For many years now, most small-scale farmers in the Pacific Islands have struggled to make a decent living. The shift from the traditional diet of fish, fruit, indigenous tubers and fresh vegetables to one based on cheap, imported, calorie-dense foods not only reduced demand for local produce but led to major health problems, with the Pacific now suffering from some of the highest rates of diet-related diseases in the world.
At the same time, the remoteness of the Pacific Islands has made it difficult for farmers to take advantage of markets abroad.
However, this is beginning to change – most notably in Samoa, where CTA supports Women in Business Development (WIBDI), an organisation which is linking local farmers with hotels, restaurants and households, as well as major retailers with a global reach, such as the Body Shop and All Good Organics.
“Small island economies are never going to be major food producers, capable of competing with neighbouring countries like Australia,” says Isolina Boto, who manages CTA’s Brussels office. “But they can focus on producing high-quality food and other products, such as coconut oil, for niche markets.”
WIBDI is using a range of innovative ICT4Ag tools to address the challenges facing local food producers. Its Farm to Table app, developed with support from CTA, now ensures that more than 1,300 small-scale farmers are linked to the people who want to buy nutritious, locally produced and mostly organic food. The app allows for better production planning and marketing and ensures that supply matches demand. Hotels, restaurants and individuals can place orders using the app, which is also proving a useful resource for anybody searching for a good meal cooked with locally grown organic ingredients.
WIBDI’s reputation internationally largely stems from its success in supplying organic virgin coconut oil to the Body Shop, which, in 2018, began discussions to double its order. Cosmetics made with the island’s coconut oil are now being sold in more than 3,000 shops across 66 countries. The trade is proving immensely important, both for Samoa’s economy and for the welfare of hundreds of farming families.
WIBDI has benefited from a number of digitalisation initiatives besides the Farm to Table app. It now has a digital database, developed with support from CTA, which includes information on approximately 800 organic farms, providing details of their location and production systems. WIBDI has also used drones to map coconut groves and count coconut trees from the air. All of this is helping to make operations more transparent and efficient.
Looking to the future, WIBDI anticipates that its Organic Warriors Academy – established in 2016 as part of the youth employment project funded by the United Nations Development Programme with systems support from CTA – will continue to provide training for young people, especially women, as well as access to services and markets. WIBDI is currently investigating new high-value products for export and there are plans to increase support for value addition activities at community level, and to organise agri-tourism business fairs.
CTA’s relationship with WIBDI is set to continue, with a major new project in 2019. Among other things, this will help to support the design and development of a broader agri-tourism programme in the Pacific, which will include technical training, consumer education, rural business development and initiatives to increase employment in the sector.