The United States embassy in Suva, Fiji will help remote Matuku island in Fiji’s Lau province to achieve organic certification, enabling islanders to develop organic products for the world market.
To implement the Matuku Organic Farming project, the US embassy through its Regional Environment Programme, is partnering with the Matuku island development board, the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) of the Pacific Community and Loving Islands, an online retailer promoting organic products.
Over 13 months, starting in August, Matuku islanders will be involved in receiving formal organic certification training, learning about the Pacific Organic Standard and the rules they must comply with in order to receive organic certification.
Unlike their island neighbours Cicia where the whole island is declared organic, organic certification on Matuku will be on an individual farm basis.
Island spokesperson, Mosese Coriakula said they hoped to return the island to a state of pristine beauty and rich natural resources.
“We have been blessed with this assistance and we will do all we can to rid the island of harmful chemicals that endanger the environment,” Mr Coriakula said.
Organic product development according to Jenny Morell Wright of the US State Department, allows the community to earn money as well as protect the environment.
“We believe the training program will increase individual and community skills in the production of organic goods, strengthening both the food security and the earning capacity of the islanders in an environmentally sustainable way.
“Our support for this program, our first-ever with POETCOM, is made possible through the Regional Environmental Small Grants Program managed by the U.S. Embassy in Suva and funded by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
“We are excited to partner with the highly experienced team at POETCom on this program to train the people of Matuku in sustainable farming practices and production of organic goods, which will provide climate-resilient livelihoods and a local source of healthy food for the Fijian people,” Ms Morell said.
Australian founder of Loving Islands, Litia Kirwin, who has close maternal links to Matuku has been working with the community for the past 12 months.
“Maintaining the environmental and cultural beauty of our islands is the highest priority in what Loving Islands does and how we determine who we work with,” Ms Kirwin said.
“Organic agriculture is a highly viable means for sustainable economic development in remote island communities, given the rich tradition of organic agriculture that already exists.
“The key to translating this into economic resilience lies in bridging the skills and knowledge gaps to enable access to sales markets both domestically and internationally,” she added.
To allow villagers to access the global markets, Loving Islands has also raised funds through an e-crowd funding platform to pay for the installation of internet connection to Levukaidaku village on Matuku.
“The installation of internet plays a key role in bridging these gaps, and will provide the community of Levukaidaku village with unprecedented access to environmental and economic education as well as direct communication line to the outside world,” Ms Kirwin said.
Acting POETCom Coordinator Stephen Hazelman applauded the decision of Matuku islanders to go organic.
“It’s the best decision anyone can make if you are determined to protect your soil health, reef systems from harmful chemical runoffs and just live in a way that protects natural resources so they can continue to sustain communities into the future,” Hazelman said.
“The global market for organic products keeps growing and Matuku islanders are positioning themselves well in capitalising on these market opportunities, earn an income and still enjoy life on the island,” he added.
Participatory Guarantee System: A peer review mechanism of organic certification that involves the whole community. It is a quality assurance system developed by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that actively engages the community in carrying out peer reviews of harvesting processes to ensure organics principles are maintained.
Pacific Organic Standard: The Pacific Organic Standard is the bible of organic farming development for the Pacific that enshrines the values and principles of Ecology, Fairness, Culture and Traditions, Health and Care in farming. It describes the requirements for organic production.
POETCom: A network of organic stakeholders across the Pacific Islands region. Its secretariat is housed in the Pacific Community.