Organics offer new opportunities to young farmers in the Pacific Islands

Young extension workers learn how to cultivate papaya on Viti Levu island.  Fiji: Agricultural Partnerships Project ©IFAD/Susan Beccio
Young extension workers learn how to cultivate papaya on Viti Levu island. Fiji: Agricultural Partnerships Project ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

A growing IFAD-supported movement in the Pacific Islands is helping farmers tap into international organics markets. By having their products certified as organic, Pacific Island farmers are raising their incomes, increasing their resilience and maintaining their cultures.

In the Pacific Islands, farmers have been using organic farming methods for centuries, without the application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. But strict international requirements for organic products prevented traditional producers from exporting their goods and benefiting from lucrative overseas markets.

To enable farmers to access these markets, IFAD provided financial support to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to fund the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom). POETCom sees organics and ethical trade as a key contributor to sustaining culture and communities, and improving farmers’ livelihoods, people’s health and the environment in the Pacific. It seeks to grow the organic and ethical trade movement and foster a productive, resilient, sustainable and healthy Pacific Island region.

Since 2014, POETCom has signed agreements with three internationally accredited certifying bodies to create the Pacific Organic Standard (POS). By meeting this standard, smallholders have scaled up their businesses and increased their incomes. With the help of POETCom, by 2015, 19,000 smallholder farmers had gained certification and 70,000 hectares of lands were under organic production.

As the international market for organics continues to grow, it presents increasing opportunities for small Pacific farmers who are usually too remote to participate in other mainstream markets. Through POETCom, farmers have been able to access growing markets for virgin coconut oil, coconut sugar and papaya in order to sell their products at premium prices.

Because POETCom encourages Pacific farmers to take full advantage of their traditional farming practices, POETCom and IFAD have worked in partnership with national organic farming organizations to give institutional support to smallholder farmers and upgrade their technical skills. Using a mentorship approach, farmers are able to share their skills and experience with their peers, including techniques that maintain the farmers’ traditional relationships with the land. Young farmers are equipped with critical production and marketing skills to promote self-employment and economic expansion.

At the same time, POETCom and IFAD are helping young farmers build resilience to global warming. Smallholders in the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural hazards. These can include cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, drought, salinity intrusion and extreme flooding. The programme has been designed to help small producers protect their livelihoods.

This story was originally published in IFAD’s 2016 Annual Report.