“We are small and under-resourced, but with true Pacific spirit and resilience we can all become gold medallists,” says Howard Politini, Chairman of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), in reference to the Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) uniform he was wearing that had an image of a gold medal pertaining to the Fiji Rugby Sevens team’s iconic and much-celebrated win at the Olympics recently. General Manager of Human Resources for BSP, he continues, “People are the focus. We are in the people business. We need to change the mind-set of people: the subsistence mind-set and mentality. We also need to get youth excited about opportunities offered in agriculture and change perceptions about working in the sector. We must advocate for women and empower them to succeed in agribusiness.”
Napolioni Batimala, CEO of Merchant Bank, introduced three banking products available to the agribusiness sector in Fiji, stressing the need for consistent training of farmers, better market access, technical expertise and biosecurity. Meanwhile, the CEO of the Small Business Enterprises Centre in Samoa, Alatina Loelu, and the CEO of Samoa Development Bank, Susana Laulu, talked about their partnerships in improving the quality of life of Samoan people through lending products and helping to implement agricultural projects. They both highlighted the challenge of people in the Pacific who prioritise their cultural and social obligations over their financial obligations.
The European Investment Bank's Head of Office for the Pacific, Adam Bruun, and Asian Development Bank (ADB) Facility Manager for the Samoa Agribusiness Project, Ian Buck, discussed what their organisations are doing in support of financing sustainable agribusinesses. Many questions were asked at the end of the session and an excited buzz was felt around the room as the discussions about private sector finance possibilities started.
PIPSO's CEO, Mereia Volavola, announced the outcomes of the Women in Agribusiness workshop held last Monday. These include a business-oriented study on mapping best practices of women entrepreneurs and women-led small and medium-sized enterprises in agribusiness; better access to markets through strengthening business and financial skills; support to agribusiness incubators through identifying promising innovations (including ICT-led) as well as financial support; promoting exchange of experiences between African, Caribbean and Pacific countries; and the development of a strong policy advocacy and communication policy.
Representatives from the working groups presented their creative ideas and solutions to the challenges and issues faced by the agriculture and agritourism sectors in the Pacific. Short-, medium- and long-term actionable recommendations included: the creation of regional projects to exchange information; collaboration on biosecurity; value chain development; quality assurance; value adding; capacity-building; climate-smart farming; better access to resources; policy development; and harnessing opportunities in herbal medicine, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and cultural goods. The whole set of recommendations made at the end of this Forum will be turned into a clear step-by-step action plan soon to be shared with all participants.
The Forum was closed by H.E. Paolelei Luteru, Samoa's Ambassador to the European Union, who concluded that "This Forum will not just be a talkfest. In the Pacific, action is needed. One of the key areas that have been highlighted this week was the call for more multisectoral and multistakeholder partnerships, as well as solutions that have a regional approach."
Se'i ta toe fa'atasi [Until we are together again]!