Child Poverty in FijiFiji is an archipelago or chain of islands. Many tourists worldwide know its remote beaches as a tropical paradise. While Fiji’s geography makes it a popular vacation spot for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tony Hawk, its geography has adverse effects on the children living there. However, organizations are taking steps to combat child poverty in Fiji.

Child Poverty in Fiji

Child poverty in Fiji is widespread throughout its rural areas. The United Nations released a report that displays rural child poverty rates at 40.92%, almost double urban rates of 22.22%. The extent of the discrepancy between those living in rural and urban areas is clear. There is a similar difference in the ages of those experiencing poverty in Fiji. The United Nations report highlights that 32.1% of children younger than the age of 14 experience poverty.

Poverty in Fiji has an unparalleled effect on young children in rural areas. This has led to a stunting rate tallied at 7.5% among infants and young children in 2004. Infants and young children are not the only ones affected by malnourishment as 22% of adolescents in Fiji were underweight as of 2005.

The Effects of Geography on Child Poverty in Fiji

In Fiji, there is a clear connection between poverty, geography and education. Fiji’s remote location impacts the price of uniforms, books and transportation. Although education is free up to the second level, the secondary costs of education present additional barriers for children living in poverty.

Even if rural Fijian families scrape together money for their children’s education, underdeveloped road and sea transportation prevent easy accessibility. Children often have to travel through three or more towns on foot to reach the nearest school.

Furthermore, children do not receive consistent protection against violations and abuse. Many children work as domestic servants and face domestic or sexual violence. Authorities underreport these conditions, and oftentimes, local authorities dismiss the crimes with little supervision from the country’s federal policing system.

Solutions to Child Poverty in Fiji

Many efforts are in place to help combat child poverty in Fiji. Several Fijian children in poverty reside in rural areas where the lack of access to quality education perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Understanding this issue, the Australian High Commissioner administered the Australian Direct Aid Program. The program seeks to help improve educational opportunities for these children. This project gifts items like new furniture, library books, water tanks and dormitory renovations that provide better education resources to students in rural Fiji.

Similarly, help from volunteer groups such as the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross and student initiatives, such as Rustic Pathways, greatly impacts these Fijian communities. For example, the Peace Corps states that close to 90% of the communities improved in livelihood security and sanitation.

Another significant step in combating child poverty in Fiji occurred when Fiji joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership. The partnership made access to clean water a constitutional right. This led to 70.1% of Fijian households having access to clean water. Increased access to clean water means children can go to school and receive an education instead of spending time collecting water for the home.

Moreover, the World Bank has approved the Fiji Transport Infrastructure Investment Project. It awarded the Fijian government $50 million to make improvements to land and sea infrastructure. The expected outcome is easier and safer travel, which in turn, allows children facing poverty in rural areas of Fiji better access to education.

The Future of Poverty in Fiji

Fiji’s geography negatively influences impoverished children within its borders. Through improvements to the education system, increased sanitation, access to clean water and better infrastructure, children facing poverty in Fiji have a greater opportunity to attend and complete school. Through education, children are able to break cycles of poverty.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Fiji
To make progress toward eliminating the threat of human trafficking, the U.S. State Department ranks countries on a four-tier system of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watchlist and Tier 3. In 2018, Fiji dropped in ranking from “Tier 2” to “Tier 2 Watchlist,” meaning that, for the most part, it adhered to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) recommendations but still has work to do. Traffickers force victims into commercial sex, forced labor, excessive working hours and dangerous living and working conditions. Therefore, not only must the government of Fiji fully meet each specification, but it must also amend other provisions in the Crimes Act of 1914, including criminalizing all forms of human trafficking in Fiji.

The Past

Before its 2018 drop from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watchlist, Fiji’s government made significant efforts to combat human trafficking by complying with TVPA standards. The country continued to investigate human trafficking-related crimes by adding additional officers to the human trafficking unit, creating a victim services unit and assembling an interagency subcommittee to oversee the entire initiative. However, the government has failed to make further progress. Some reports went as far as implying collusion in slowing anti-trafficking efforts.

The Present

In June 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with Fijian NGO, Homes to Hope, announced a two-year plan to reverse the declining effort to crack down on human trafficking, Empowering Fijian Civil Society Countering Trafficking in Human Beings. The proposal strengthens preventative measures for human rights violations while protecting the rights of victims who have already experienced abuse.

The European Union is providing financial assistance to the program’s ambitions, totaling €498,750. The project also includes implementing a significant research study addressing human trafficking in Fiji. This initiative will provide new and accurate data.

Furthermore, the last reporting period listed just one case. The lack of known cases and statistics does not mean the crime itself is diminishing. Victims have reported being trafficked into Fiji and there is corroborating evidence by domestic trafficking victims within the country itself. Human traffickers target both domestic and foreign victims within Fiji.

Many families in Fiji have traditions of sending children to live in larger cities with relatives. This puts many children are at a high risk of exploitation. Traffickers know that they do not have to put in much effort to coerce those riddled with poverty into sex trafficking in exchange for food or shelter.

The Future

The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report from 2020 equipped the Fijian government with a list of recommendations. These recommendations illustrate what the country can do to expedite the fight against human trafficking in the future. Some proposals include proactively screening those most vulnerable to trafficking.

These screenings include establishing plans for meticulous investigations to prosecute and convict traffickers and actively investigating those who may be complicit in human trafficking-related crimes. The U.S. State Department’s 2021 report of human trafficking in Fiji recommended a demotion in the country’s ranking. However, because the government has provided an adequate written plan, Fiji’s ranking remained the same. In addition, the 2021 report urges Fiji to amend the trafficking-related provisions of the Crimes Act.

Though Fiji has yet to bounce back from its 2018 drop in ranking, the government has implemented steps to improve the conviction process of human traffickers. Slow progress is better than no progress in the ongoing fight against human trafficking.

– Kana Ruhalter
Photo: Flickr

Smart Farms Fiji
27-year-old Rinesh Sharma is the man behind the Smart Farms Fiji initiative, which aims to combat food scarcity and malnutrition across Fiji. The idea came from his family’s experiences that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their diet growing up contained few vegetables and fruits because his parents could not regularly afford them.

This is a shared experience across much of Fiji. High food prices have led to high rates of food scarcity and malnutrition. Access to nutritious food supplies has only worsened since the pandemic, as people have lost their jobs and are left with little money to purchase expensive fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, COVID-19 halted or seriously limited food transportation. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to ensure everyone across Fiji has access to nutritious vegetables and fruits. It also wants the population to have a consistent supply of food to put on the table.

Hydroponic Farming

To begin with, Sharma conceptualized a large-scale hydroponic farming system. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants without soil, growing them directly in nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic farming helps plants absorb nutrients at a faster rate, which means quicker, easier and more reliable harvests. This allows more people easy and quick access to more crops and reduces food scarcity and malnutrition. Sharma was granted $20,000 in financial assistance from the government, which allowed him to invest and incorporate hydroponic systems into larger commercial farms across Fiji.

Since the pandemic, the main focus has been on a more localized and accessible supply of food and farming resources. Within the initiative, Sharma has created an at-home hydroponic kit. The kit contains 15 seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, kale, mint, basil and others. It also includes a water tank, net cups, soil nutrient solutions and a step-by-step guide. These kits have been sold and donated across Fiji and provide a local, continuous, reliable and easy source of nutritious food for many families who are struggling to put food on the table.

Reducing Hunger

Energy poverty is common on islands in the Pacific because many people live in remote areas without access to electricity. The Smart Farms Fiji initiative ensures that being remote does not hinder access to food. The at-home hydroponic kits are electricity-free to ensure all inhabitants have access to adequate and nutritious food supplies.

Furthermore, U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is the main objective of Smart Farms Fiji and the reason Rinesh Sharma began the initiative. So far the initiative is having success, as it has helped Fijian families access steady and reliable supplies of healthy food that is full of the nutrition they need to continue to prosper. After only a month since the conception of the at-home hydroponic kits, the initiative deployed 15 kits and conducted 15 educational classes for households. It is well on its way to ensuring local food security.

Influence on Poverty and Education

One of the key points of concern when conceptualizing the initiative was the pesticides used in typical farming practices. Sharma saw how much traditional farming harmed coastal towns that rely on local fishing to earn their wages. The pesticide runoffs harm marine life that coastal workers needed to survive. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to promote pesticide-free farming that will help these coastal communities out of poverty and give them thriving business opportunities.

Sharma has also continued to expand his initiative through education. He has held classes with local communities that have at-home hydroponic kits, educating them about more sustainable subsistence farming and how to get the best out of their crops. Additionally, he has regularly attended schools and colleges where he has discussed with students everything from leadership, entrepreneurship and how students can contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. He wants to inspire and mobilize the next generation to use their education to change the world by combatting poverty, food scarcity and malnutrition.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Fiji
The small island of Fiji has seen a significant jump in life expectancy in the last 50 years. Where once the highest age people expected was 55 years old, Fiji’s population is slowly growing older with residents living to the age of 70 and on. While medical advancements and improved sanitary conditions have extended the residents’ lives, the government has left little economic room for the island’s elderly citizens. As a result, elderly poverty in Fiji is prevalent.

The Situation

All formal Fijian workers have a mandated retirement age of 55 years old leaving many without sufficient income for the decades to follow. As a result of this outdated system, more and more of Fiji’s older residents are sinking into poverty in their final years.

While the retirement age affects all citizens, ethnicity and marital status are two of the most influential factors in elderly poverty in Fiji. Indo-Fijians, residents of Indian descent, are more likely to have received a secondary education, owned their own business and maintained a more stable income. Meanwhile, ethnic Fijians, residents of Fijian descent, are more likely to fall into poverty because they were often informal workers and only received primary education.

The Fijian National Provident Fund (FNPF)

The Fijian National Provident Fund (FNPF) is a government-funded pension for the workers of Fiji. Both employees and employers contribute 8% of employee wages to this fund. Unfortunately, the fund does not pay out large enough sums to the growing elderly population that is living longer and longer each year and as a result, it is having little effect on elderly poverty in Fiji. While other government schemes are attempting to assist such as a Government Social Pension Scheme (SPS), The Family Assistance Program (FAP) and The Poverty Benefit Scheme(PBS), they still come up short.

In addition to the inadequacy of pension payments, 72% of Fijians do not qualify to receive a pension because they were part of the informal work sector. Informal work is typically jobs that are less stable and consistent and often have lower wages. Informal workers have a difficult time preparing for retirement because of the nature of this work and suffer the most when forced into retirement.

Marital Status

Most elderly Fijians who are married continue to live with their spouse and children. This tradition of the elderly leaning on their children and family for financial support has come to be expected, but not guaranteed.

Single citizens and those who have separated, divorced or become widowed are more likely to reside alone and have to rely solely on their pension or welfare payments. Additionally, they are often unable to afford to live independently forcing them to co-reside with others.

Women

Women are most vulnerable to falling into elderly poverty in Fiji. Halima Bibi, a 72-year-old Fijian woman that has been living alone and without electricity for 20 years, scrapes by on a combined $170 a month that she receives from welfare and a religious organization. Although women are responsible for 52% of all work on the island, they disproportionately receive 27% of the total income that Fijians collect. Women experience exclusion from the economy and tend to outlive men by several years, often leaving them without the financial support of their spouse. As a result, many Fijian women such as Bibi go without basic comforts and struggle just to survive.

A recent change in values and priorities has diminished the family safety net that many Fijians, and especially women, rely on. Many elderly Fijians live just like Bibi and struggle to survive retirement relying on measly welfare checks and the charity of their community or family.

The Fijian Government’s Efforts

The Fijian government is continuously amending policy restrictions and improving income security to combat elderly poverty in Fiji but as the country’s life expectancy continues to increase, it is struggling to keep up. If the government can monitor the population and maintain accurate statistics on elderly poverty, it will be able to amend these policies to help a greater number of impoverished elderly.

If the Fijian government can modify these pension schemes to account for the extra hardships women endure as well as the neglected workers of the informal sector, elderly poverty in Fiji could reduce. An affordable health care system and financial educational programs would greatly benefit the elderly as well, resulting in them keeping more money in their pension and being more prepared for retirement.

Organizations Providing Aid

While the government attempts to widen the safety net for Fiji’s elderly population, organizations including Habitat for Humanity or the Peace Corps are trying to reduce the financial burdens of the older population. The Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) is an agency that receives donations from the state that other countries have given as aid. The FCOSS allocates the funds where necessary with an emphasis on the elderly. It also provides the HelpAge program that targets struggling elderly and directs assistance towards them to alleviate hardships.

Most importantly, the government must increase the retirement age to allow the elderly to continue to earn income and also guarantee an effective pension for the future. Even with new schemes directed at the chronically impoverished and volunteer organizations’ efforts, it is essential that Fiji changes the retirement age and allocates proper funds to the older population to ensure they can enjoy their golden years.

– Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

hunger in fijiFiji, a country bordering both Tonga and Futana, has faced increased obstacles with food security. It is estimated that amongst the population of 926,276 citizens, over 250,000 individuals are battling poverty and hunger. However, increased efforts have been made to combat this rise in hunger in Fiji.

Problem in Numbers

It is estimated that over 35% of Fiji’s population is below the national poverty line. With the income of households drastically declining, thousands of families do not have the proper resources to thrive.

Fiji children are also heavily impacted, further contributing to the increased rate of hunger in Fiji. It has been recently estimated that over 40% of Fiji’s children are malnourished. A majority of children in Fiji suffer from “protein-energy malnutrition”, meaning that they do not consume enough vital and nutritious foods for their bodies.

The Causes

The lack of food distribution in Fiji points towards a variety of factors. A primary cause is due to Fiji’s political instability and corruption. Additionally, with tourism making up a majority of Fiji’s GDP, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to decreased budgets and widespread unemployment.

Climate change has also affected hunger in Fiji. Cyclones have led to massive agricultural losses, resulting in widespread losses of income and the destruction of food that would be derived from the agricultural crops.

Another cause contributing to the hunger in Fiji is the increased dropout rates among children. With the majority of Fiji’s population battling poverty, children are often instructed to leave school in search of work. From grueling street work to harsh agricultural labor, children earn very little over the years.

In 2016 it was estimated that over 55% of children at primary school age were not attending school. This low schooling rate leaves many children uneducated, unskilled and closed off to stable job opportunities which in turn leaves them unable to afford basic necessities as adults.

The Road to Change

However, despite the increased rates of hunger among the Fiji population, organizations have stepped up to aid the needy. A prominent organization is Moms Against Hunger, which has dedicated itself to providing food for the individuals battling poverty. Moms Against Hunger has recruited numerous volunteers and has delivered over 250,000 food packages to families in need. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of families received enough food to last several months.

Another impactful organization is HELP International, which looks to empower and educate individuals in need. HELP International focused its efforts in the nutrition sector, teaching individuals nutritional guidelines, financial literacy and the importance of schooling. Through these efforts, thousands of families can learn to manage a budget, eat well and pursue higher education.

Additionally, Aggie Global seeks to educate farmers on sustainable practices. Under a team of various volunteers, Aggie Global hosted workshops to teach farmers about crop control, production tricks and sustainable solutions. After conducting these workshops, hundreds of farmers were able to boost production, increasing the amount of food distributed to the public.

The Future

Despite organizations looking to aid those in need, Fiji continues to face problems in feeding the entirety of its population. The efforts from nonprofit organizations provide short-term relief but Fiji is in great need of government assistance to see great and lasting change.

For Fiji to see an immense reduction in its hunger rate, the government must act alongside nonprofit organizations to provide for families. In addition, the Fiji government must prioritize the youth and support and encourage the pursuit of higher education. With increased positive influence and support from Fiji’s government, poverty-stricken families all over Fiji would benefit, lowering the overall hunger rate.

Aditya Padmaraj
Photo: Flickr

Oceania's Isolated Families
The diverse cultures inhabiting the plethora of Oceanic islands in the Pacific Ocean interest people across the world. With over 12 million people combined living on these islands (every country excluding Australia and New Zealand), Oceania has developed small isolated farming communities into cultures that primarily thrive off mineral exports, tourism and agricultural goods. However, these communities are having difficulties providing health care to Oceania’s isolated families.

Getting By

Many typically consider Oceania’s island countries to be poorer nations, dependent on trade from larger nations; yet this sentiment is misleading. Despite some country’s struggling, Melanesia and Micronesia both boast low unemployment rates. Moreover, Fiji has had a 5% unemployment rate as of 2017. However, these rates of unemployment do not tell the full story.

The employment opportunities in these countries vary between the islands, although government employment typically supports most citizens. However, most of the islands have hardly any people employed in the health sector. Isolated island chains, such as the archipelago Kiribati, have smaller islands with no doctors at all. When considering that even the most remote islands have populations exceeding 50, the problem is evident; how will these people receive medical treatment?

A Rooted Problem

This problem generates a cycle for the isolated populations living on the islands. Their unhealthy diets, which primarily consists of imported non-perishables for many islanders, leave them potentially overweight and susceptible to diseases and infections. In worse news, the islands seldom have medicine available. These cultures depend on shipments from larger countries to provide medicine to their people, which usually only come every few months (or not at all).

This creates an ever-lasting problem for the native island populations because they are susceptible to infections, yet have little to no available treatment. When matters reach life-threatening circumstances, some families have no choice but to fly their loved ones off the island to a larger nation, typically New Zealand or Australia, and opt for life-saving surgery. This leads to massive medical bills which many of the poorer families on the islands may never pay off.

The NGO Solution

Community development and government action will spur the islands’ long-term change, but for now, NGOs are lending their efforts to the cause. One organization, called Sea Mercy, approaches island poverty in multiple ways, but one initiative, called FHCC, funds a two-week trip aboard a boat for volunteer physicians of various fields to sail to isolated islands and provide medical care for the people living there.

Many other NGOs, such as Pacific Islands Medical Aid, operate under similar parameters of sending volunteer physicians to the islands, providing health care, sending shipments of medicines and even teaching tactics to local nurses. Even though their stay is limited, these physicians save countless lives annually just by their timely presence. This shows that even with a small amount of available medical professionals, many Pacific Islands would have much less difficulty providing health care to Oceania’s isolated families.

Looking at the Future

While these islands slowly continue to grow, increased job diversification will continue, reaching each independent land, optimistically leading to more health specialists for Oceania’s isolated families. For now, NGOs provide excellent service, saving lives and setting a global standard. With the brilliant cultural diversity of Oceania, preserving the health of these nations should sit as a top global priority.

– Joe Clark
Photo: Flickr

period poverty
Period poverty is an umbrella term that refers to the inaccessibility of feminine hygiene products, education, washing facilities and waste management, especially for menstruators with low incomes. Menstruators who lack the education or access to resources for safe period management often resort to risky methods such as using rags and clothing, which can lead to bacterial infections that can cause further physical health risks.

Today, there are over 800 million women and girls that have periods every day, yet they still face difficulties to properly manage their menstruation. According to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people across the globe live without basic sanitation services in developing countries. Meanwhile, 73% of people lack access to proper handwashing facilities at home.

COVID-19 affects menstrual health and hygiene by exacerbating pre-existing inequalities regarding period poverty worldwide.

COVID-19 and Period Poverty

As stated by Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International U.K., “the virus is making the situation worse. We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period.”

The disruption of global supply chains and ceased trading of smaller-scale private sector enterprises has led to product shortages. This shortage is the primary issue affecting women’s access to safe sanitary products. The price of sanitary products has also increased during the pandemic. It is extremely hard for families to afford these products since the pandemic has also affected household incomes.

“As most shops have run out, I sometimes have to substitute in different ways instead,” said a teenage girl from the Solomon Islands.

“Prices went up as soon as there was a confirmed case of COVID19 in Fiji. Sometimes I have to forgo buying hygiene products as money will have to be used on food and bills,” said a young woman in Fiji.

Stigmatization of Menstruation

Most of the world stigmatizes menstruation. Social stigmas and taboos about menstruation is another key factor that prevents women and girls from properly managing their periods. In Nepal, people perceive menstruating women as impure. Their community expels them to huts for the duration of their cycles. In Uganda, non-governmental agency WoMena showed that many girls skip school when they are on their periods. The primary reason: to avoid teasing from classmates.

Since the rise of COVID-19, some people have associated menstruation as a sign of illness. Although having periods is normal and healthy, there are myths stating that menstruation is a symptom of the coronavirus and that menstruators have a higher chance of infecting others. These myths are badly affecting period poverty by increasing the stigma of menstruation. The negative perceptions of menstruation, such that it is a symptom of an illness and that it should be something to hide from others, should change in order to stop period poverty.

A young woman from the Solomon Islands said “Sometimes [I feel shame]. Especially when I am not able to clean myself during water cuts. I feel embarrassed to walk around my family.”

Organizations Making a Difference

I Support The Girls is an organization that collects and distributes bras and menstruation products to people who need them around the globe. The organization mentioned that it has seen a 35% increase in requests for menstrual products, bras and underwear since the outbreak of the virus. In response, the organization collected and distributed over 2,000,000 products, partnered up with businesses to distribute surplus inventory, and more.

Plan International U.K. is another organization that fights period poverty; it distributes menstrual hygiene kits to support women and girls disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Alison Choi
Photo: Unsplash

Hunger in FijiFiji is an upper-middle-income country located in the Pacific Islands. In Fiji, the agricultural sector has been steadily declining over the last several decades, resulting in hunger concerns. Here is everything you need to know about hunger in Fiji.

Background of Hunger in Fiji

Traditionally, countries struggling with hunger are thought to be plagued with food insecurity and starvation. This is not the case in Fiji, where food availability is adequate — especially in comparison with other Pacific Islands. Fijians even have above-average access to energy-dense foods. Rather than food security, concerns surrounding hunger in Fiji stem from the double burden of over-nutrition and under-nutrition, caused by obesity and deficiencies in micronutrients. Trade policies, poverty and climate change are further causes of hunger in Fiji.

Main Causes of Hunger in Fiji

  1. Trade Policy: Fiji’s poor nutrition largely stems from increased dependence on cheap imported food, resulting in a decreased intake of traditional Fijian food. This decline in demand has resulted in traditional food being grown for export, thus increasing domestic prices. Consequently, families above the poverty line spend 18% of their income on food, and families below the poverty line spend 29% of their income on food.
  2. Poverty: Although extreme poverty is uncommon in Fiji, according to the World Bank, 35.2% of Fijians live in poverty. Furthermore, the per capita purchasing power parity in Fiji is significantly below the global average. Thus, not only do Fijians generally struggle with poverty, but food is also disproportionately expensive.
  3. Climate Change: Fiji is extremely vulnerable to climate change, experiencing frequent storms, cyclones, floods and droughts — all of which can be detrimental to the agricultural sector. Additionally, 25,700 people in Fiji are annually pushed into poverty as a result of climate change, further exacerbating the problem of poverty leading to hunger.

Traditional Fijian Diet

Traditionally, Fijians consumed a diet of fish, seafood, root crops, fruit, wild plants and legumes. In recent years, this traditional diet has been abandoned. In 2014, 50% of the population ate rice daily, 43% ate roti daily and 15% ate instant noodles daily. These unhealthy choices became popular while fruit and vegetable consumption declined, with only 15% of adults getting the recommended five servings daily.

Health Consequences

The major health consequences that arise from hunger in Fiji stem from obesity. One-third of adult Fijians are obese, and the rate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as type-2 diabetes is correspondingly high. Obesity increases the risk of NCDs, thus increasing the risk of mortality. Consequently:

In comparison to its Pacific Island neighbors, Fiji possesses great food security. However, Fiji’s problems with poverty, trade policy and climate change perpetuate hunger. For Fijians to be able to afford and consume healthy foods once again, Fiji will need to invest in climate action, limit trade tariffs and promote native crops.

Lily Jones
Photo: Flickr

barter for better fiji
On the beautiful island of Fiji, a staggering 40% of the country’s GDP comes from the tourism industry. Therefore, when COVID-19 hit the island (and the rest of the world), many people found themselves out of a job. However, the local population found a solution. In the middle of a pandemic, Marlene Dutta set up a Facebook page called Barter for Better Fiji to allow for Fijians to procure essential items without causing undue financial stress.

While bartering has always been a part of Fiji’s economy, this Facebook page is notable for its scope. The page has already amassed over 180,000 members as of August 2020. Considering the island has a total population of 900,000 people, that means this 180,000 figure represents 20% of the country’s entire population engaged in this bartering process.

Poverty in Fiji

Bartering is becoming more prevalent in Fiji due to the increase in unemployment as a result of the new coronavirus. Almost 5% of the country’s population has lost their job due to the lack of tourism and that is in addition to 28.1% of the country living below the national poverty line. Fijians also suffer from malnourishment and at one point in the early 2000s, 40% of children suffered from childhood hunger.

Much of the poverty in Fiji can be attributed to the political instability in the country, but not all of it. The military coup in 1987 was the start of these conflicts and the turmoil has only increased Fiji’s poverty level. However, politics are not completely to blame because there is also drastic housing inequality; an estimated 140,000 people live in “substandard housing conditions.” All of these factors have contributed to Fiji’s current poverty levels and the pandemic has only made matters worse.

Bartering in Fiji

The Barter for Better Fiji Facebook page has many purposes. It helps the people in Fiji deliver essential resources to each other when finances are scarce. It is a form of mutual aid, which is essentially community members helping each other for a mutual benefit. Interestingly, this type of aid has come into the mainstream across the world, during the pandemic. Most importantly, for some people — this aid can be life-saving.

Fijians barter essential resources as well as everyday goods and services. People trade fresh produce for cleaning services or animals for transportation. Some people started bartering for fun and now help their friends and neighbors by donating items for bartering. As a whole, the bartering economy has allowed Fijians to take care of one another and provide for themselves and their families during a pandemic.

Uniting a Community

The best part about the Facebook group is how it has engaged the community. The founder of the group has been amazed at the good faith and compassion she has seen among the people of Fiji. She posits that it promotes an economy of kindness — one where people take a moment to help out their neighbors, even if they have never before spoken. As Fiji has shown, when life is centered around a caring community, there is a mutual benefit that permeates society.

– Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr

Kava Cultivation in Fiji
In the Pacific island nation of Fiji, 44.3% of its approximate 900,000 residents live in rural areas, where access to opportunity is struggling to keep up with economic growth. According to government metrics, every third Fijian is poor. However, recent developments in kava cultivation are helping villagers escape poverty. Kava, locally known as yaqona, is an indigenous crop that people have customarily used to make a ceremonial beverage for traditional gatherings and celebrations. It contains chemicals called kavalactones, which create feelings of calmness and euphoria in those drinking it. In recent years, these qualities have encouraged the drink’s recreational consumption both in Fiji and abroad. Given the drink’s recent boost in demand, kava cultivation in Fiji has come to provide financial stability for thousands of workers within the industry.

Historical Background

Currently, more than 21,000 Fijian farmers produce at least 4,000 tons of kava per year. For some rural communities, kava cultivation is an indispensable source of income. On the island of Kadavu, for example, four out of five households harvest or farm kava. In that area alone, as many as 8,000 inhabitants rely on kava production to feed their families. Their trust has been paying off thus far: in 2016, Cyclone Winston ravaged much of the country’s infrastructure and destroyed multiple kava plantations, radically decreasing its market supply. However, in the cataclysm’s aftermath, kava prices registered steep growth, convincing many farmers that kava cultivation was more profitable than Fiji’s other major agricultural export – sugar.

Economic Successes

The kava industry generated an equivalent of $151 million in 2017, and domestic sales were responsible for the overwhelming majority of kava consumption. Besides serving kava beverages in bars, the private sector is pioneering kava anti-anxiety medicines and kava nurseries, where farmers can buy seeds to start their own plantations. These initiatives are directly involving rural populations in their business operations. For instance, South Pacific Elixirs, a company maintaining kava quality, has contracted 70 farmers on the island of Ovalau. In fact, 80% of the kava found in Fiji’s urban areas where bars, pharmaceutical firms and exporters naturally operate originates on such remote islands as the aforementioned Kadavu and Ovalau. Such connections between rural communities and domestic distributors are helpful since they enable farmers to access the market.

Although export only represented 8% of the kava revenue, its volume increased by 126% and its value saw an upsurge of 98% between 2013 and 2017. Fiji exports to Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States, marketing the crop as much to the Fijian diaspora as to foreign consumers. One may find kava in American pharmacies, department stores and cafes. Its consumption is widespread in San Diego, Austin, Texas and particularly in Southeast FloridaSt. Petersburg, Florida alone boasts eight kava bars. The drink from this plant appeals to local consumers as an alternative to alcohol allowing them to relax without the harmful effects of hangovers.

As kava farming does not presuppose extensive education, it attracts not only the established farmers but also the unemployed rural youths. In 2019, the national youth unemployment rate stood at almost 15%, and eradicating rural poverty cannot occur without addressing this high rate of joblessness. Stories of farmers investing their earnings in housing and critical infrastructures, like solar lights and water tanks, have underscored kava’s role in combating rural poverty in Fiji. Income from kava has also empowered some to operate local grocery stores and send their children to school. Statistically, one hectare of kava generates a gross income of more than $94,000 within a five-year cultivation period.

Is Kava Cultivation Sustainable?

Despite its economic benefits, kava cultivation in Fiji has encountered skepticism. Farmers will have to respond to the rising demand, which has the potential to pose serious challenges. Given that kava takes between two and three years to mature, early harvesting can lead to crop failure and wasted resources. Furthermore, extensive production risks exhausting fertile volcanic lands to the long-term detriment of Fiji’s rural communities. The crop’s production is also vulnerable to natural catastrophes that may hamper commercial links between suppliers and distributors.

However, Fijian authorities are working to ensure that kava cultivation is sustainable. The Yaqona Taskforce hosts training events for village farmers, in which government officials not only teach superior farming and storage techniques but also discuss marketing opportunities. The Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Plus (PHAMA+) Program, supported by New Zealand and Australia, is complementing these initiatives by conducting surveys across Fiji to monitor genetic variation within kava crops as well as the production methods used in different villages. In addition to verifying that the plants are healthy, PHAMA+ ensures that farmers are maximizing yields and selling value-added goods from processed kava rather than its roots. By helping farmers meet high standards, PHAMA+ contributes to the expansion of the industry’s export which has the potential to generate an extra $2.5 million for Fiji’s kava sector this year alone.

Kava cultivation in Fiji is eradicating rural poverty by integrating rural farmers into the economy and establishing ties between villages, pharmaceutical companies and recreational industries throughout the nation. With state and external backing, the kava industry has the power to precipitate poverty reduction in rural Fiji.

– Dan Mikhaylov
Photo: Flickr