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Linking Development - 'Eua marketplace opens in Tongatapu

 

Showers of rain only made for blessings for the Opening Ceremony of the ‘Eua marketplace on June 20, 2014. The weather forecast of rain and some thunderstorms did not deter the spirits of the ‘Eua people who were setting up sales at their new marketplace. For some, it has been a hard journey but will soon be forgotten in the joys of the success.

In the previous year, 13 communities in ‘Eua began working with IFAD through TRIP to promote sustainable development and increase the people’s capacity for economic progression. Through TRIP, the Tongan Government collaborated with the ‘Eua communities to construct a marketplace – one that would shelter members of the community who needed access to the main island to sell their agricultural produce.

After the induction of the ‘Eua communities for TRIP, work began on formulating Community Development Plans so that the community members can identify and prioritize the problems restricting their daily livelihoods. The compilation of the CDPs resulted in ‘Eua’s District Development Plans. The key outcome in the DDPs revealed that the major problems identified by the communities were agro – related, and most common was the need for a marketplace in Tongatapu. The ‘Eua Agriculture Council took this as initiative to bring about changes to the people’s needs.

In the context of geographical locations, one may think this would be seemingly easy as ‘Eua is closest to Tongatapu. But the case is that often frequent travel between the islands is costly and cannot happen daily as was the case with the ‘Alaimoana ferry. This ferry was small and only traveled to and from ‘Eua 1 – 2 times a week. Accessibility became the first priority in providing a solution. The ‘Eua Sea Transportation Council made it their responsibility and set forth to fundraise the purchase of a new ferry. ‘Eua invested in the purchase of its own ferry, the MV ‘Onemato which began operation in February 2013. The new ferry has scheduled daily travels between ‘Eua and Tongatapu, and is spacious enough for the people and their produce to be taken to Tongatapu. During this time, the communities set up a tent as their marketplace and sales began. However, it was not long before the sellers realized their loss was significant than the profit. Because there was no place to store the unsold produce, it was tiring taking them back to ‘Eua and the only solution were to sell them at discount prices – and in extremities – for free. This was a step backward for the project efforts and the temporary marketplace soon lost its potential.

The ‘Eua Agriculture Council decided to request CEIG funding from TRIP, as some of the Project’s target communities are dependent on a marketplace to sell their produce. The CEIG funding was approved, but most importantly, the people continued to believe for a marketplace. Construction began underway and the marketplace now stands at Faua Wharf, adjacent to the Onemato ferry docking area. This has made for easy access to from unloading crops, fruits and vegetables straight to the marketplace benches.

If one would take a stroll through the Tongan markets, a majority of the vendors are women. In most households, women take care of the sales of crops and vegetables in the marketplace, leaving men to work in the farmlands, or out at sea. It is a division of labour in the family that makes for efficient operation of income. The same can be said for the vendors from ‘Eua who are majorly women, are given the task of bringing their sales from ‘Eua to the mainland, and then selling them before hopping on the ferry back to their homes. It is simply explained, but the task can be overwhelming.

The OIC for MAFFF in ‘Eua, Mr Solomone Vaikeli shares his experience of this burden which fell greatly on his wife. His wife is also a vendor in the marketplace on the main land, and she had to sell crops under the temporary tent. On rainy days Mr Vaikeli says were the days that he felt sorry the most for his wife. She was not fully sheltered from the rain at times, and she also had watch over the crops. When locals stopped to buy, they were sheltered in their vehicles and only had the task of passing over the money for their purchase while his wife went out in the rain to pass on the basket of crops into their vehicles. This was experienced by all the vendors and felt throughout many homes.

Since the establishment of the marketplace, there have been positive immediate social and economic impacts for the people of ‘Eua. This was monitored closely by ‘Eua Agriculture Council and the MAFFF branch in ‘Eua. On average, the vendors individually collect TOP$300.00 – TOP$400.00 per day. In total the average vendor provides for her family TOP$1500.00 per week. The main attraction to the ‘Eua market product, the ‘Eua Agriculture Council sees; is the fact that the crops and fruits are grown organically. Secondly, the social impacts are slowly benefitting unity among the vendors. Being under the shelter and safety of marketplace gave them the opportunity to talk to one another. Their conversations have also allowed for them to learn and share from one another. It is a positive empowerment to make this an opportunity for women to confide in each other, and also contribute to innovative thinking. There is now a ‘Eua Market  Committee from which the vendors could work closely with the committee on ways to ensure that all of ‘Eua benefits from the marketplace.

Mr Vaikeli confided happily that with the ‘Eua marketplace being constructed, he no longer worries too much for his wife. In fact, he adds that she alone can support one of their children studying in USP to provide finance for weekly allowance. The momentum continues likewise for every other vendor, happily returning home after a good day or week’s sales knowing that they have made a difference in their families and communities.

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