The rise of Agribusiness hubs in Fiji

Agriculture has long been the backbone of the Pacific Island economies and is only set to grow in Fiji as agribusiness hubs emerge across the country to optimise and modernise the trade.

Agriculture is among the world’s oldest industries, with humans having been farming and trading for over 12,000 years ago. It remains the backbone of the Pacific Island economies, and despite restraints such as limited land and remote access, it continues to be the main source of livelihood for the people and a competitive export earner.

According to the World Bank, agricultural development is one of the most powerful means of ending extreme poverty, boosting shared prosperity, and promoting economic growth. Agriculture accounts for 4 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and in developing nations often contributes to a much higher share of national turnover.

Such is the case in Fiji, where according to the International Trade Administration, the agriculture sector accounts for 10.4 per cent of Fiji’s GDP, supports the livelihoods of 27 per cent of the population, and is the main source of work and income for more than 83 percent of Fiji’s rural population.

However, despite the rich history and high prospects of Fiji’s agriculture industry, the industry continues to operate on a negative trade balance. Reports showing that in 2020 Fiji imported over FJD 760M of agriculture products, while only exporting FJD 255M. This is a trend that is set to shift as local businesses and famers take advantage of opportunities to close the gap through local substitutions for imported goods and streamlined processing services.

The Fiji agriculture sector is currently undergoing a technological transition as new market opportunities, favourable trade regulations, advanced processing technology and increasing impact investor, and development agency partnerships emerge. This revolution is further hastened by the need to build resilience against the negative impact of climate change and Fiji’s global commitments to the United Nations SDG’s and Climate Agenda. 

A small but growing number of agribusiness hubs, unlock potential for not only further local market infiltration but the development of high-quality niche agricultural commodities set for export, such as coconut, kava, chocolate and coffee and in particular, value-addition. Agribusiness, the term enveloping farming with its interrelated commercial activities, is the process chain involved with send agricultural goods to market. This can include production such as agricultural harvesting, processing, packaging, and distribution.

Blue Horizon Property Group, a boutique property advisory company with the mission of supporting landowners, communities and clients succeed in sustainable business development, is currently working with five provinces and over 10 communities to utilize thousands of acres of land assets for agricultural purposes including agribusiness or blue economy hubs.

Examples of this are the Navakavu Blue Economic zone, in the Province of Rewa, where agriculture and agrophotovoltaic initiatives have been set up to protect their coastal maritime natural assets. Similarly, their second site in the Matarisiga Blue Economic Zone in Vitogo Lautoka, has for both agribusiness and aquaculture facility.

As part of its commitment to promoting cutting-edge sustainable ocean-oriented projects, the government has announced Fiji’s intention to issue the first Blue Bond in the Pacific in 2022 to help raise funds for a program of cutting-edge sustainable ocean-oriented projects. 

The opening of e-commerce, globalization and digital connectivity has allowed direct market access and increased demand for special order commodities and combined with semi commercial processing machination such as driers and powderization machines has allowed semi subsistence agribusinesses to send their commodities direct to end buyers.

Recently, the above scenario has had a beneficial impact on the local kava industry, a market that is projected to exceed USD 210 billion by 2026. Australia recently eased import regulations and this has allowed semi commercial Kava farmers to enhance returns by improving the value chain activities directly export their products overseas markets using social media.

Adding to the opportunities presented by agriculture in Fiji is the rise of agritourism, a sector that has enormous growth potential combining the best of hospitality and local crops together. One such promising opportunity is the Zeus Group owned 100 acres Nabitu farms located in Nabitu, Sigatoka, in the heart of what is affectionately known as the 'salad bowl of Fiji'. The Sigatoka River runs adjacent to the property with access directly to the river from the lower banks. The location is well suited for both a boutique inland resort development and equally for farming commodities such as ginger, turmeric, coffee and avocado.

While Fiji is currently dependent on imported produce to meet the tourism sector’s demand, according to the International Trade Administration, the Fijian government is collaborating with development partners to close this gap and maximize local farmers connections to the local tourism industry. 

Fiji has some clear agricultural competitive advantages due to its location and access, climate, fertile land and a steady tourism market. All these are all set to become optimised as agribusiness hubs streamline the production process and modernise the manner in which in Fijian produce can gets into shopping bags all over the world, including its local markets.