A blogpost by Lagi Fisher (President -FMCAF), Dimsoy Cruickshank, Judith Ann Francis and Jana Dietershagen (CTA)
The Financial Management Counsellors Association of Fiji (FMCAF), a registered association of local, professional business development advisors with many years of experience in the banking & finance sector was a recipient of the CTA/IFAD/PIPSO Innov4AgPacific Innovation Grant Facility (IGF). The Innov4AgPacific IGF supports Pacific small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are contributing, directly or indirectly, to the sustainable development of the agriculture sector in Pacific Island States. FMCAF was established mainly to improve micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) and agribusiness competitiveness through prudent advisory services. Business management, agriculture, audit, coaching and mentoring support is also provided to farmers.
FMCAF has successfully implemented their Innov4AgPacific IGF proposal “Farming as a Business – Whole Family Approach” to expand their advisory services to communities outside of the ‘sugar-cane belt’. They used the IGF grant award to build the capacity of Taro/Dalo and Kava/Yaqona farmers and their spouses and children on the islands of Taveuni, Savusavu and Kadavu, in Fiji.
Lagi Fisher, President of FMCAF, explains the “whole family approach” and FMCAF’s vision
Whole family approach to agribusiness development
Farmers in Taveuni, Savusavu and Kadavu are the major suppliers of Taro and Kava in Fiji. Annually, 21 – 30 million Fiji dollars (approximately 9-12 million Euro) is generated from domestic and export sales of the two commodities. However, agribusiness operations are challenging and can be unsustainable for small-holder farmers. Some of the major challenges include issues of land ownership as most of the farms operate on tribally-owned land; unregulated markets where farmers are at the mercies of the middlemen and exporters who dictate the quantities and the purchase price; lack of business management and financial acumen; and poor access to market information. FMCAF worked in collaboration with the Fiji Development Bank (FDB), Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Itaukei Land Trust Board (iTLTB) and other relevant stakeholders to address some of the challenges during the training sessions and field visits.
The tailor-made training focused on upgrading farmers’ traditional subsistence agriculture operations to become more commercialised and profit-oriented. Through the “whole family approach,” farmers and their entire families (spouses and children) as well as disadvantaged groups (youth and women) were trained in “Farming as a Business.” Of the 172 participants, 68 were women – female farmers, farmers’ wives and daughters (approximately 40%).
FMCAF also facilitated the development of 23 taro and kava farmers’ clusters; three of which were women clusters, to ensure that they work together to standardize production and product quality and increase their collective bargaining power to negotiate lower costs of input through bulk purchasing and better prices in the market. The clusters help to foster peer mentoring among the farmers and increase engagement of more youth and women. FMCAF also assisted the clusters to develop the constitution and by-laws that govern their organizations, making them more sustainable and relevant to the needs of their members. Some of the clusters have since appointed officers and developed 3 to 5-year farm plans with annual, monthly and weekly targets.
Achievements: Farmers keep records, access investment opportunities and negotiate prices
Most farmers (75%) have reported to FMCAF that they have started to keep proper records for the first time with the help of their spouses and children. Around 10 farmers have started accessing investment and superannuation schemes like those available from the Unit Trust of Fiji, one of the major investment institutions in Fiji that works together with the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Around 16 farmers have started working towards securing proper land leases to support the sustainability of their farm operations. The 23 newly formed farmers’ clusters have also reported on their first successes in price negotiation and cost control.
Kathleen Nuttall is a single mother from Waimaqera, Taveuni. She is also the founder of ‘Building Resilient Women’ (BRW), a cluster NGO that helps single mothers overcome the stigma associated with single parenting and assists them with small income generating projects to support themselves and their children, making them independent. BRW is also provides health screening and awareness programs for women.
This is her testimony:
“I am thankful to FMCAF for organising the training on ‘Farming as a Business’ in October 2018. We learned a lot of important things like budgeting, planning, costing and working together as a cluster so that we can have some say in the market. It’s been 2 months now since the training and we have developed our own recordkeeping system. We used to only plant assorted vegetables because of our physique, now we have started our own piggery and hire labourers for our Kava and Taro plantation to maximise returns from our small piece of land. I believe that the training is the first of its kind to be brought right down to the community level. We are forever grateful to FMCAF and CTA (and IFAD) for organising it, however, we request if there can be some support and further guidance from FMCAF advisers during the early stage of our commercial operation.”
Viliame Cama, lead farmer of the Buca village cluster, described the training as inspiring and an “eye opener”. After the training, he organised a meeting with all the youths of Buca village to share the lessons learned and enlighten them on how they can start implementing some key activities. To-date the youths have formed 7 clusters mainly within their individual mataqali (clan) and tokatoka (extended family). Each cluster has around 7-15 members, to assist them in combating some of their common problems. They are now embarking on a 3-year farming plan with an annual target of 1500 kava plants per youth per year. They are geared towards completing the first year’s target by 30 June 2019. Around 62 youths from Buca village are part of this initiative.
Partnering for success and sustainability
Success is credited to the partnership FMCAF maintained with the Ministry of Agriculture extension services, the Itaukei Land Trust Board (iTLTB) and the Fiji Development Bank officers in the execution and implementation of the grant. To ensure sustainability, FMCAF recommends that business advisors be re-engaged to assist the clusters refine their business plans and to coach agriculture extension officers to take up the role of monitoring and implementation of the plans thereafter.