76 organic producers with more than 3,900 acres now registered for organic food production in Matuku island!
Suva, Fiji: Matuku island’s session 3 on-island training is now complete after 4 weeks working along side communities to successfully produce their first production run of virgin coconut oil (VCO), coconut oil, coconut flour & tapioca flour.
Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) auditing for organic certification:
The 3rd round of PGS auditing on the island was done with positive results and a visible inclusion of biodiversity and agro-ecological farming practices across most farms. The concerns in some villages of farmers still using chemical weed killers led to a tightening of the on-island PGS system that resulted in the certification of land areas limited to wild harvest coconut areas. All farmers are now required to undertake preliminary farm audits prior to registration and pre-sale farm inspections to verify activity.
The first sustainable incomes:
Receiving the first incomes from sustainable organic farming has been much anticipated although definitely not without its challenges! Despite the abundance of natural resources and weekly communications with the on-island Project team, it quickly became apparent the island’s lack of access to energy, clean potable water, road transportation, infrastructure and equipment were more significant barriers than we could have imagined.
After a few emails back to Australia to cancel the sales orders and sea freight we head out with communities to approach the challenges head-on as a community. The initial approach saw the sheer manpower of the balebale (group) work approach come into play ~ something synonymous with village life on the outer islands. 1-day & 2,000 coconuts later, we were ready for some late nights of virgin coconut oil production as we agreed to time the use of machinery to the use of the generator in the evening to save on fuel resources.
After 3 weeks of production, group reflection, adaptation and $1,300 of community income we arrived at a day-time rostered approach that allowed individuals with flexibility and ownership over their production schedules. Whilst this approach didn’t produce as large a volume as the previous it was much more suited to life on the islands and therefore more sustainable over the long-term.
With 76 farmers now registered, the communities have moved to establish the Matuku Organic Farmers’ Co-Operative to act as the legal entity for the groups’ activities and organic certification. Whilst the first sustainable incomes of the Project have been achieved, communities are still in dire need of purpose built infrastructure and production equipment to immediately reduce labour intensity and improve quality assurance of goods. To be continued… ♡
Thank you again to the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Environment Office in Suva, the Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) and the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT)!
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