Imagine a small women-led organisation in a remote Pacific island nation supplying products sold in more than 3,000 shops in 66 countries. Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), a non-profit organisation working with 1,000 farming families in Samoa is doing just that, and much more.
WIBDI supplies locally produced and processed organic virgin coconut oil to global cosmetics company The Body Shop – which rates the products so highly that in 2018 talks were under way to discuss doubling its order.
Aside from this global reach, WIBDI supplies fresh produce and fruits within Samoa itself, educating and mentoring young farmers, developing farmer night markets, and using digital solutions to link producers with markets. It also exports a range of high value locally sourced products, including speciality teas, coffee, cocoa blocks and dried banana, both globally and to other Pacific countries.
So how did this not-for-profit organisation from a small island state with a population of less than 200,000 come to gain global market recognition, and transform the livelihoods of thousands of local families?
Working through women to benefit the family
While the entry point was originally through women, WIBDI takes a family-centred approach to agricultural development, ensuring the approval, engagement and assistance of husbands, as well as providing children with a first-hand example of income generating family farming. This strategy has also attracted previously non-farming families to enter the sector.
“In working specifically with women, we were often taking them away from their usual roles, which caused issues within the family,” explains WIBDI Executive Director Adi Tafunai. “Working together with the whole family helped us to overcome this, as they began to understand the activities, and work out among themselves the right person to do certain jobs.”
The women-led organisation has taken care to target Samoa’s booming tourism market, recognising that today’s travellers are looking for concrete learning experiences, especially gastronomic ones. Visits to producers – farm tours, processing facilities and food fairs – are proving hugely popular with tourists. Organic night markets are held every month in the capital of Apia, timed to coincide with the arrival of cruise ships and tourism events.
Digitalising smallholder farmers
A common challenge for small-scale famers in developing countries is accessing local and international markets, and nowhere is this more acute than in small island states such as Samoa, where improving efficiency and lowering transaction costs are critical to success. WIBDI is using innovative ICT4Ag tools to address constraints caused by its remote location. Its tailor made Farm to Table App ensures that more than 1,300 farmers have a direct link to the market and to WIBDI, and enables customers to place orders from their smartphone.
The mobile app allows for better production planning and marketing, and ultimately ensures that supply matches demand, and that product consistency is guaranteed across the value chain. Customers, which include hotels, restaurants and organisations, can place orders safe in the knowledge that a given product is available, and will come from a specific geographical location. This has allowed WIBDI to access the hospitality sector in Samoa, while individual customers can order weekly organic baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Recognising the need to log producers’ records, and use ICT and mobile technologies to connect directly with customers, WIBDI now has a digital database which maps more than 1,300 farmers and 796 organic certified farms, as well as their produce and location.
“WIBDI was looking for mobile access to organise deliveries, and a dashboard to drive their business, and we were able to help through our Data4Ag project,” said Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator for Data4Ag at CTA, which supported WIBDI in its digitalisation initiative. Among a range of technologies now used to obtain more accurate information on its supplier farms is the use of drones to map farms and count coconut trees from the air.
Scaling up and opportunities
Looking ahead, WIBDI is investigating new high value products for export, as well as eco-retreats for the niche tourist market in Samoa. Plans are in hand to facilitate access to finance and shorten payment terms, as well as to support value addition activities at community level, and organise annual agritourism business fairs.
Efforts to engage youth, particularly women, in agriculture will be sustained through the organic warriors academy, which provides training for young people, as well as access to services and markets. The focus on innovative ICT solutions to enable smallholder producers to participate in global value chains will be further strengthened, and WIBDI will continue to position its international presence, and build the ‘produced in Samoa’ brand worldwide.
At the heart of each and every activity will be the women-led, family-based approach that has become known as the WIBDI hallmark. WIBDI may be gaining global recognition, but its core value lies in the small island nation that is central to its success.
This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.