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From Farm to Table

Organic agriculture brings fresh hope to Fijians.

Julia Rokoqica is a farmer from Nacereyega village in Fiji’s northern province of Macuata. As a single mother, she supports her children and grandchildren with the money that she makes from farming.

Like Julia, most people here rely on their natural surroundings for income and food — resources that, in recent years, have been more unreliable.

RUNNING ON EMPTY

In the last decade, temperatures and rainfall patterns have become increasingly unpredictable in Fiji, harming crops and depressing incomes. Farmers have resorted to unsustainable measures, including ramping up the use of herbicides and pesticides.

Meanwhile, when Julia wasn’t farming, she was selling her produce at the market.

“I spent too much time waiting for buyers,” she said. Some days were good; most were not.

She was working herself — and her land — dry.

A MAJOR SETBACK

In February 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston — the strongest storm recorded in the Southern Hemisphere — devastated Fiji, flattening entire villages and leaving thousands of people homeless.

“Before the cyclone, I lost hope in farming. After the cyclone, I lost hope in my future,” she said.

A WAY FORWARD

To help farmers recover and improve the community’s resilience, USAID partnered with the social enterprise Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development. The organization has worked in Fiji since 2001, alleviating poverty through social and economic empowerment.

With USAID support, the organization expanded its proven methods of training farmers in organic agriculture to promote more sustainable land use and secure stable incomes and food supplies for its partner farmers.

Julia and her grown children learned how to prepare organic fertilizer from compost and manure, and use ash to repel insects.

They also learned how to plant different types of crops in the same field to make the most of her land.

“We went from farming just half an acre to all 3 acres of our land,” she said.

Julia followed the stringent process of becoming a certified organic farmer under the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community, the body that governs organic standards in the region — an accreditation that allows Julia’s crops to earn higher prices.

EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES

The project also installed community solar drying stations and processing equipment for farmers to prepare cassava flour and dried fruit. Julia now sells her goods every two weeks, allowing her to earn three times more money per month.

“Before, I didn’t earn enough to open a bank account,” said Julia, who is also learning bookkeeping and financial management from the project.

The Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development sells these dried products locally and exports them, too.

The organization invests profits back into its programs to sustain and expand its work. For example, the organization, in partnership with USAID, recently opened Fiji’s first-ever certified organic farm-to-table restaurant, which buys the farmers’ produce and trains and employs people from the community.

STABILITY

In April, two major storms hit northern Fiji, causing massive flooding.

The Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development responded by distributing food grown from its partner farmers to affected communities.

Farmers also helped with relief efforts, volunteering to distribute life-saving supplies to stranded families.

PEACE OF MIND FOR JULIA

Today, Julia’s land bursts with cabbage, tomato, watermelon and other crops. She only visits the market on Saturdays.

“I have a savings account to build my house stronger and deal with emergencies,” Julia said.

Best of all, she has gained more time to enjoy with her family and, she says, motivation to keep pursuing new possibilities.

#DEVELOPMENTJOURNEY #FOODSECURITY #RESILIENCE

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ABOUT THIS STORY

USAID’s grant to Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development is part of the agency’s Pacific-American Climate Fund. Launched in 2013, the $24 million grant facility supports civil society organizations in 12 Pacific countries to implement and scale up promising community-level measures to secure a more stable future for the region.

Footnotes: Contributions to written narrative by Dorelyn Jose and Nina Raneses. Photography by Matt Abbott; Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development; William Jatulan; and Dorelyn Jose

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