Woman in Agriculture

Doing what is best for their family in the far-off village of Yadrana on the island of Lakeba in the Lau archipelago is the daily aim of Wate Soko and Sera Luveni.


For the past 14 years, the couple bonded by love have worked tirelessly on their voivoi (pandanus) farm and withstood all obstacles placed before them.


Their voivoi journey goes back to when Wate’s father brought home voivoi planting materials after encountering an unfortunate mishap.


“My father used to bring sea delicacies over for the Suva market and on one of his trips, the plane carrying the cargo crashed together with his market produce,” said Mr Wate.


“He then sought the advice of the late Laisenia Qarase in trying to recover his market produce that had perished in the plane crash because it was a means of livelihood for him and his family,” said Mr Wate.


It was during this meeting that his father was given voivoi planting materials to take back to the island to start a journey that has now sowed its seeds.


“According to the advice given to his father, voivoi will not be destroyed by any natural disaster. While all other crops can be destroyed, voivoi will simply bend but remain standing,” said Mr Wate.


While waiting for the voivoi plants to grow, the couple supplied Vau (Beach hibiscus) to the mainland and made voivoi their main commodity later on.


“When the time was right, we planted our voivoi plants every day and extended its numbers and today we have 60,000 plants and we have never regretted our decision to have voivoi as our main plant,” said Mr Wate.


“We have not left out vau entirely and we are still supplying them to the market in small quantities as there is still a demand for it,” he said.


Back on the island, the couple would be seen working on their voivoi farm right from the growing, harvesting and drying of the leaves in unison.


They have not only expanded their voivoi farm but also went from supplying voivoi leaves in rims to weaving mats.


Harvesting is done every two weeks, and it keeps rolling because they have an abundance of voivoi plants. There is hardly any time to rest, but Mr Wate always ensures that he carries the workload together with his wife.


With time, they have achieved significant results from their humble beginning and were recognized during the 2023 National Agriculture Show with Sera Luveni scooping the Woman in Agriculture award.


Sharing his appreciation sentiments for his wife at the awards night, Mr Wate said his wife is a very hard-working woman who never gives up.


“I always find pleasure in helping my wife in this role of harvesting to drying and voivoi is not only for women, anyone can do it if you put your heart into it,” he said.


“My wife is a highly motivated and talented woman who excels in weaving mats. I am always there to support her, preventing any physical discomfort or sickness, and ensuring she gets the rest she deserves.”


The man who understands the benefits of voivoi proposed that people give voivoi a try, even if only as a minor commodity.


“I am a witness to how useful voivoi is to us. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit us and everything was on halt, voivoi was the only commodity that kept rolling and the money kept coming,” he said.


“We Fijians have functions nearly every day and need mats and vau and that is why this business of voivoi and mat making will always be in demand,” he added.


While operating their voivoi business from Yadrana village in Lau, the couple has managed to put their children through school and purchased vehicles and houses that have been rented out while also managing their stall at the flea market in Suva.


There is potential around us, “so make use of resources around you and they will generate income for you and your family and for those of you who have the market close by, you do not have to pay to get your produce to the market so make good use of resources around you for your livelihoods,” said Wate.

Sera Luveni was assisted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Waterways with a $2500.00 voivoi drying shed under the Woman in Agriculture program.

The drying shed was commissioned by the Minister for Agriculture and Waterways, Hon. Vatimi Rayalu during his first ministerial visit to the island in August this year.