17 Jul 2013

Organic Agriculture helping Pacific families

5:07 pm on 17 July 2013

Organic agriculture is being credited by community groups in Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu as helping families rise out of poverty and grow their local economies.

The groups are all partnered with Oxfam New Zealand to train communities to improve their livelihoods, and are in New Zealand to meet with some of the companies that sell their products.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

Oxfam and the Tonga National Youth Congress have been working together to equip the outer islands and some isolated islands, to produce their own export quality virgin coconut oil. The chairperson of the Tonga National Youth Congress, Drew Havea, says they started the Virgin Coconut Oil units in very remote islands first, because these are the poorest areas.

"DREW HAVEA: We want to make sure that we can make a difference in the lives, especially the poor and the marginalised community, and coconut is one of those product that everybody owns in the islands. If you are rich or poor, we all have coconuts. So we feel that this would be a very good commodity to develop."

Mr Havea says they strongly believe that agriculture is the area that they can best engage young people, and it's also helping attract them back to their home islands, rather than moving to urban centres. He says one of the biggest difference is in people's attitudes - there is now enthusiasm and excitement about the future.

DREW HAVEA: They were saying, 'Hey, this is the first christmas we didn't have to ask for money from our relatives from overseas. We've covered all our school fees for our children, we didn't have to ask for money'. We are energising them to do more in the community, where they feel before there was nothing else they can do, they see the potential, I think they can dream about better things which was not there before.

Samoa's Women In Business Development has also been helping farmers sell organic coconut oil, dried bananas and fine mats. A programme manager with the group, Alberta Vitale, says there is a market for fine mats in New Zealand, USA, the UK, Tonga and most recently Japan. She says it's a great way to revive tradition, as well provide women with the means to make money, with the highest-quality mats being sold at 7,000 tala each.

ALBERTA VITALE: It's very good to see this knowledge of weaving the finest mat in Samoa coming back because a lot of our people have lost knowledge or information about this particular fine mat. But we're now able to train new weavers to do this particular fine mat. The best thing is having a market. They're not just weaving a mat and waiting around to sell, they have a market for it.

An associate director of the Vanuatu Farm Support Association, Peter Kaoh says they have been working with Oxfam to help women and youth raise rural incomes. He says providing seeds to women to grow in their own home gardens, means they can sell produce at the market, so they earn enough to improve their living conditions and become self-sufficient.

The farmers that we are working with, I call them semi-commercial farmers, which means part of their farm is sold for money - the produce that comes from the farm is partly sold for money - and part of it is used for house consumption.

Meanwhile, in Tonga, the National Youth Congress is gearing up for their first export shipment in September with over 200 young people involved, and over 1,000 families benefitting from coconut sales.