Fiji’s Sustainable Food Shifts
Fiji, a large archipelago in the South Pacific, has diverse landscapes and climate. Although a nation of complex ecosystems, the island’s food systems suffer to feed its own sustainably. The leading cause of death in Fiji is NCDs, a rising crisis affecting thousands. Furthermore, malnourishment afflicts more than 40% of Fijian children, “a condition caused when children (and adults) don’t eat enough food, don’t eat the right sort of food, or are unable to digest food.” The health of Fijians is at risk as the history of chronic mistreatment of the body stresses the demand for sustainable food systems to cure the nation’s health behaviors. In response, youth-led social entrepreneurship and innovation efforts aim to advocate for Fiji’s sustainable food shifts that promote positive human health needs. 

The participation of the country’s passionate youth emerges in their drive to endorse and build sustainable approaches to deliver fresh, nutritional foods to local communities. Pulling from several studies and journals, the island parents established several programs and initiatives to champion Fiji’s youth to combat NCDs.

Poverty and Food in Fiji

Fiji, a Pacific nation scattered across 300 islands, flourishes with substantial natural resources and accessibility to rich freshwater resources and fertile land to grow crops. However, due to the country’s remote location, Fiji battles with changing weather patterns and disasters that continue to threaten communities and limit Fijians to fresh local foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.).

Despite Fiji’s larger geographic size and favorable growing conditions, “High consumption of energy-dense foods is also considered a contributing factor to the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Fiji..” According to importation data, Fiji’s reliance is low at 22.46%, while exporting figures rest at 60.02%. Although these statistics materialize deceptions that food is accessible, 30% of Fijians live below the basic needs poverty line. This marks 14% of the population as experiencing moderate to severe levels of food insecurity. 

Due to the island’s extreme sensitivity to disastrous natural disasters, higher food prices, seasonality and lifestyle choices, the stability of Fiji’s food system worsens, putting Fijian health at risk.

Pacific Youth Leadership

The message of healthy and sustainable foods and the ability to create them is the information that the young community of Fiji (which makes up more than half the population) needs to learn. Luckily, many people are starting to see these issues and are passionate about animating Fiji’s sustainable food shifts. The Participatory Action Research (PAR) of Talanoa is one example of a group excited to help make a difference in food systems. It is passionate about spreading the word about new ideas to young people to help build the future leaders of these big projects. Alongside this work, it aims to bring back the traditions of Fijian food, rooted in fish, vegetables and other nutritious foods. 

Another group, the Young Entrepreneurs Council, is focused on changing the narrative around food in general. Taking a more psychological approach to the situation and working on education around the relationship between the body and food, rather than only explaining what food is bad for you, a tactic that has proven unsuccessful. Teaching people to love food and understand what healthy food is capable of can have groundbreaking results as opposed to previous methods, which can do the opposite. 

In addition, the 2022-2027 Youth in Agriculture Policy notes young people as crucial agents for positive change, increasing its support in the 2023-2024 budget, supporting the “establishment of sustainable gardens for young people’s health and wellbeing.” 

The Minister explains, “Under this policy, young people will be encouraged and supported through a 4-pronged approach of increasing access to land, finance and markets; improving agricultural education and training; increasing commercial agriculture opportunities and supporting sustainability.” Furthermore, the SDG Fund program, led by UNDP and in partnership with IFAD, envisions young people with employment opportunities in the agriculture sector. These initiatives strengthen public-private partnerships, meeting the needs of education and employment for Fiji’s youth within the agricultural sector, empowering self-sufficiency and local production of healthy food to advocate for resilient food systems.

Fiji’s Future

Overall, the hope is to bring down the rates of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease that have hurt the nation. Creating enough food sources locally to provide for the community is vital in bringing these numbers down and decreasing poverty significantly. 

There is great hope that in the future, the children of Fiji will feast on the local fish, fruits and veggies that become so available on the island that the history of health issues is long in the past, but change must start now to invigorate Fiji’s sustainable food shifts. The Ministry sums up the integral participation of young Fijians, “We can create livelihoods without sacrificing our biodiversity. Rather than leave our children a world of lifeless deserts, we can pass on ecosystems that are rich with life and capable of supporting coming generations.”

– Emmalyn Meyer
Photo: Flickr

Diabetes in Fiji
In Fiji, diabetes is very common and the numbers continue to grow. Type 2 diabetes mellitus, which is common in Fiji, is a major mortality cause across the world. In 2022, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics reported the population number at 884,887 and according to the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MoHMS), one in every three Fijians is diagnosed with diabetes, equating to 30% of the population. Moreover, the health care sector in Fiji suffers from underfunding—health care spending ranks lowest among all Pacific Island countries. In 2020, Fijian expenditure on health care goods and services dropped by 18.39% to $186, down from $228 in 2019. Underfunded health care contributes to the prevalence of diabetes in Fiji as a lack of access to quality health care services and professionals means the early signs of a person developing diabetes in the future are missed.

As of 2019, 24.1% of Fiji’s population lives on or below the national poverty line, as per the World Bank. Impoverished families often resort to purchasing inexpensive but unhealthy and non-nutritious foods. While the typical Fijian meal includes fresh fish, seaweed, shellfish and crustaceans, due to high prices, many Fijians can only afford processed foods. In June 2020, the International Diabetes Federation estimated that it costs the Fijian government up to $24.4 million a year to respond to diabetes. These high costs mean less funding for social programs to improve the lives of those living in poverty. 

Diabetes Fiji

Diabetes Fiji, previously called the National Diabetes Foundation in Fiji, originated in 1981. It became Diabetes Fiji in July 2012. Its overall goal is to encourage policymakers to help create proactive environments for controlling diabetes, empowering people with diabetes with the knowledge to understand the risks of unmanaged diabetes and the resources to treat the condition. The organization also looks to strengthen the health care system so that health care centers can provide affordable and sustainable services to people diagnosed with diabetes.

Telemedicine Help Line

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, lockdowns, disruptions in the supply chain and redirection of resources and funding resulted in hindered access to medication, resources, services and other aids for managing conditions among people with diabetes. With support from other organizations, Diabetes Fiji established the Telemedicine Help Line to ensure uninterrupted care for individuals with chronic ailments, including diabetes. Alongside providing advice, guidance and referrals, the group of organizations responsible for initiating the helpline facilitated the delivery of essential medication to the residents of individuals who couldn’t travel due to lockdowns or isolation.

The Alliance for Healthy Living

Diabetes Fiji, the Consumer Council of Fiji and the National Food and Nutrition Centre have collaborated to establish the Alliance for Healthy Living. This coalition aims to promote healthier beverage options through Sugar-Sweetened Beverages workshops, which the Core Group organizes. The alliance also takes measures to limit the accessibility of sugary and nutrient-deficient foods to children in sports and recreational facilities. By ceasing sponsorships and advertisements, the coalition seeks to challenge the prevailing corporate culture and diminish the consumption of sugar.

Since its establishment, Diabetes Fiji has participated in the production of a set of comprehensive Diabetes Management Guidelines for Fiji to help reduce the number of diabetes cases.

Continued Support

In the face of growing diabetes rates and health care challenges in Fiji, organizations like Diabetes Fiji are leading the way toward positive change. Efforts such as the Telemedicine Help Line have provided crucial care to individuals with chronic conditions, ensuring uninterrupted access to medication and support, even during the pandemic. Collaborative initiatives like the Alliance for Healthy Living are addressing the root causes of diabetes through workshops and advocacy, promoting healthier options and challenging prevailing norms. Despite the obstacles, these concerted efforts offer hope for a healthier future for the Fijian population.

– Abigail DiCarlo
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Fiji
Over the last three years, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji has been devastating. The pandemic’s effects hit Fiji’s thriving tourism industry particularly hard, which in 2020 accounted for 38% of Fiji’s gross domestic product (GDP). As a result, Fijian leaders acted quickly to implement recovery efforts, aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth and adapting to the “new normal” that the pandemic imposed. While the general public met some of these measures with opposition, these measures remained necessary in the face of new unprecedented challenges.

The 2020 Initial Response

The COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through Fiji in 2020, with businesses closing and international travel restrictions put in place to keep the country safe from outbreaks. During this time, the focus was on adapting to the short-term new market realities brought by the pandemic, which resulted in these business closures. By July 2020, 50% of tourism-focused businesses had either temporarily or fully closed and 20% of non-tourism-focused businesses “indicated a need to defer loans,” according to an International Finance Corporation (IFC) report.

In 2019, 24% of the population lived below the national poverty line, a number that has slowly grown since 2013. Unemployment figures also rose from 4.3% in 2018 to 4.9% in 2021.

The IFC conducted a survey to better assess the situation. The survey received 3,596 responses from businesses, with 17% of those primarily servicing the tourism industry. This survey’s findings helped establish strategies for moving forward, with the long-term goal of reducing COVID-19’s impact on Fiji.

The 2021 Outbreak

After a year of minimal COVID-19 cases, an outbreak occurred in April 2021. By July 2021, COVID-19’s impact on Fiji worsened, with the nation averaging more than 900 new COVID-19 cases daily. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services led Fiji’s response effort to this outbreak and successfully implemented quarantine and lockdown measures, provided COVID-19 vaccinations and utilized contact tracing and cluster investigations to surveil infection trends. By that same month, more than 31% of the target population had received their first doses of the vaccine and Fiji had already fully vaccinated many frontline workers.

International partners also showed their support during this critical time. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom assisted by providing life-saving medical supplies and pledging donations. Multilateral organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EU assisted by ensuring better accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines and equipment, including testing machines and miscellaneous medical supplies totaling more than $2.6 million in value.

Curbing Concerns in 2022

Despite controversies and civil unrest surrounding hard-line regulations, such as Fiji’s “no jab, no job” policy, the country achieved a significant milestone by the end of 2021. Approximately 90% of the target population had received second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although the country’s health care efforts saw success in curbing the spread of the virus, the pandemic’s impact on Fiji’s economy continued, with significant public debt-to-GDP ratios resulting from the persisting 2020 deficits. In addition, the global economy witnessed some of the highest surges of inflation in the past 20 years. These inflated prices include shipping, import, energy and food costs.

To revive its tourism industry, Fiji re-opened its borders to travel with modified guidelines. However, despite these efforts, economic growth did not rebound as expected due to the lingering civil unrest from the previous year and the emergence of an Omicron variant outbreak.

Current Concerns and Trends

As of March 2023, Fiji has made significant progress in its vaccination campaign, with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services reporting a 95% full vaccination rate for the target population. Infection trends are continually decreasing as well, and over the past month, Fiji reported only one new case. One can attribute this positive development to the general public adhering to effective health measures.

The tourism industry is also gradually recovering, with international travel to Fiji fully resuming after a long hiatus. As of February 2023, travelers to Fiji no longer need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or travel insurance. Initial figures from 2022 show that tourist arrivals sat at around 45% of pre-pandemic figures.

However, even with progress in the medical and tourism industries, economic figures are still hurting. David Gould, the World Bank’s lead economist for the Pacific, estimated that while economic output is growing, levels may not exceed pre-pandemic levels until 2024. One contributing factor may be the record-breaking 30% unemployment rate in 2022, according to the Fiji Times.

The World Bank’s Pacific Economic Update advises Fijian leaders to be cautious when accepting fiscal support. Concerns include global economic uncertainty, debt servicing and rising inflation rates. To address these concerns, re-budgeting and public spending cuts can help to maximize the efficiency of taxpayer dollars and to prevent future public debt. Once Fiji’s economic output recovers to pre-pandemic levels, policymakers can invest in fiscal buffers to allow for economic leeway during future economic disasters.


In 2021, the World Bank swiftly approved a $50 million credit for Fiji as vigorous support for unemployment assistance, strengthening the Fijian social protection system and ensuring equitable access to social protection services. While this relief is not a permanent solution to Fiji’s rising poverty levels, it did push GDP growth from -15.2% in 2020 to -4.1% in 2021 and then from 6.3% in 2022 to 7.7% in 2023.

To this day, the World Bank continues its support to lessen COVID-19’s impact on Fiji. After discussions held with the Fijian government and other civil and private organizations, the World Bank Group developed a Country Partnership Framework for Fiji with the primary goal of reducing poverty emphasized by the pandemic and increasing sustainable wealth from 2020 to 2024. To do this, officials prioritize fostering inclusive and private sector-led economic growth, building fiscal and climate-based resilience and increasing gender equality.

The framework paints a picture of a bright future for Fiji. However, humanitarian efforts from the broader international community must continue in order for Fiji to return to its once-booming economic self.

– Anthony Lee
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Fiji
Fiji is a white sand archipelago in the South Pacific ocean. Fiji’s palm-lined beaches and turquoise lagoons continue to attract tourism to this exotic location. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened economic matters by prohibiting the country’s main source of income. This economic stress has exacerbated issues of women’s rights in Fiji, but the people fighting against female discrimination continue to create democracy, provide education and empower the women of the Pacific Island.

Women’s Rights and Global Poverty

One of the biggest myths about ending global poverty is that achieving it is possible without confronting gender inequality. Recent statements have indicated that 2.4 billion do not receive equal opportunities to their male counterparts and struggle to recover from poverty due to their low social status in many cultures. The empowerment of women could help to reduce gender inequality and transform global poverty from a gendered issue, according to Global Citizen.

In Fiji, women’s salaries are approximately 30,000 FJD less than men’s on average per year. Women’s lack of freedom in the household and the control held over their resources renders women the most vulnerable group in Fijian society. Currently, female poverty is on the rise in Fiji due to the economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One way to help is microfinance. It involves providing women in poverty with small loans, affording financial freedom and enabling the development of small businesses. The South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) is the largest microfinance firm fighting against female poverty. SPBD launched the Fiji Bloom Program, an initiative that addresses the unique needs of Fijian women entrepreneurs. Bloom aims to transform small women-owned enterprises into thriving businesses and mobilize other Fijian institutions to join them on their mission.

The Problem in Fiji

Fijian society often views women as “second-class citizens,” according to Al Jazeera. This is due to entrenched patriarchal norms that continue to define contemporary views of women. Unfortunately, women’s inferior status in Pacific island society has led to violence against young women. In 2016, 59% of all rape cases involved girls under the age of 18. This is an issue that the ignorance of women in the justice system further exacerbates.

According to the U.N., the economic strain placed on the country through the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened issues of gender inequality. The stress of unemployment has caused a surge in domestic violence against women who are locked down in their homes, Al Jazeera reports. This has led to poverty and violence being considered critical gender issues in Fiji.

Fiji is fighting for the cause. In 2020, women held 19.6% of parliamentary seats, compared to 0% in 1987. Also, Fiji ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1995, meaning women’s rights in Fiji are finally receiving recognition.

The People Making a Difference

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) envisions a democratic Fiji where gender equality, good governance and the realization of human rights create sustainable national development. Founded in 1986, FWRM aims to eliminate the attitudinal and institutionalized discrimination that oppresses women.

GIRLS is one of FWRM’s programs providing education on feminism, sexual health and human rights to girls aged between 10 and 17. It works to challenge gender stereotypes by encouraging male-dominated sports like rugby and creates a culture of understanding amongst young girls.

“Democratization, policy transformation, intergenerational leadership and organizational strengthening” are the four pillars from which FWRM operates. So far, FWRM has established four successful programs targeted at girls and women of different age groups. One, the Fiji Women’s Forum, united women across diverse groups to increase women’s participation in the Fiji national elections held in September 2014.

Lobbying, mobilizing and advocating, they are the NGO secretariat transforming the discriminatory structures that prohibit female empowerment. From a small group of Fijian women who wanted to make a difference to a leading organization with global connections, empowerment is on the horizon.

Looking Ahead

The fight for women’s rights in Fiji is a fight against violence, poverty and institutionalized misogyny; one that has been fought for decades. Gender stereotyping and a lack of feminist education are the problems Fijian girls and women face today, but FWRM highlights the possibility of empowerment. In 2018, FWRM GIRLS and Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni (ELFA) held an intergenerational women’s movement event where girls and women together shared stories of abuse, empowerment and everything in between, Fawcett reports. This inspiring display of solidarity reflects the liberation of women’s rights in Fiji so far.

– Abigail Vaughton
Photo: Flickr

Before the pandemic, more than 120,000 Fijians relied on a steady income from their jobs as waitresses, hostesses, hotel concierges and tour guides. Although 24.1% of residents were living below the poverty line in 2019, the country may have had some economic stability due to its booming tourism industry. However, everything changed in 2020 when hotels closed their doors and restaurants were no longer bustling with noise, leading to many people not having employment. As a result, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Fiji has been significant.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Fiji

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Fiji expands well beyond public health. The closing of the country’s borders resulted in absolutely no travel for almost two years, a practice that contributes nearly 40% to Fiji’s gross domestic product (GDP). At one point, Fiji had more tourists coming into the country than people living in it; the financial crisis that shut down the borders caused in the travel sector alone was lethal.

The pandemic did not only introduce new problems into the country but served as a stimulant for the already challenging social and economic issues that Fiji was facing before 2020. Many households that were already struggling to afford food and clothing ended up with nothing. People who had never known poverty had to adapt to a new way of living; around 95% of the 200 families that a parish assessed in 2021 reported that their economic struggles were COVID-19 related.

As a country in which communal living is prevalent, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Fiji also extended to people who had to wear masks and lost the ability to move freely around their own living spaces. Squatter settlements that already had significant populations with people living below the poverty line before the pandemic became breeding grounds for the virus, unfairly striking those who were suffering long before 2020.


In February 2021, the World Bank approved a credit of $50 million to help mend the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Fiji and to aid in repairs from the tropical cyclones that have hit the country in the past two years. The money benefited the thousands of Fijians who needed immediate economic relief and continues to serve as a defense for any future catastrophes. On December 1, 2021, Fiji opened its borders and began to allow visitors back into the country. Many resorts are now up and running, and around 50% of the 120,000 people employed in the tourism business have returned to work. As of April 2022, Fiji is welcoming around 1,200 tourists every day, a number that should increase at the end of the year.

While things are beginning to look up for the people of Fiji, the road to recovery after taking as massive of an economic hit as it did in 2020 is still long and winding. Considering the number of Fijians in poverty, the social, economic and health-related effects of COVID-19 are far from over. As brave and resilient as Fijians have proven to be, they still need help in reclaiming and bettering their quality of life. 

– Ava Lombardi
Photo: Flickr

Water Shortage in FijiWater supply is diminishing worldwide and its distribution is unequal. One in three people in the world lives in countries with insufficient clean water supplies. Hence, the current shortage and disproportionate availability spark conflict, commonly now known as water wars, over the valuable commodity. Scarcity in Fiji is a growing issue despite the exportation of Fiji water to developed nations; wealthier countries are largely removed from the other end of the supply chain and often exacerbate the water shortage in Fiji.

Concurrently, Fiji’s vulnerable economy, unaccommodating legal system and geological positioning are not well-suited to withstand clean freshwater scarcity. More and more, seagrass has proven to be an effective tool for this issue. Pathogen-reducing powers of seagrass help increase the limited availability of clean water for the island’s communities. The expanded harvesting of seagrass helps Fiji fight on the frontlines of the Water War.

Water Scarcity Threatens Stability and the Economy

Water makes up about 71% of Earth’s surface, with 97% oceans and 3% as freshwater. The already relatively small accessible freshwater source has become highly polluted. In 2018, roughly 0.4% of Earth’s water was drinkable and usable and consumption and contamination of water continue to increase globally.

Water wars are taking place because dissent over who should control specific access to water and how it should be distributed has no clear solution in increasingly desperate conditions. Along with this tension, economic growth could rapidly decline. As a result, food and product prices will plunge, consequently creating more instability, according to The Berkey.

The Water Shortage in Fiji

It is reported that 12% percent of Fijians do not have access to clean drinking water while FIJI Water extracts $43.01 million in water sales per year from the country. Fiji could face intensified droughts and rising sea levels over the next several years, inducing new water supply shortages.

Most of Fiji’s infrastructure is not able to withstand natural disasters. Suva, the capital of Fiji, is currently experiencing migration surges that exacerbate the gap between population and reliable resources, according to PreventionWeb.

Land Tenure Convolutes Water-related Conflict

Authority and legal systems in Fiji aggravate water shortage conflicts for the general public. The water supply in Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city, is controlled by landowners that charge high prices for water access. In 2003, Qerelevu Hindu School had to shut down because landowners demanded payment for the water supply of the school. The school’s headteacher reported that “Now, without any written order, the landowners are demanding we pay F$5,000 in goodwill and F$1,000 per household to get water. After we informed them that it was impossible for us to pay, as most of the people here cannot afford it, they disconnected the water supply. It’s almost three weeks now”.

Lack of Sanitation

Unlike its translucent reputation in developing countries, Fiji’s water is substantially unsanitary and poses numerous health issues for its residents. Typhoid fever, dysentery, diarrhea, Hepatitis A, gastroenteritis and many other water-transmitted diseases have become abundant in the Fiji Islands. Damaged infrastructure leads to saltwater intrusion and can contaminate wells and freshwater aquifers.

Seagrass as a Solution

Seagrass reduces water pollution and disease. This plant maintains coastal water quality and supports Fijian communities. Through photosynthesis, seagrass removes carbon dioxide from the water, serving to reduce ocean acidification.

In a recent 2022 study, a team led by Fortunato Ascioti, an ecologist at the University of Palermo in Italy, studied the sanitizing property of seagrass. They found that seagrass “could be responsible for a reduction of up to 24 million cases of gastroenteritis per year,” This could save as much as $74 million globally on health care alone.

In Fiji, seagrass also acts as a barrier to weaken waves on shorelines. This protects infrastructure from getting damage and contamination. 

Existing supply and distribution systems in Fiji are no longer capable of satisfying growing demand. Seagrass can alleviate the vulnerability of Fiji’s economy is worsened by diminishing the freshwater supply. Recent research reveals that seagrass sanitizes the sea; Fiji needs solutions to increase clean water availability for its communities, especially in the face of increasing populations in Fiji’s cities and in dealing with conflicts over property rights.

Anna Zawistowski
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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 the 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 or 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 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 spouses. 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