Samoa may conjure up images of a tropical paradise, but this Pacific island offers much more than a tourist getaway. A Samoan business development organisation, tapping the values of family, tradition and art, has put the island nation’s farming communities on the world map as producers of high-value organic products, mostly generated by women agripreneurs.
Women in Business Development Inc. (WIBDI), a business development organisation formed in Samoa in 1991, is working with farming families to produce high-value products for local and global markets. Products include organic virgin coconut oil, fruits and vegetables, dried bananas and distinctive coffee. A number of them are now exported across the world to brand companies such as C1Espresso in New Zealand and The Body Shop in the United Kingdom.
“Organic farming has helped local farming families to earn income. We know some of them do not have good jobs, but this is something different to help,” says WIBDI Senior Programme Manager Taaloga Apa. “We have managed to work together with the smallholder farmers. We registered their farms under our programme and we have had them all certified and have sourced the markets for them.”
To capture and retain these markets, farmers have had to meet the international quality standards sought by clients, and ensure consistency of their products. Drawn by the quality of WIBDI’s virgin coconut oil, and the knowledge that its purchase helps to boost the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, The Body Shop has consistently used it in its top end range of cosmetics and skincare products for a number of years. In 2018, the company doubled its annual order of virgin coconut oil to 8 tonnes.
The income from organic virgin coconut oil has motivated Samoan farmers to increase their output, improve the quality, and develop their business skills. Many of them are women.
“The farmers have been able to send their children to school, build houses and buy vehicles from the earnings from the sales of virgin coconut oil,” says Apa. “Even though some have been slow to join the enterprise, we have encouraged the farmers to work together as family because this does not benefit one person, but the whole family.”
Meeting and maintaining high quality and certification standards has been a learning curve for WIBDI, and its farmers, but The Body Shop’s constant stream of orders confirms it is a well-satisfied customer.
“People are really excited about the coconut oil products from Samoa,” says Katarina Voura, a sales assistant at The Body Shop in Wageningen, The Netherlands, during a recent meeting with WIBDI representatives. “People know where the ingredients are from, and we have a story behind the product. People like the story, and for some people it is important to know the difference they make when they but the product, so we are pleased we can tell them the coconut oil is from Samoa.”
In an effort to manage the more than 700 farmers now producing organic virgin coconut oil and other horticultural products, WIBDI has digitalised its operations to organise certification and deliveries of fresh produce to hotels and restaurants. With assistance from CTA, WIBDI has developed an app for online ordering of organic fruit and vegetables.
“We created a profile of the farmers and their details, so that they can better organise the logistics of collecting produce. With this dataset, each of the farmers knows how much they have delivered,” explains Chris Addison, Senior Programme Coordinator for Data4Ag at CTA.
WIBDI has also engaged in training young people in organic farming, and helps them to access land and inputs. Previously unemployed, many young farmers have now become independent and managed to buy their own tools and supply products to the market.
“The integrated approach used by WIBDI has been a success because of diversification of markets from local to global,” says Isolina Boto, CTA Brussels office manager. “They have done this through social integration in the community. You know that as a donor or financier, if you invest in such an operation, you will get your returns.”
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.