Noumea, New Caldonia – Breadfruit chips from Samoa, coffee from Papua New Guinea, crystallised ginger from Fiji, squash from Tonga, cassava flour from Vanuatu, pandanus juice from Marshall Islands and cocoa from Solomon Islands — these are just some of the wide range of products that Pacific Island farmers and entrepreneurs are supplying to export markets, with assistance from the European Union-funded Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT) pilot project, which began in May 2008.
Implemented by an eight-member team based at SPC in Nabua, Fiji and Honiara, Solomon Islands, the FACT project is led by Agri-Forestry Export Specialist and FACT Project Team Leader Dr Lex Thomson.
[ Ni-Vanuatu food entrepreneur Votusi MacKenkie-Reur inspects manioc (cassava) chips drying in the sun.]
Another member of the FACT team is Apiame Cegumalua, Export Processing Officer in the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). She explains, ‘The FACT pilot project arose out of the desire of Pacific governments to increase trade in agricultural and forestry products. This was seen as a way to help reduce trade deficits, assist in poverty reduction in rural areas and curb urban drift.
‘The FACT team is passionate about the work we undertake in the region to support farmers, rural dwellers, and small commercial operators to become export-oriented and market-driven, able to supply overseas markets consistently with competitive agricultural and forestry products. Part of FACT support includes assistance with ensuring that the produce meets international market requirements and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and has good quality packaging and label designs,’ she added.
[ Processing ginger at the Kaiming crystallized ginger factory in Fiji.]
‘The team has worked extensively at the community and industry level, holding training workshops for process operators and building capacity for farmers and small business entrepreneurs. They are trained in food business management skills and techniques, food processing and food safety, as well as in ways to add value to their produce. Part of the process is to encourage farmers to draw on their own creativity in finding ways to reduce post harvest losses and utilise their produce once it has been harvested,’ she said.
Successful workshops have led to rural women and men producing and selling their home-made banana chips at Kosrae Airport in the Federated States of Micronesia, manioc flour in Palau, cured fish in Pohnpei and tuna jerky in Marshall Islands.
[The fermentation stage in coffee preparation, shown here in Papua New Guinea, removes an insoluble layer from around the bean]
On a larger scale, thanks to FACT assistance, farmers from Tonga export fruit and vegetables to New Zealand; spices and essential oils from Papua New Guinea are exported to Fiji, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom; and some of Fiji’s root crops, vegetables and ginger find their way to Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States of America.
‘In this way, the livelihoods of Pacific Islanders and small, private-sector exporters are being improved,’ said Ms Cegumalua.
Although the FACT pilot programme comes to an end later this year, its success can be measured by the fact that the European Union is funding a new trade project, also implemented by SPC. The Increasing Agriculture Commodity Trade (IACT) project is working with an initial 30 enterprises in 15 countries.