By Zane Yoshida

Helping Ovalau Kava Farmers After Winston

A new quality assurance initiative is being introduced on the Fijian island of Ovalau this week to help kava farmers there – and we’re proud to be behind it.

The system is designed to help generate increased profits and a steady income for kava farmers in the wake of Cyclone Winston which, as you know, severely impacted the kava industry across Fiji.

What is the Participant Guarantee System (PGS)?

The Participant Guarantee System (PGS) is an initiative originally designed by the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) which is funded by the Australian government and coordinated by The University of Queensland.

Its overall aim is to create sustainable developments for South Pacific agribusiness, improving the livelihoods of South Pacific farmers and their families.

The PGS is a quality assurance initiative, whereby the farmers guarantee reliable and consistent quality and a regular supply of premium produce and, in return, the major buyers (such as resorts) guarantee to accept a certain quantity of the produce and to pay a good price for it.

The following video explains more about the PGS and how it’s helping all types of farmers around Fiji.

As you can see, the system wasn’t designed for kava farmers. It was originally piloted with 16 vegetable farmers near the capital, Suva, and will expand to other regions around Fiji.

The support it provides to smallholders, who traditionally have little market power, is encouraging farmers to produce higher quality and greater quantities of produce, because of the guaranteed market demand.

It is a win-win for the farmers and the businesses buying the vegetables and the success of the scheme has led to a similar initiative being set up for kava.

How does it work for Ovalau kava farmers?

Kava farmers on the island of Ovalau are smallholders. This is the island where South Pacific Elixirs has set up its Taki Mai operations and we have our nurseries and production facilities there. It’s also where I was born, so I have a keen interest in helping the island prosper.

Dr. Rob Erskine Smith, from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia (who can be seen in the above video above) received a small grant from the EU through the Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) program. This was designed to help the kava farmers on Ovalau with a structured rebuilding program after Winston, and to secure a more reliable supply chain.

South Pacific Elixirs has helped develop the initiative in terms of quality control input and together we are forming nine farmers’ groups on the island.

Kava farmers join up to become members of one of the nine groups, which function as individual companies. Each has a president, secretary and treasurer, with the company owned equally by members. Training is provided and profits are paid to members according to the produce they supply, while a small sum is retained for company operations such as cool room costs, transport, and marketing. Each company has more buying power for fertiliser and other essential supplies and this is another benefit of becoming a member.

As one of the main buyers of kava on the island, South Pacific Elixirs is proud to be throwing our weight behind the initiative and supporting the farmers there.

What are the benefits for the kava farmers?

As you see from the video, the PGS has a real impact on the lives of smallholder farmers around Fiji. As a coordinated group with consistent quality produce, they are able to attract premium prices, allowing for extra profits to be used to improve farms and households.

Rather than the profits going to market entrepreneurs (such as middle men) they end up in the farmers’ pockets.

The tomato farmers in the video were able to pipe water from the source to improve irrigation on their land, buy cattle, and build more solid houses. With a steadier income, they can afford to fund better education for their children.

The hope is that similar benefits will come to Ovalau kava farmers as a result of the system being put in place there.