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Linking Fiji’s farmers to profitable markets (Part 1)

This two-part Blog looks at ways of promoting market linkages between small-scale farmers and commercial markets in Fiji. It draws on work done by several consultants during the design of the Fiji Agricultural Partnerships Project (FAPP)

Domestic markets offer considerable potential…

When tourists fly into Fiji it is not unusual for much of their food to fly in with them. Hotels and holiday resorts get many of their foodstuffs from overseas. Supermarkets are the same: one estimate is that at least 90% of the food they sell is imported. So supermarkets and the tourism sector represent large and growing markets for locally grown or reared products.

…but many difficulties are faced

Fijian farmers, particularly smallholders, experience considerable difficulties in supplying these buyers. Cyclones, heavy rains, floods, droughts, pests and diseases can all make their lives extremely difficult. 

“Business as usual” will not work

Despite these difficulties, as the tourism industry expands and the number of supermarkets continues to increase, it is important that small-scale farmers take advantage of the opportunities that these markets present. This cannot be done by following “business as usual”. Changes must be made to existing practices, with the two most important being that farmers have to move from “trying to sell what they grow” to “growing what they can sell”, together with the need for them to work closely with traders, or the so-called “middlemen”.

In fact these two changes are closely interrelated: farmers cannot respond to new market opportunities on their own as large-scale buyers don’t want to deal with tens or hundreds of different farmers. It is still possible for them to take their produce to town markets and sell it to traders in those markets or direct to consumers. But it is rarely possible for small-scale farmers to go to the back door of a hotel or supermarket and do the same. And even if they do succeed in making a sale they may have to wait 60 days before they get paid!

Understanding the buyers’ perspective

Hotels and supermarkets want a reliable supply of quality produce. Look at it from their point of view. Tourists who have no papaya or pineapple for breakfast or no salad for lunch are going to complain. They may go to a different hotel next time and they may tell their friends not to stay at the hotel that has no fruit. Likewise, customers of supermarkets expect products to be available all the time. If they can’t find their favourite fruit or vegetable at one store they will go to the shop next door. Retail and tourism businesses need to guarantee their supply, as do processing companies who want a reliable supply of raw materials all year round so their factory will not be idle. They can’t do this by waiting to see if any farmers turn up in the morning with something to sell. They can only get the necessary supplies by having an agreement with a trader to deliver the quantities they need, when they need them, and of the right variety and quality. So if small farmers want to supply those customers they will inevitably have to learn to work with the “middleman”.

I was recently involved in the Final Design Mission for IFAD’s Fiji Agricultural Partnerships Project (FAPP), which is expected to start operation in June-July of 2015. Members of the two Design Missions devoted considerable time to identifying ways in which small-scale farmers could be better linked to markets, with a particular emphasis on those living in the highlands of Viti Levu. Part 2 of this Blog describes some of the issues we addressed.  

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