Bartering through the pandemic in Fiji


This story was put together using presentations from this year’s Pacific Resilience Meeting that focussed on the theme ‘Our people, our journey: nurturing Pacific resilience from home’. This biennial meeting was hosted by the Pacific Community (SPC) and development partners in the region.

Can reviving ancient Pacific practices such as bartering become an act of resilience, especially in the COVID-19 period?

In ancient Pacific cultures, barter system served as the currency to exchange goods and services between two parties. Over time bartering in Fiji had become rare, at least in the urban centres, where people generally use regular money to purchase goods and services.

However, this traditional system re-emerged on a big scale in Fiji in 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19 outbreak.

Marlene Dutta, the Administrator for Barter for Better Fiji Facebook group, explained the effectiveness of the traditional system in responding to the social and economic issues imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic at the Pacific Resilience meeting 2021.

“The year 2020 really was an uncertain time. We had just closed our borders, thousands of people were out of employment, so I sat down and I asked myself the question: what would happen if money ran out? One of the answers for me was, bartering…,” she said.

“We had all the right ingredients for barter to flourish. We had people who were familiar with it. We had the platform to make barter easier to use in today's world, and all the other components that would really make bartering a solution to what we were going through in terms of job losses.”

The Facebook group allows members from across Fiji to trade commodities they have in their home, including produce they could grow, catch and harvest.

Dutta explained that this platform gained momentum in Fiji at a time when “people were watching what they were spending on and needed to keep cash for  their rent, their bills. This Facebook group offered them a space to be able to trade, to save their cash for those purposes and trade things they had for what they needed.”

The Barter for Better Fiji Facebook group currently has close to 200,000 members actively exchanging goods and services in the country, within Fiji’s current COVID safe measures.

This year, Dutta observed a change in the behaviour of the group members, a shift that is becoming a necessity for some Fijians to sustain their livelihoods during the second and more severe wave of the COVID-19 cases.

“In the beginning, when all sorts of goods were being traded, including a lot of luxury items. Now, with COVID-19 hitting stronger, people are using it really as a mean to exchange basic commodities,” Dutta explained.

Barter for Better Fiji is one of the shining examples from the region that was shared with more than 1,500 participants of the Pacific Resilience Meeting (PRM), that included climate scientists, traditional knowledge holders, youth representatives, civil society groups, partner organisations, private sector, media and global agencies that are guiding Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) towards a safer and more resilient Pacific.

This inspiring initiative is not only helping people sustain livelihoods in this trying time, but also strengthen the resilience of Fijians, complementing the theme of the PRM; Our people, our journey: nurturing Pacific resilience from home.

“It should be around forever…I would love to see it become part of that renewed normal… it needs to be taken off as an organized and moderated group and allowed to flourish in our own individual spaces,” Dutta’s concluding statement at the PRM.

To find more resilience stories from across the region, visit the link below:

Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division
Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) Division