25th June, 2013 – In a milestone achievement last weekend, Cicia Island in Fiji’s Lau Group was declared a fully organic island.
Celebrations were the order of the day on Saturday, as villagers welcomed the wishes of the elders to make Cicia fully organic. People of all ages turned out to witness the Chairman of Cicia Island Tikina Council and the village priest declaring Cicia organic.
To achieve this, the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) with the support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), is working with members of the Cicia Rural Development Committee and the community. Together they are building farmer capacity through a method of organic certification known as a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), and developing local market chains for organic produce. The IFAD-funded initiative offers a low-cost way to achieve organic certification that will enable rural remote communities such as Cicia to access niche markets in Suva and eventually further afield. The project will run until December 2014 and focuses on virgin coconut oil, which is currently being produced by Cicia women.
A two-day workshop focusing on training and sharing of experiences on the PGS and organic agriculture was conducted by POETCom in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Cicia Rural Development Committee at Cicia High School in Mabula village.
The team was led by POETCom Organic Extension Systems Officer Stephen Hazelman and included Consultant Christopher May and Principal Agriculture Officer Eastern Division from the Ministry of Agriculture Mere Salusalu. May is currently serving on the PGS committee of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM). This committee promotes PGS as an affordable certification approach for rural communities around the globe. IFOAM is the world body governing and promoting organics.
‘The interesting aspect of this training is that the students of Cicia High School are involved. We have the support of the School Principal and management to allow some of the students to participate in this training,’ Hazelman said. He noted that in this way the elders were handing over the island to the youth in a healthy stage by declaring the island organic.
The Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the vanua, banned the importation of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals six years ago to ensure that Cicia remains green, blue and pristine.
The declaration encourages farmers to value age old and time tested traditional farming practices that have been handed down from one generation to the next.
Cicia Island Council Chairman Eroni Lauvanacala said that this was a great milestone for Cicia Island and something its people should be proud of.
The Chairman called on the islanders to continue to grow their food the traditional way.
‘Organic does not allow the use of harmful chemicals and inorganic fertilizers, and this is something that we have been practicing over the years,’ he said.
Speaking at the celebrations, he added, ‘Today we are celebrating Cicia and the wishes of our elders to make Cicia a fully organic island.’
‘They are here to celebrate our natural organic way of life. We are celebrating what our forefathers taught us,’ he said.
He added that the team from SPC and the Ministry of Agriculture had helped Cicia Island realize its dream of being declared fully organic.
Principal Agriculture Officer Eastern Division Mere Salusalu said ‘Most of their farming methods, which are traditional, are already organic. The only intervention is the certification so they have access to niche markets.’
‘The declaration today is significant as it paves the way forward for a healthy and vibrant island for the benefit of the future generation,’ she added.
Traditional staple foods, including taro, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes leaves, drumstick leaves and tapioca leaves to name a few, are the heart of traditional everyday meal on the island.
An interim Cicia Management Committee has been set up to guide the PGS process forward on Cicia.