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.

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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.”

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