YESDev) Project provides opportunities for young farmers to be suppliers, potential entrepreneurs or market vendors and get direct recommendations on proper and sustainable soil management methods including natural means of tackling plant protection problems.

It also aims to improve young farmers' skills in identifying and naturally managing their pest, disease and weed problems.

The project has seen a series of "Organics for Income" training sessions in southern Taveuni and Vanua Levu, specifically Nabouwalu-Bua, Seaqaqa and Tukavesi benefitting youths in each farming communities.

The training was conducted by project partners with Loving Islands, a registered Australian and Fijian social enterprise.

Supported by the Australian Government, the 12-month pilot project with a multi-local initiative has ensured that organics for income was known to participants in the remote northern areas of Nabouwalu-Bua, Seaqaqa, Tukavesi and southern Taveuni.

These income opportunities range from commencing production and local sales of organic vegetables, to new micro business development within the industry sector.

The training sessions were in its second round last week with the trainings conducted by Loving Islands founder/director Litia Kirwin.

According to UNDP program associate Elijah Mario, the project specifically aims to empower and benefit youths in the rural and urban areas, especially the remote rural areas where most UNDP projects haven't reached.

"We are trying to empower youths that with the natural resources they have, there's also great potential for them to make money for them and their families and to do so more with sustainable methods," he told this newspaper in an interview.

"One of these sustainable methods is all around organics so instead of them using all these weed killers and pesticides, chemical- based ones, we have got Loving Islands as our training partner to run the training on organic farming." Mr Mario said the second round of training was centreed around soil management, which took participants back to the basics on making agricultural output more sustainable and natural.

"The training is also to remind farmers that they already have most of the resources needed and to do away with chemical based methods," he said.

The training sessions do not only enable youths to be agriculturally productive, but is also inclusive, non-discriminatory, with a flavour of women being empowered.

The project has an objective to have at least 30 per cent female youth farmers participating and succeeding in this organics for income drive.

One of the participants of the training session, Fabiano Nikolau, 40, from Tukavesi in Cakaudrove said the training broadened his knowledge about farming and soil use including organic farming.

"We have seen that our old practices of farming were harming our own lives through the use of chemical and artificial fertilisers and pesticides," Mr Nikolau said.

"We had thought that this would enrich our farms and also contribute to our livelihoods but the farming practices were harmful.

"After this organic farming training that we have had now for the second round, we have seen that there is a need to re-engage with some of the old farming practices."

Mr Nikolau, who owns a small farm and is also employed at the Tukavesi district office, said the project had also taught him to change his farming methods and soil management.

"With Government's concern on the increase in NCDs, advice has also been given by health officials to eat lots of healthy and nutritious foods," he said.

"But we have also learned that organic foods are healthier and safer. There is a difference we have seen through this training in the crops harvested from organic and non-organic foods."

Participant Jonacani Tusa, from Koroivonu in Tunuloa, said the training shed light on traditional farming methods being linked to organic farming.

"I thank God that I was a part of this training as it has taught me a lot on the benefits of organic farming not only to our health and environment but also to our livelihoods," Mr Tusa said.

"Organic farming is good for both humans and the environment. I will start as soon as I can and will put what I have learned here into practice." The training was conducted throughout last week.

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