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USC project helps Fijian farmers, tourism, economy

23 Mar 2016

A University of the Sunshine Coast-led research project in the Pacific Islands has received another Australian Government grant to help Fijian vegetable farmers better supply their country’s tourist resorts and hotels.

USC Associate Professor of Geography Jennifer Carter said the recent $130,000 from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade grant would fund ongoing research and development of the PGS (Participatory Guarantee System).

“We now have eight PGS groups operating in different rural areas of Fiji, with at least 15 farmers in each, and we’ve had many more expressions of interest,” said Dr Carter, who specialises in environmental, rural and animal geography.

“These groups make strategic connections between smallholder farmers and nearby markets, such as tourist resorts and hotels, to provide guarantees of purchase if farmers coordinate and supply their produce at required times, quality and volume.

“Farmers in Fiji often battle harsh conditions only to find they can’t sell their produce to the high value markets like tourist resorts, due to supply and quality issues. This USC research is making a difference to people’s lives.”

In 2012, the Fiji project initiated by USC Professor of Horticulture Steven Underhill and led by Dr Carter received funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research to work with global partners.

Professor Underhill has continued to provide research expertise in post-harvesting techniques and advise the groups on quality and supply.

Dr Carter said the USC project aimed to emulate the success of an earlier AusAID-funded, non-USC scheme in the Solomon Islands, where PGS groups were now self-sustaining.

“The new grant allows USC to coordinate, advise and oversee the growth of these Fijian PGS groups to strengthen sustainable regional development,” she said.

“The goals are to provide higher income to local producers, to replace some of the need for Fiji to import food, and to provide local high-quality food to international tourists in popular places such as the Coral Coast on Viti Levu.

“Our Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Rob Erskine-Smith is the agribusiness consultant helping the groups expand from high-value tomatoes to new products such as broccoli and the kava shrub, which is growing in export importance.”

The scheme also employs a Fijian community coordinator to provide expertise in business skills, grading crops and conducting transactions.

Dr Carter said many of the groups had become registered companies and small businesses turning over hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

— Julie Schomberg

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