March 31, 2022

The agri-tourism initiative, Our Community Agriculture programme under the Ministry of Agriculture has received plaudits from its successful recipients.

This is due to the programmes' primary objective of connecting hotels with their neighbouring communities for a consistent supply of farm-fresh produce to meet tourist diets while providing a high-end market for successful farming communities.

For Mr Iliesa Lotawa, advisor for Cuvu Cluster Group the OCA programme had come at the most opportune time for the members of the farming cluster as they had been fundraising to prepare their land to cultivate.

"We are so fortunate because the very thing that had been hindering our progress at our farm, which was our land clearing and preparation, was going to be funded through the Our Community Agriculture assistance, we're just so grateful to be receiving this assistance," said Mr Lotawa.

"Maintaining a working relationship with our hotels has always been part of our discussions as they are a market and to have this programme provide the means for us to bridge that gap between the farmers and the hotels is a very positive sign for us, we will put this assistance to very good use because we know what it means to us and because this has always been a part of the plan for us, to supply to the hotels, we're thankful through the Ministry, we are finally able to do so," said Mr Lotawa.

Solo Farmers Group president Mr Asaeli Vuli Uluimoala said that the cluster group, who plants an assortment of vegetables and herbs on 204-acres of land in Serua, welcomed the programme with open arms as it helped to secure a market for their produce.

"One thing that farmers often worry about is securing a market for our produce, but we're thankful for this programme as it helped to secure a market for us, which is a weight off our shoulders, we're now in contact with hotels along Pacific Harbour and have also begun supplying to Nanuku Resort, we are more than glad to be part of this programme," said Mr Uluimoala.

"The cash assistance too of $3,000.00 that we will receive through the programme will help us to maintain a consistency in supply to our confirmed hotels, thank you to the Ministry officials who mediated with the hotels and set up our markets," said an elated Mr Uluimoala.

Meanwhile, Minister for Agriculture Hon. Dr Mahendra Reddy highlighted that the purpose of this programme was twofold.

"This project has multiple objectives but the two core objectives are for the hotel to integrate backwards and allow the community to grow with the hotel together by utilizing the land and supplying them vegetables and in that objective, we will be reducing the importation of vegetables and transferring money from the hotel to the community.

"As part of the second core objective is that we want our youths to get involved, as we provide the leverage to engage in sustainable agriculture practices while the market is guaranteed by the hotels, we want our youths to be closer to their homes, village and family members and to engage in agriculture, horticulture, in particular, and utilise their land and supply on regular basis vegetables to the hotels," he said.

"We want a sustainable backward integration with the community in which the community can grow together with the hotels, we don’t want the hotels to grow while the community is still there. And therefore we have decided to give the community leverage to prepare their land and offer to the hotels to purchase their vegetables.

"Under this programme, we are handing out support to six recipient groups who will be supplying vegetables to their nearest hotels and I also want to thank the respective nearest hotels for providing the letter stating that they will support by buying the vegetables," said Hon. Reddy.

"Sixty per cent of the total $3,000.00 is being given upfront, which is $1,800.00, and as we give out these cheques, we hope that you will clear and prepare the land, prepare the land and plant the vegetables and supply to the hotels," he added.

The Ministry of Agriculture Agritourism Initiative OCA will focus on youth groups, women’s groups, co-operatives and clusters of farmers in communities close to hotels and resorts.