Aug 07, 2020 Last Updated 5:12 AM, Aug 6, 2020

Hope on labour mobility

There's good news for Vanuatu’s seasonal workers this week with the announcement that 170 workers will be able to go to Australia for the mango season.

The workers will go to the Northern Territory in a pilot program designed to meet industry shortages.

National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Officer, Tony Mahar says it’s a “pragmatic decision”. Under the arrangement, eligible workers must return a negative COVID-19 test before departing and be required to self-isolate for 14-days after arriving in Australia, before commencing work. Mango farmers will also have to show that they are unable to secure local workers.

“No one wants to see fruit and vegetables wasted and this trial will help make sure that doesn’t happen," Australian agriculture minister David Littleproud says. “This trial will see up to 170 workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme come to Australia to help with the 2020 harvest, with more workers to potentially follow subject to a review of the first cohort and approval for additional numbers by the NT Government.”

Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are eligible to participate in the Pacific Labour Scheme. It’s unclear at this stage, which of these nations may send workers to the Northern Territory if the trial goes well and it is extended.

Labour mobility programs are a likely topic of discussion at the Pacific Island Forum Economics Ministers Meeting (FEMM) next week as both hosting countries (Australia and New Zealand) and supplying countries are FEMM participants.

The Director of the Development Policy  Centre at the Australian National University, Stephen Howes says Pacific governments need to be prepared to let their workers leave for seasonal work. Similarly, New Zealand-based research fellow, Charlotte Bedford says there will be a demand for labour for the approaching season (September/October) but there are still a number of logistical questions to be addressed such as which workers will be employed (e.g. those who may have just returned or those who have missed out on deployment), and who pays for quarantine.

“When workers return at the moment, our current quarantine requires they will have to self-isolate in a quarantine facility for two weeks and employers are very keen to get in place a work bubble so that workers can go back to the work site and quarantine on the work site and start straight away,” Bedford says.

University of the South Pacific Senior Economist Neelesh Goundar believes there would be an appetite for this work from Fijians.

“ If organised well and if it’s targeted well, there certainly will be lots of workers who will be willing to go and work until the Fiji economy rebounds or tourism opens…if something can be implemented sooner [rather] than later, that would go a long way to helping households, especially those who have lost jobs here in Fiji.”

Fiji Resilience: Losana

Sitting in the hot sun, Losana does not seem to mind the humidity and the busy carpark beside her as she stacks heaps of wild lemons and cucumbers.

What do you do when it rains, we ask her.

"Au dau vakaruru ikea (I seek shelter there)," she replies, pointing to the overhang of the shop behind her.

She prefers selling her produce outside the Sigatoka Market because she says that since the lockdown, customers had been hard to come by inside the market, where she used to be based.

"I pay the same rate of $1.10 to sell outside, but at least I have a better chance of meeting customers here."

Losana is selling wild lemons, cucumbers and taro leaves today.

"I don't mind paying the vendor fee because with one heap of this (wild lemons), I should be able to take care of it."

You can tell she is a veteran vendor, and she tells me that she's been selling here in Sigatoka since her son was a toddler.

Now her son has a family of his own.

Losana lives in Draiba village, about an hour's drive up the Sigatoka Valley, dubbed Fiji's salad bowl as it is Fiji's leading supplier of vegetables.
She doesn’t mind the bus travel each day to the market, as the money she earns help her look after her family.

The need for Pacific island agricultural exporters to target niche markets has long been accepted wisdom. A report produced by the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA Plus) program late last year shows in figures, exactly why it’s so critical.

The Pacific Export Context Analysis looks at cocoa, coffee, coconut products and palm oil price fluctuations since 2009 and notes that in real terms, the USD prices of the major export commodities show an uptrend over the last 20 years. However prices have often strengthened during the first half of that period and softened in the second half.

“When it’s a global commodity; cocoa, coffee, sugar it can’t just be put into basically a bulk bin,” says  Bronwyn Wiseman, Biosecurity and Trade Development Adviser at PHAMA Plus. She says in the scheme of things, PNG and Solomon Islands are “tiny cocoa and coffee producers, they’ve generally gone into the bulk market, so they’re totally controlled by global prices.”

Hence the need for niche markets. Wiseman says niches can be defined in a variety of ways, including product quality and marketing.

Meanwhile the challenges facing Pacific exporters have remained largely unchanged for years, although in some instances, they have intensified.

PHAMA Plus Biosecurity and Environmental Safeguard Advisor, Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu says these challenges include the cost, accessibility and reliability of transportation, sustainability of supply, market awareness, branding, certification, verification of legal origin, issues of land tenure and land disputes,  and the ongoing impacts of climate change.

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Agriculture: Generation Farm

  • Aug 08, 2020
  • Published in March

On sweltering day in Suva this month, a sea of proud agriculture students decked out in bright blue graduation gowns and salusalus (garlands) posed for selfies with their families. Graduates of the Fiji National University’s Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) program, shared why they studied agriculture.

“I’m from a farming background, my father is a farmer. So that encouraged me to join the field of agriculture. I want to pursue this in the field, so this was theory, I want to do it in the field,” said Shayal from Fiji’s ‘salad bowl’, the fertile area of Sigatoka.

In its 2017 report, The Future of Work, the International Labour Organisation stated that the relative value added by the agricultural sector is significant, 22 per cent if PNG is included and 15 per cent if it is not, and that in terms of employment by sector, agriculture employs an average of 67.3 per cent of workforces in Pacific Island countries.

The ILO contends that Pacific employment growth opportunities lay in few key sectors: agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, tourism and business process outsourcing. Its authors write that agriculture continues to be the region’s main employer, absorbing the growing labour force: “There is potential for formal employment in agriculture to expand, especially if PIC governments pursue strategies to support agricultural niche products, use ICT for agriculture, and expand linkages between agriculture and tourism.” 

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World class cocoa

  • Aug 08, 2020
  • Published in August
Pacific cocoa contenders at global awards

Three SouthPacific cocoa operators have been named amongst the top 50 cocoa producers from around the world and will participate in the prestigious International Cocoa Awards (ICA) in France in October. They are Manoa Raika Farm from Savusavu, Fiji and two Papua New Guinea producers: Solita Cocoa Farm from Kundiawa and the Charis Cluster Group from Poro.

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