Organics in the Pacific
When you’re a small-scale farmer living under the palm fronds of a Pacific island, selling your coconuts to well-to-do folks across the planet isn’t easy. Organic production is changing all that.
island peoples are starting to reach high-level niche markets across the oceans with certified organic products. In Auckland this might look like a packet of imported dried organic bananas in a child’s lunchbox; but on the islander end the results have been life-changing for many families.
For many Pacific islanders, organic farming feels like an obvious choice. “Organics really touches people in the Pacific. Everyone really relates to it as it is the wayour grandfathers used to farm,” says Karen Mapusua. She is one half of the staff of Fiji-based POETCom, the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community, which works to unify the efforts of Pacific island organic growers.
Getting everyone’s organic products to market, however, comes less naturally than the growing. “It’s very, very difficult for a smallholder to go directly to the market,” Mapusua says. The peoples of small, isolated islands haven’t got a chance in international commodity markets, where it’s all about economies of scale. “For example, wecannot compete with the Philippines on conventional bananas,” says Mapusua.
However, through organic production, islanders are now finding their ownspecialty niches. It’s not just about getting a few cents more for an organic product, Mapusua says; organic status literally “creates a livelihood opportunity that wasn’t there.”
To open up those opportunities, small growers have to come together.
Womenin Business Development Inc (WIBDI), a woman-led village development organisation in Samoa, is one of the trailblazers, now20 years into its work. These days, people around the globe are soothing their skin with organic Samoan coconut oil. This is thanks to WIBDI’s shining success: a contract to supply the Body Shop in the UK.
The Body Shopnowuses WIBDI’s organic oil in all its coconut oil-containing products, including its trademark Body Butters, creams and lotions. Astrong proponent of fair trade, the cosmetic company sends its auditors to Samoa to check farm families are treated ethically and paid fairly.
Around 600 Samoan coconut farmers nowgrow for the Body Shop. WIBDI collects the oil from farmer-processors, handles the money and trains the farmers. “Many farmers practice traditional farming, which is basically organic farming, but they still need training in howto prepare for an organic audit,” says Adimaimalaga Tafunai, WIBDI’s executive director and co-founder.
The significance of such a contract cannot be overstated. In Samoa, economic prospects are scant. The notion of living off the land under the palm trees might sound dreamy from a distance. In reality, subsistence farmers increasingly feel the need for cash, and have few options to earn it. “As the cash economy keeps on moving into rural communities, responsibilities are expressed through cash — education, even church obligations,” explains Kamilo ’Ali, Pacific livelihoods programme officer at Oxfam.
Some flee to cities to compete for scarce jobs. Others survive on remittances sent back by relatives working overseas. Organic markets are changing that equation. “Many organic farmers had no opportunities to earn an income where they lived,” reflects WIBDI’s Tafunai. With organic production contracts, many rural people nowfind Stuck for holiday gift ideas? You cannowbuy your loved ones such enticing gifts as an honorary “pair of coconuts” or “pile of poo,” and support Oxfam’s work with organic farming communities in the Pacific. For gift options see
themselves earning a regular income for the first time in their lives.
Suddenly these growers “are able to stand on their owntwo feet,” Ali says. “It replenishes hope.”
Caring relationships, founded on the principle that true development must embrace local culture, sit at the heart of these organic successes.
OxfamNewZealand has steadily nurtured the growth of organic trade in the Pacific islands.
Oxfam has stood alongside WIBDI in Samoa for over 10 years, helping local leaders build their organisational capacity, and training them in business and organic certification.
NowWIBDI are turning around to share the benefits with their Pacific neighbours.
They have shared their experiences with sister organisations in 11 Pacific countries and recently helped 54 Tongan growers get certified for organic coconut production.
There’s no one-size-fits-all development model, however. Each Pacific nation has its ownculture.
“We’ve learned that what works in one country maynot work in another,” Tafunai says. “Cultures and communities are quite different.”