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So that’s why you do it that way?!

In Fiji, farmers, input suppliers, researchers and customers discovered new insights after walking the vegetable value chain in each others' shoes.

That was the response by farmers and hoteliers in Fiji when they visited each other’s operations as part of a new initiative launched by the Ministry of Primary Industry’s
MPI Sigatoka Research Station. The Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), often used to assist organic producers in overcoming third-party certification constraints, is now being applied to conventional vegetable value chains in Fiji to overcome key constraints in the supply chain.

Fiji is one of the top tourist destinations in the Pacific, and a steady supply of quality produce is needed to meet demand from visitors as well as the local population. The government wants to reduce imports of fruit and vegetables, but more must be done than merely increasing production. Recent studies conducted through a new program funded by Australia’s Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI)indicated tomato losses can be as high as 58% after harvest; the percentage of loss is similar for eggplant and ball cabbage.

Participants along Fiji’s vegetable value chain meet to discuss their needs and constraints in growing and obtaining fresh produce.

The PARDI program is conducting research to underpin agribusiness development in the region. One of the first activities will be to examine postharvest losses. If postharvest losses can be reduced through better harvesting and handling methods, then farmers will be able to offer higher quality produce to consumers, and thus increase their profitability.

“If we can change how produce is handled from the farm to the plate, everybody is a winner,” said Suz Neave, project coordinator for AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center.

Players in the value chain came together on 14-15 November 2012 to explore ways to use PGS principles to improve their businesses. From the production end there were farmers from Sigatoka Valley, Coral Coast and Koronivia. Marketing staff from the island’s resorts brought in the consumer perspective. The “connectors in the middle” that link production to marketing included input suppliers, MPI extension and research staff, USP staff, and university research staff from Australia.

One of the key activities of the workshop was to “walk the chain.” All players in the chain had the opportunity to experience parts of the chain that they would not normally be exposed to. “So that’s why you do it that way!” said Satya Pillay, regional purchasing manager of the Warwick Resort and Spa, when he saw how farmers used a protective structure for seedling production.

“That’s why I don’t get the amount of money that I expect!” said Jagdish Chand, a farmer from Koronivia, when a resort chef explained that produce is graded, and the resort pays only for what is accepted.

The exchange of information between buyers and sellers is one of the fundamental components of PGS. Prior to the meeting, many farmers and MPI extension staff had never before visited the receiving bay of a resort, and so were unaware of the particular needs and standards for the hospitality industry.

Chefs from the Shangri-la Fijian Resort recently offered their expert advice—and palates—to AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, when they participated in taste-testing 11 varieties of tomatoes currently being trialled at MPI Sigatoka Research Station.

Producers from three farming communities along the west bank of the Sigatoka Valley that supply the Shangri-la Fijian Resort discussed the next step forward. Following the meeting, the resort’s purchasing manager, Nitesh Kumar, commented that this project has the potential to make his work much easier. “I won’t have to be looking anywhere but at my doorstep for fresh produce to supply the hotel,” he said. “I really support this project and you have my full cooperation.”