|EU AAACP News: Farming as a business and the role of farmer associations in the Pacific|
|Friday, 30 July 2010 10:47|
What role should farmer associations play in assisting their members to increase their earnings through improved marketing, certification and support? And how can we ensure that the work of farmers associations can be sustained? To answer these questions, SPC LRD, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and Nature’s Way Co-operative combined to work with, and hear from, farmer groups from across the Pacific region.
Held in Nadi, Fiji 3rd – 7th May 2010, the training, funded under the EU All Africa Caribbean and Pacific Agricultural Commodities Program (AAACP) also recognised the role of new information and communication technologies in accessing and disseminating market information.
The training, organised by FAO and Nature’s Way Cooperative of Fiji, focussed on the role of farmer organisations and networks in linking small farmers to markets. In addition, the training provided Pacific farmer organisations with a better understanding on marketing as well as learning management skills in operating in a business environment.
Participants included representatives from the Melanesian Farmers First network, Kastom Gardens from Solomon Islands, Samoa’s Women in Business, Samoan Farmers Association, the Farm Support Association of Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Organic Cocoa Growers Alliance, Nature’s Way Co-operative of Fiji, Tutu of Fiji, South Sea Orchids of Fiji, Tongan Growers Federation, and the Rarotonga Nita Growers association from the Cook Islands. Representatives from the Niue Department of Agriculture and the PNG Highlands Group, as well as Fiji FRIEND and the Fiji ACIAR Papaya Project also participated.
SPC provided information on the topics farming as a business and the costs of maintaining organic certification, the costs and benefits of Fair Trade certification, and some of the new types of fair trade certifications emerging, understanding and implementing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles in agricultural processing, and the emergence of new technologies and opportunities for the implementation of better Market Information Systems.
Other key issues and themes to emerge from the training include ‘key person dependency’ and the need to get young people and the next generation actively involved; problems Pacific Island farmer networks face meeting their operational costs, and meagre financing opportunities available; the importance of diversifying income sources for growers, by marketing multiple crops in different seasons; the dangers of ‘sideline selling’ by members and the need to discipline members who engage in this activity; the limited access Pacific Islanders enjoy to major trading partners markets, such as Australia, because of overly restrictive Quarantine regulations, and the opportunities to address these; the importance of marketing to domestic consumers, in particular tourists; the importance of avoiding taking on too many overhead costs and poor cash flow; the real opportunities provided by certification (organic, fair trade, etc) but the difficulties PIC farmer groups will have in meeting and maintaining certification obligations, because of their small size and capacity; the need for PIC governments to regulate imports of inferior and expired food products, which are displacing local produce; the importance of establishing enduring relationships with commercial out growers, by maintaining standing orders and being understanding of supply difficulties, as well as providing extension support; by assisting growers to meet demand specifications; and the need to engage and empower individual growers and families, rather than communities or other hypothetical groups which don’t tend to define how Pacific growers organise.
Finally, co-ordinating production and demand cycles by engaging with middlemen and buyers and incorporating demand information into growers’ production practices would be one area of work PIC farmer networks should engage in: “improve your middleman” rather than demonising middle men and other key intermediate actors who are instrumental in matching supply with demand; farmers and farmer networks should focus on their area of expertise – farming – and not divide their energies amongst too many supply chain functions.
The workshop concluded with the FAO providing a commitment to continue to support farmer networks in the Pacific with capacity building and further training under the EU AAACP project. Under the programme FAO will offer bilateral support, in addition to further regional activities. In the meantime SPC will provide ad hoc support to countries and organisations that request it.