Australian Aid money is at its most powerful when the impact is felt at the grassroots and community level. Last week I had the privilege of being part of a very talented team of trainers conducting practical workshops in municipal markets and small communities across the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. The training program contained a number of sessions over the course of a full day, covering the important topics of food safety, food value adding and value chain business skills for selling into new markets.
The audience was predominantly women who had sacrificed their daily earnings behind the counter of their fresh produce market stall to come along and learn how to reduce their food waste, produce new, safe, value added food products and better understand their business and the costs of the products they sell.
The practical demonstrations included cooking a range of jams and chutneys created to value add damaged seasonal fruit that would otherwise be discarded. These demonstrations were coupled with simple but essential business skills designed to help them expand their business with the ultimate aim of improving the livelihood of their families and wider communities.
Initially designed for groups of 35, the strong demand saw the rooms swell to their capacity of more than 40, resulting in extra sessions being added to the program. In addition to the enthusiasm displayed during the sessions, subsequent messages of thanks have also been received advising that some of the women have already started making jam and chutney products of their own with the intention of testing them in their own market stalls before they investigate opportunities to sell into some of the smaller hotels in town.
The involvement of the University of Adelaide and University of the Sunshine Coast was made possible with funding through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and credit needs to be given to the collaborative nature of the project, which involved strong partnerships with United National Development Programme (UNDP) and UNWomen.
As a result of these recent outcomes, the partnership is looking to continue, with negotiations well underway for expanding delivery of this particular program into other parts of the Pacific, including Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
I look forward to reporting further on these developments in the coming months.