May 09, 2021 Last Updated 7:04 AM, May 7, 2021

Before joining the South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) program, Vani Vakacegu worked hard but found it difficult to get ahead. At 32 years of age she had four children, with another on the way. Her husband, the family’s sole breadwinner, was a fisherman, but “life was very hard”.

Then Vani was introduced to SPBD, at that stage a new microfinance institute that was holding workshops around Fiji to help women secure loans without security, to go into business. Vani’s first loan was for F$850, which enabled her to start buying and selling fish. She quickly saw returns. “The first thing I did was provide electricity for my family,” she says.

Since that modest start, Vani has been able to buy a sewing machine and brush cutter, which saves her family time and money. She bought a second-hand vehicle to transport produce from her village to Suva city, not only for herself, but for other women in her community. She has purchased a freezer and  more recently, a newer vehicle. She has expanded from selling fish to other produce. Her children have leadership roles at their schools and the eldest is at the University of Fiji.

Vani still works extremely hard her day begins at 3am but says joining SPBD has given her confidence to lead: “Everything I have learned from SPBD I have to take to my community, I have to help them do the finance work and also help them do the marketing. I have to encourage them so we can buy one market on the highway so it will be easy for us to sell our product.”

SPBD  celebrates  its 10th  anniversary  in  Fiji this  year  and  has  sup- ported many women like Vani  in  that  time.  Since its beginnings from a small temporary office at the Suva Motor Inn in October 2010, it now has branches in the capital, Sigatoka, Savusavu,   Lautoka, Rakiraki, and Labasa, and works across Fiji. Just last year, SPBD operations reached Rabi for the first time.  In 2011 it reached its first 1000 SPBD members; that number now stands at well over 20,000 members. SPBD is a key part of Fiji’s financial sector, and has formed partnerships with some of Fiji’s most prominent companies, including Vodafone, Courts, the Fiji Development Bank, Kiva Microfunds, the Rotary Club of Suva, Vinod Patel and RC Manubhai.

SPBD has also played a critical role in supporting communities through natural disasters, including Cyclone Evan through a Cash- for-Work program in 2013 and Cyclone Winston in 2016. Most recently, SPBD has launched a COVID-19 Pandemic Response Strategy to benefit all its members.

“During hard times, SPBD listens closely to what the SPBD members would suggest.  The best example is when the economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic hit the livelihoods of our members. We immediately restructured their loans and provided a five-month repayment holiday. On top of that, we are currently providing Business Recovery Loans and also promote the establishment of Home Gardens to cope up with the hardships, “says SPBD General Manager, Rico Munoz.

SPBD’s philosophy of lending is based on respect for each individual’s innate human ingenuity, drive and self-esteem. By providing small, unsecured loans of around US$400 to groups of rural women, who then invest them into businesses based on their existing livelihood skills, it provides an opportunity for women to achieve their full potential, expand their businesses, support their children’s education, improve the healthiness of their homes, build savings and invest in insurance.

Training and ongoing mentoring and guidance is key to SPBD’s work. Last year SPBD recruited its first participants to the Fiji Bloom business acceleration program, which aims to pave a new pathway to help informal, women-led micro-enterprises transition into thriving, formalised small-medium enterprises.

Throughout the six-month program, SPBD connects participants to tailored business curriculum training, one-to-one private industry- specific coaching and select networking events all to help them build and execute a SME-level business plan.

“The Fiji Bloom Program offers a whole new world to the women micro-entrepreneurs. Through this program we are able to assist them to formalise their businesses, equip them to transition from micro to SME-level enterprises and accelerate their growth through training and business coaching,” explained Mr. Munoz.

SPBD Fiji is part of the SPBD Microfinance Network which is also celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. The network started in Samoa in 2020 and has spread its operations in the region – Tonga (2009), Fiji (2010), Solomon Islands (2012) and Vanuatu (2017). To know more about the SPBD network please visit:

To learn more about Fiji Bloom visit:

To find out how you can support Fiji women through SPBD visit:

As Fiji commemorates its 50th anniversary of Independence the Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation (FDPF) and its 4 affiliated organizations together with its branches reflects on its achievements over the past 5 decades.

Originally established as the Fiji Paraplegic and Paraplegia Association in the mid 1970s mainly focused on sports representation for Persons with Disabilities, Organizations for Persons with Disabilities in Fiji begun advocating and carry out awareness on and for issues relevant to disability. In the early 1980s as the members of the association grew with representation of cross-disability there was a change to the Fiji Disabled Peoples Association in 1984. The change in name and re-structure expanded its activities and func- tions representing persons with disabilities to meetings and forums national, regional and international.

Many of our pioneers during this period volunteered their time and committed to supporting their colleagues and friends to activities and functions of the organization. Without a registered office the homes of our pioneers were venues of operations and our public parks were often converted into meeting areas. Reflecting back to these times would leave people in awe but when talking to our pioneers the response commonly “those were the good old days.’’

This sentiment rings true as the numbers of its members grew and its reach beyond the comforts of the capital and urban towns. Realizing that whilst advocacy and awareness could be integrated in cross disability there were also specific issues that were associated specifically to individual impairments. On the 17th of December, 1993 the Spinal Injury Association Fiji was formerly registered to lobby specifically on behalf of persons with Spinal Injury in Fiji. On the 18th of March, 1994 the United Blind Persons of Fiji formerly registered specific to issues associated with persons with visual impairment and blindness. These were later followed by the establishment of the Fiji Association of the Deaf 14th April, 2004 and the Psychiatric Survivors Association on the 4th of September, 2006.

Whilst these organizations were established to address specific issues and implement activities for its members the partnership and relationship with the FDPA remained strong and true. Understanding that the organization had built its capacities to function independently in most areas there was still a need for a united approach to many activities to enable change. The establishments of the branches were also activated and begun formal partnerships with the FDPA by 2010.Today there are 18 Branches throughout Fiji. On 20th December, 2012 the FDPA realizing its role as the umbrella of these affiliated organizations formerly changed its registration to what it is today the Fiji Disable Peoples Federation.

The contribution of these organizations over the 50years have resulted in multiple milestones for inclusion in Fiji including the accessibility to Fiji’s currency for blind and visually impaired, establishment of a Fijis Sign Language dictionary, establishment for service delivery of mobility aid and appliances, achieving Fijis first gold medal in Paralympic Games and etc. The lobbying and advocacy of these organizations have also contributed greatly into the recognition of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in our National Constitution 2013 and Rights for Persons with Disability Act 2018. There have also been significant contributions towards the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in our other National Laws and Policies ranging from inclusive education, employment regulations and etc.

Whist these inclusive processes are in place a lot more still is need to be done in order for persons with disability to realize their rights. Our pioneers and predecessors dedicated time, efforts and sacrifices enabling the recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. The responsibility is now not only with FDPF and its Affiliates nor only with the Disability Sector but with every Fijian as we commemorate our 50th independence is to ensure a barrier free and inclusive society for all Fijians.

Fiji’s celebration of its 50th year of independence is not only a celebration for the country but for the region as well.

It has also been 50 years since the father of modern Fiji and Pacific statesman, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara coined the words “Pacific Way” at the United Nations in 1970, to symbolise a way of doing things specific to the Pacific where people of different races, opinions and cultures can live and work together for the good of all, can differ without rancour, govern without malice and accept responsibility as reasonable people intent on serving the interests of all.

As individuals, Pacific island nations are too small to be heard in the global space but as a region or in the “Pacific Way”, our voices are more amplified.

Oceania  Customs  Organisation  (OCO),  headquartered  in Fiji, is an example of the “Pacific Way”. With a membership of 23 countries in the Pacific region, OCO’s mission is to facilitate and help customs administrations align with international standards and best practice, which would lead to greater economic prosperity and increased border security.

OCO was born out of the Customs Heads of Administration Regional Meeting (CHARM) held annually in the 1980s, which was a forum to promote harmonised and simplified customs procedures, introduce new methods, exchange information and generally improve communication between member administrations.

Over the years, it became clearer that the needs of the 23 customs administrations had grown and there was a need to have a secretariat. OCO was established at the final CHARM gathering in August 1998 in Tonga, which was the first OCO Annual Conference of Customs Heads.

The OCO secretariat was initially hosted by Australian Cus- toms in Brisbane before it was moved to Noumea, New Caledo- nia in 2002 and eventually Fiji.

As not all Pacific Island nations are members of the World Customs Organisation or the World Trade Organisation, OCO has been bridging the gap in these nations through knowledge sharing, training and assisting customs administrations to im- plement standards of the same level as the two global organisations.

But while customs administrations in the region have evolved and progressed, there are also challenges that we must address urgently.

Without a doubt the role of customs is important in an econ- omy- to facilitate trade and generate revenue as well as to ensure border security.

We are seeing emerging threats within the customs environment such as the trade of counterfeit goods, illicit financial flows, trafficking of people, drugs and weapons and
money laundering to name a few. 

But the greatest challenge, which has had far-reaching effects across the world is COVID-19.

The work of a customs officer today is not as similar as five or 10 years ago. A customs officer today must ensure he or sheis safe from contracting the virus and that it also doesn’t enter a country.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the COVID-19 virus can live on external surfaces for up to three days. Customs administrations must ensure their officers are
well protected and the region is protected as well through quarantining and sanitizing of cargoes.

 The safety of customs officers and other border agencies, as well as those in the private sector involved in the movement and clearance of goods is critical now.

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has affected the way we do things and we are embracing the new normal as best as we can.

There may be a lot of doom and gloom all around us but there is one thing we can all agree on- Pacific islands and their people are resilient. 

That resilience and the spirit of working together as Pacific islanders will carry us through these tough times.

OCO and its members are doing that and we are ensuring that in the true spirit of the Pacific Way- we are transparent and accountable for our actions. More importantly, we are serving the interests of all.

We thank Fiji for its contributions to the region and the establishment of the OCO Secretariat. 

Although it was formally established in 2010, Fiji National University (FNU) has a long and colourful history of relevant education dating back to the origins of its component Colleges through institutions that were established according to national needs and aspiration as these developed.

FNU was formally instituted under the Fiji National University Act 2009 (Act 39 of 2009) and commenced operations on 15 February 2010. The formation of a national university for Fiji has since then brought together a diverse range of former national educational and training institutions as one entity and corporate body. The guiding vision of the founding of FNU was to bring strength to a national university that drew from the nation defining legacies in education and training of these originating institutions dating back to more than a century, with a collective age of almost 600 years.

The School of Medicine has developed into the premier medical institute of the South Pacific. It continues to strive towards excellence in the training and education of health professionals who are now serving in key positions in Fiji and overseas. The School which has been in existence since 1886 provides training in most health science disciplines, including medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, physiotherapy, radiography, laboratory technology, public health, dietetics and environment health.

The School of Nursing is one of the oldest nursing education institutions in the Pacific and has been in existence since 1893. The School offers basic and post-basic nursing programmes for Fiji and regional students. Both institutions are now part of FNU’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences (CMNHS).

Formerly known as the Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), the institution is now part of FNU’s College of Engineering, Science and Technology (CEST) and is the University’s Derrick Campus, Samabula. The College provides education to cater for the total human resource needs of Fiji and the South Pacific in the areas of engineering, technology including information technology and electronics, marine training and sciences.

The FIT was also a starting point for the College of Business, Hospitality and Tourism Studies (CBHTS), which is now located in a number of different centres, including the Namaka Campus in Nadi which is the heart of Fiji’s tourism industry.

FNU’s main administrative centre including the hub of its extensive teacher training facility is located at Nasinu Campus. The Fiji College of Advanced Education and Lautoka Teachers College has become part of the University’s College of Humanities and Education (CHE), which is still located at Nasinu.

The Lautoka FNU Campus houses the School of Education and is called the Lautoka Education Campus. The Creative Arts and Journalism section of this College is based at Nasinu Campus.

The Fiji College of Agriculture was established in 1954 and has developed into the University’s College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (CAFF) at the Koronivia Campus. It places great emphasis on research and provides excellent opportunities for development in agricultural science.

The National Training and Productivity Centre (NTPC) has established the National Qualifications Framework to benchmark training and qualifications in technical and trade areas against a national standard, based on the needs of local industries and is comparable with overseas qualifications. The Centre now runs the University’s short training courses ranging from senior executive level management and leadership to innovative technical courses specifically designed to meet the local industries needs. In January 2020, our national presence took another significant step forward, as we welcomed the Technical College of Fiji into the “FNU Family”.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has gripped the world, has seen everyone living in unprecedented times. Universities around the world have been forced to innovate and adapt to ensuring that operations run as smoothly as possible with minimum disruptions to our clients – students studies. As Fiji’s national university, FNU has been no exception, and it is a measure of the FNU’s resilience as an institution that these challenges have been met with a spirit of mutual support and cooperation among the Council, Management, Staff and Students. The need to make a speedy transition to entirely online and blended learning has enabled the University to move rapidly through the learning curves in online delivery. This is seen as a means of enhancing the blended learning approach, i.e., a mix of the best of online and face-to- face teaching, that will be the ‘new normal’ for the University’s approach to learning and teaching.

FNU now has campuses and centres at 40 locations (including small centres and TCF) throughout the country, running a total of approximately 300 different courses and programmes with a staff complement of 2000 and a student enrolment of around 26,000.

As a new and dynamic institution, yet one with an illustrious history within its origin institutions, FNU is developing, innovating and expanding daily to provide Fiji and the region with its education and training needs.

This year FNU celebrates its 10th anniversary. We are proud to play an important role in the education and mentoring future leaders. FNU wishes all Fijians in Fiji and those around the world a Happy 50th Independence Day!

Scaring Nemo

How do clownfish on coral reefs react to encounters with humans?

Human intervention is putting marine ecosystems under increasing pressure. On coral   reefs,   rising   water   temperatures, ocean  acidification, pollution  from  plastic waste or overfishing threaten the organisms living there - be they fish, sea cucumbers or corals. But how does the direct physical presence of humans under water change the behaviour and ecology of animals on coral reefs?

Researchers from AUT’s School of Science and the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine  Research  (ZMT)  in  Bremen studied the behaviour of anemone fish during  encounters  with  humans  off  the coast of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The team, consisting of marine biologist Dr Armagan Sabetian (AUT), AUT marine biology student Lena Trnski and fish ecologist Dr Julian Lilkendey (ZMT, came to some surprising results which have been published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Anemonefish, also  known  as  clownfish, are  not  only  the  cute  protagonists  in  the hit movie “Finding Nemo”, they are also model  organisms  for  behavioral  studies on  fish. Clownfish live  in  symbiosis  with sea anemones; the anemone offers the fish protection from attackers in its tentacles while the clownfish defends it from invaders and   provide   it   with   nutrition   through its food remains and excrements. When guarding their host anemone, the fish show easily distinguishable behaviours. The close connection to their fixed-in-place anemone makes clownfish particularly susceptible to human presence because they can only avoid an encounter with humans underwater for a limited time due to the small size and localization of their anemone.

During  their investigations  in Vanuatu, the researchers focused on two species of clownfish -  the  Clark’s  anemonefish  and the dusky anemonefish. They wanted to know whether these species changed their behavior  when  encountering  humans. Lead  author  Lena  Trnski  snorkeled  out to  the  reefs  off  Efate  island  and  videoed the  reactions  of  clownfish.  To  simulate the  presence  of  an  observer,  she  hovered one to three meters above the anemone. However, she was not present during the video recordings recorded as control for comparison. She noted the behavior of each fish in the anemone at 15-second intervals. A total of 60 behavioural events were recorded for each anemone fish, both in Lena’s presence and in her absence.

When confronted with human presence, the two species showed very different behavioural patterns. “While Clark’s anemonefish were frightened by encounters with  humans  and  often  hid  deep  within the tentacles of the anemone, the dusky anemonefish reacted less to the presence of a human,” reports study leader Dr. Julian Lilkendey. “We actually expected that the dusky anemone fish would also hide from Lena or even attempt to chase her away, but they usually did not let her disturb them. Individuals were often up to a metre outside the tentacles of their anemone.

“We suspect that dusky anemonefish display a rather bolder behaviour in the presence of humans, as they are a highly specialised species that can only inhabit a few species of anemone,” Trnski explains. “In order to find a suitable host anemone, the dusky anemonefish can benefit from fearlessly   searching   the   reef   -   even   if this behaviour also makes them more susceptible to predators. But it is precisely this fearlessness that is also revealed by the fact that they do not flee from humans.

Courage pays off

Their observations led the researchers to conclude that in regions with a high level of tourism, ‘courageous’clownfish species such as  the  dusky  anemonefish could  displace more fearful species. “Species that retreat into  their anemones  for protection  under stress spend a lot of energy and time on this one escape behaviour and are therefore less able to engage in foraging or reproduction,” says Lilkendey. “Intrepid species have an advantage over them.”

“The resulting displacement process would ultimately lead to a loss of species diversity,” Trnski adds.

“The ecological consequences of behavioural changes caused by human presence are still largely unexplored,” says Lilkendey.

“We suspect that differences in the behaviour of individual animals could have an impact on interactions between species, such as predator-prey relationships or symbioses, which in turn affect community structures and the functioning of the entire ecosystem”.

Trnski, L., Sabetian, A., Lilkendey, J. (2020) Scaring Nemo – Contrasting effects of observer presence  on  two  anemonefish  species.  Journal  of Fish Biology. full/10.1111/jfb.14492?af=R

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