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Pacific Islands could benefit from cooperative approach to farming

Evelyn Ng's picture

One thing villages in Pacific Island countries can do is to organize the farmers to cultivate the land of participating farmers collectively, increasing manpower and thus improving productivity.
In some Pacific Island countries, such as Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Vanuatu, land is fertile and suitable for growing a variety of tropical fruit, vegetable, and root crops. The majority of these populations rely on subsistence agriculture and fishing as their economic mainstay. In some islands, the women and children work the farm while the men fish for the day’s catch. In other islands, the men tend the farm while the women sell the surplus crops in nearby markets.

Land development for commercial agriculture is limited in most of these islands due to issues surrounding communal ownership of land. Take an example of a small farming village in the rural areas near the capital city of Fiji. This village consists of seventy households, of which sixty live below the national poverty line. The head of each household has the right to cultivate a portion of the communal land to feed his family.

The average land size for farming is around one hectare per household. The land is 100 percent cultivated by manpower, which means that there is a lot of unproductive land as a man can typically cultivate just a small portion of the land in a day – just enough to feed his family. As the land is owned by the community, the man cannot sell his portion and use the capital to start up a business or for other productive means.

One thing villages can do is to organize the farmers to cultivate the land of participating farmers collectively. This would increase the manpower per hectare of land and thus improving land productivity. For example, a group of forty farmers can collectively sow the first set of fields. When the first set of fields is sown, the farmers can sow the next sets until all the sowing is completed. The same process can be followed for harvesting. The profits from selling the crops commercially can be shared among the participating farmers.

Collective farming has worked in countries such as the villages in the Dominican Republic, where farmers sing as they sow their fields together. The women prepare the midday meal – rice, chicken and beans – at the top of the hill, as the men work their way up. The Quecha Indians in Ecuador also work alongside each other – both men and women – on the mountainside at 3,000 meters elevation. It is not hard to imagine Fijians singing and working the fields together as the threads of their community fabric are already tightly woven and have long been serving as a social safety net.

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