Agritourism policy

THERE needs to be a clear and comprehensive policy particularly on agritourism and how to link agriculture and tourism.

This was the view of Lomaiviti Provincial Women’s Association president Sereana Qoro while speaking at the Fiji Agritourism Policy Setting workshop at the Novotel Suva Lami Bay on Monday.

Mrs Qoro, who heads the association comprising more than 1500 women members from the Lomaiviti Province, emphasised the need for this policy to guide those involved in agritourism.

“There needs to be a clear policy document on agritourism and how to link agriculture and tourism,” Mrs Qoro said.

“There is no policy at the moment for agritourism, but once that is clear then we are able to incorporate that into our strategic plans for women and in the work that they do.”

With Fiji holding 40 per cent of the Pacific tourism market share, opportunities have been identified to link tourism and agriculture and harness benefits.

Agriculture is one of Fiji’s key economic sectors and contributes about 28 per cent of total employment in the formal sector, and indirectly employs many more.

Once a major stronghold of Fiji’s economy, agriculture is the third largest now, contributing $451 million or 9 per cent annually to GDP.

“In tourism and agriculture the link between the two, it is so important to have a Government policy specifically on agritourism, so people like me when I am dealing with women in rural areas need to understand this,” Mrs Qoro said.

“The women in the rural areas when they hear agritourism, many of them ask what’s that?”

In doing this, Government has partnered with Pacific Community (SPC), Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) and South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) in the first Fiji Agritourism Policy Setting workshop which was held earlier in Nadi.

The workshop focused on policy setting for improved linkages between agriculture, trade and tourism including strengthening the local agrifood sector and promoting healthy food in agritourism.

A policy on agritourism would also develop linkages with the health sector, ensuring that it supports national campaigns towards nutritious and healthy food.

Mrs Qoro said the women’s association had also realised the huge potential that agritourism had in the economic empowerment of its members.

She said the main economic activities and products of the association included weaving, coconut related products, fish scales and shells jewellery, farming of vegetables and fruits, fisheries, seaweed including pearl farming.

“The opportunities are huge, whether you are talking hand-woven mats which are part of agriculture, because voivoi (pandanus) is a plant or other craft work,” she said.

“I’m sure that the Lomaiviti mats are one of the most famous in the market with its fine craft and unique designs, those are examples of agritourism and agri-based businesses.

“Our members also produce virgin coconut oil, and jewellery like bangles, necklaces, earrings made from coconut shells and fish scales.

“That sells well in the tourist markets as well.”

But in order to get women fully inculcated into business, Mrs Qoro said they also focused on capacity building and financial education as part of their objectives outlined in the association’s three-year plan.

“Our plans and objectives are we focus on women’s economic empowerment getting more women to generate cash at home,” she said.

“When you talk of women’s economic empowerment, it translates into more income distribution in the villages, in the tikina, in the province and outside of the province.

“There is a need for capacity building in the area of business planning, budgeting, but because it’s a business, we need to well understand the basics of business.

“Topics like how to manage your cash flow, how to project future business risks and how to understand how the market works for what they do.”

Mrs Qoro also stressed the need for ministries and organisations that deal with rural based groups to have efficient data for decision making.

“Our association consists of women from six islands, 12 tikina and about 75 villages in Lomaiviti, women as young as 16 and as old as 75,” she said.

“What’s important when you’re dealing with rural people is that you have to have data. We cannot manage and make good decisions without solid data.

“In our case, we started by collecting data from women, so every member has a profile form and updated our databases and I feel that is lacking in our organisations particularly the iTaukei ones.”

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