Fiji-Taiwan: 50 years of Enduring Friendship

Message from Representative Jessica Lee, Taipei Trade Office
The 10th of October is an auspicious and historical date for both island nations as it is the National Day for the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Fiji’s Independence Day. While we in Taiwan celebrate the 109th National Day, it also gives me great pride and honor to congratulate Fiji on its 50 years of independence. On this celebratory milestone, it is fitting for me to highlight that people of Taiwan and Fiji continue to enjoy a warm and enduring relationship that spans nearly 50 years. The partnership has stood the test of time, despite some major challenges along the way.

We are proud to be one of Fiji’s longest partners in the agricultural sector and beyond. The government of Republic of China (Taiwan) officially opened a trade mission in 1971, just one year after Fiji gained independence from British rule, and years later, the first Taiwan technical team was sent to Seaqaqa, Vanua Levu. To share Taiwan’s modern agriculture development experience, we started by helping sugarcane farmers boost their sugarcane production, and then moved to help farmers diversify planting from sugarcane to fruit and vegetables in order to adapt and mitigate the impact of global sugar price decline. We also found the next produce for farmers’ export markets such as papaya. The latest project is to expand Fiji’s tropical fruits industry. We would like to highlight that over decades’ cooperation there are more than twenty kinds of new varieties of crops being cultivated, experimented and harvested in Fiji, and hundreds of farmers have partnered with Taiwan Technical Mission for modern farming techniques and knowledge, high quality seedlings and marketing assistance.

Nurtured with time, our partnerships have also expanded to more key areas such as education, aquaculture, health, solar energy, capacity building and training programs. Currently there are five Fijian students studying at Taiwan universities on Taiwan Scholarship scheme.

When we review the exchanges, Fiji’s dignitaries including the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Foreign Minister, members of Parliament have visited Taipei to strengthen the partnerships, and the support from the grassroots have enhanced people to people friendships. The late Prime Minister and President of Fiji Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is fondly remembered as he was the one who initiated the Fiji-Taiwan relationship.

Taiwan, similar in size with Fiji, once a recipient country of Asian Development Bank, now is one of the world’s leading innovation-driven economy with robust democracy. With mission and believe- “Taiwan can help and Taiwan is helping,” we look forward to the next 50-years of prosperous and fruitful Taiwan-Fiji relationship.

Taiwan Assists Fiji’s Agro-industry
Pushkar Charan, a farmer in Sigatoka Valley, has been toiling the land daily for more than 50 years to provide for his family. The 74-year-old sells his produce at various markets and local resorts. A former sugarcane grower, Mr. Charan was concerned for his future when Fiji’s sugar industry faced a decline in the late 1990s. That’s the same year he connected with the Taiwan Technical Mission (TTM), which changed his fortunes for the better. “They gave me free advice and equipment with new methods to plant sugar and I doubled my production,” he said.

The TTM’s tropical fruit and vegetable project’s aim was to use advanced technological methods, modern planting techniques and high-quality seedlings to improve farmers’ production. Farmers were taught how to plant 20 and more different types of crops, including papaya, lettuce, sweet pepper, capsicum, melon, cherry tomato, tomato, eggplant, cabbage and cucumber, which contributed at least US$ 300,000 to the agricultural sector annually. Mr. Charan is among 458 Fijian farmers that have received assistance from the TTM. Taiwan’s technical team found markets for the farmers and provided efficient transportation support to keep costs low and profit margins relatively high.

Sugar used to be Taiwan’s major export commodity several decades ago. That was the reason Fiji’s late President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara asked Taiwan to bring its sugar industry experience to Fiji in 1978. While Taiwan is now one of the world’s leading countries in tropical fruit cultivation, earning the nickname “Fruit Kingdom”, the technical team now brings Fiji the know-how of Taiwan’s multi-billion-dollar fruit and vegetable industry.

The Green Pearl and dragon fruit plants were introduced as part of a Taiwan-Fiji technical cooperation project, launched in 2015 to help the Ministry of Agriculture establish a new fruit industry. The TTM grafts Taiwan Guava branch onto Fiji’s local guava rootstock to produce a new fusion of Fiji-Taiwan Guava – The Green Pearl. The Green Pearl variety is popular with local farmers because it adapts well to the Fiji soil and weather, and customers love the taste. The Green Pearl and dragon fruit are also being supplied to Fiji’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, where the demand for the locally-grown produce is usually high. The project was expanded in 2020 to include commercial production to boost market profit- ability after its initial success.

Health and Education opportunities
Taiwan has been sending medical missions to Fiji since 2006, as part of its global medical diplomacy initiative. Seven teams of 47 medical staff from the Mackay Hospital Medical Corps have completed more than 3,000 outpatient services from 2006 to 2014 in Fiji. Twelve teams of 80 medical staff from the Cathay Medical Corps have completed more than 5,600 outpatient services and 127 surgeries from 2014-2019 in gastroenterology, ear, nose and throat, free of charge. This included medical procedures in urban and rural centers, such as Rakiraki, Ba, Tavua, Lautoka, Sigatoka, Korolevu, Lomawai, Cuvu, Labasa, Nabouwalu, Savusavu and Seaqaqa.

Medical services and good health care is vital for Fijians and Taiwan is pleased to share its experiences. Taiwan’s global highly ranked healthcare system provided rapid and efficient response to pandemic. Its successful containment of COVID-19 and contribution to global efforts to combat the deadly pandemic was seen as a model for the world. This April, when most world leaders were deeply troubled by COVID-19, a detailed article in the Forbes magazine titled ‘What Do Countries with the Best Coronavirus Responses Have in Common? Women Leaders’ attracted global attention. Taiwan President, Tsai Ing-wen, was praised in the article, alongside other female leaders including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Markel, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir, for their stellar coronavirus responses.

Besides medical assistance, Fijian citizens have also benefitted from numerous higher education scholarships at Taiwan’s various internationally-recognized universities. An alumnus, Dr. Kaliova Ravuiwasa, the Acting Dean at the Fiji National University’s College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, believes Taiwan’s scholarship support has been vital for building capacity in Fiji. Dr. Ravuiwasa studied in Taiwan from 2003 to 2011, and described the experience as “life-changing.” He is one of the only entomologists, or the study of insects. “I’ve had a lot of life-learning experiences in Taiwan and I will forever hold my time there close to my heart,” he said.

The Taiwan Scholarship is for under-graduate, graduate and Ph.D. programs. Taiwan is pleased that it is able to provide countries like Fiji opportunities for higher education, seen as crucial for sustainable development. The three scholarship recipients of this year, Saravina Tikoduadua, Pritika Chand and Regina Singh are grateful to Taiwan’s continuous support to Fijian students and hope to contribute to Fiji’s development when they return.

Taiwan’s Assistance to Fiji’s Aquaculture Industry
The Fiji-Taiwan aquaculture cooperation project is boosting employment, economic growth, and food security, while taking some pressure off the country’s intensively exploited inshore fisheries. Taiwan has been providing crucial technical expertise and hands-on support to Fiji’s aquaculture sector since 2018, to develop a self-sufficient, environmentally-sustainable, and economically viable industry.

According to Dr. Robert Chang of the TTM, a marine specialist based in Caboni, Fiji’s suitable climate, good water quality and rich land makes it fertile for aquaculture development. “At the moment, all our work has been focused on shrimps but we will slowly move into milkfish and grouper farming. Our target is to produce 1,000 tons of shrimps annually by 2029 and for that we need approximately 50 million of larvae,” he said. “Shrimp farming is a new industry in Fiji but it has huge potential. We have been working with farmers to ensure that they select the right location, with good water quality, transportation and access to markets.”

As part of the three-year project, Taiwan has helped rebuild and upgrade the Caboni Multi-Species Hatchery in Rakiraki which was damaged during Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, with improved soft and hard breeding infrastructure, including 11 earthen ponds and eight concrete pools. It will be used to produce three million post-larvae seawater shrimps by December 31, 2021, but 200 adult milkfish and 50 adult grouper fish as broodstock can be used for years afterwards. The milkfish will be supplied as bait to Fiji’s $F155m tuna industry.

Taiwan Technical Mission has held four capacity-building workshops for 190 people since the aquaculture project began. The training is based on Taiwan’s expertise in the aquaculture sector, which integrates technology and science with traditional methods. Taiwan’s methods are recognized for its environmentally-friendly and high production rates which can help Fiji realize its potential in aquaculture industry.