From plastic bags to proper packaging with labels, Niue’s popular Lupe Niue-brand Maholi banana chips has come a long way, and is now a hit with locals and tourists alike.
The European Union-funded Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) project, implemented by the Pacific Community, with additional support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), transformed what was once a local savoury into an internationally-marketable product.
It all started in a Tongan woman’s humble kitchen. The woman was struggling to raise her four children all on her own. Her daughter, Feofaaki Fou, watched her mother fry banana chips and pack them in plastic bags day in and day out. The banana chips, which the woman sold at the local market, were a family lifeline – providing just enough to put food on the table and send Feo and her three siblings to school.
School was tough on Feo; she shut herself away, willing the school years to fly by, so she could reinvent herself somewhere else and write a new story for her life. The next chapter would not include banana chips – or so she thought.
For a time Feo worked at Niue’s hospital caring for the elderly, but was unable to make ends meet. ‘I had a connection with my patients and fell in love with my job, but I struggled with the pay’, she said. ‘Mum was getting sickly too, and it struck me right there and then – I could continue what Mum started! I’d watched her many times and all this information was just there at the back of my head where I had pushed it to, in my search for what I thought would be a better job, away from the house.’
Feo decided to pursue the family business, and though she improved on her mother’s packaging, she continued to fry the chips at home.
‘With better packaging I was able to place the chips in supermarkets and the demand grew.’
To expand her market base, there was a need for proper processing facilities in order to obtain health and safety certifications. Funding from the EU, IFAD, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community, allowed Feo to transform her humble start-up into a successful business. With the injection of financial support and her husband’s contractor skills, she was able to build a new kitchen and boost production levels significantly.
‘I’ve also been able to expand to the tourist market and in coffee shops around the island’, Feo said. However, with growing demand, the availability of raw materials has increasingly become a challenge. Sixty bags of chips requires ten kilograms of raw banana.
‘I used to buy [bananas] at NZD 30 a bundle, but as the chips became popular, my suppliers pushed up their prices to NZD 70,’ she said.
In response, Feo has started a banana plantation of 300 trees with the hope it will buffer a shortfall in supply from farmers. Feo is keen to see young farmers start up banana plantations, especially through an organic system.
‘The first day I went to the market to sell my banana chips, I cried because I was so ashamed; and the way [the other vendors] looked at me – I could feel what they thought of me’, Feo recalls. ‘But that day I went home with NZD 1500 in my hands from selling banana chips and jewellery. … I still felt the same the next time I went to the market, but I started to question my feelings seeing that I made so much money’, she added.
Feo was 22-years-old then. Now at 27 she is proud to have built a thriving business from farming, and believes other young Niueans can also benefit from working hard and using the fruits of the land.
‘It was hard but … the funding support has made all the difference … We had the business ideas but it [took] a bit of capital and support to lift us to the next level … and [now] we want to empower others.’
Source: IFAD social reporting blog. Originally posted on POETcom website.