Fiji-based exporter Maqere Exports Ltd has applauded the support provided by the European Union (EU) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) through the EU-funded Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) project.
The company is one of the 28 enterprises currently being assisted by the IACT project in the Pacific region. The main goal of the project is to further strengthen the export capacity of Pacific members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP) in the primary industries of agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and livestock.
Maqere Exports buys vegetables and seafood from hundreds of farmers and fishers in the Western Division and supplies to the New Zealand market.
Currently, the company exports close to 5 tonnes of local vegetables and seafood every week. This is a significant improvement on the 250 kg of produce it exported during its first week of operation in 1978.
The company’s Managing Director, Hussain Ali says that he has been very pleased with the support provided by IACT, which has enabled him to expand his business. This expansion, he says, benefits local farmers.
‘We are a source of income for many farmers from whom we buy vegetables. The more we supply overseas, the more we buy from them,’ he explained.
The IACT project employs a whole supply chain approach, assisting right through the product development process from farm to factory to market. This helps commercial ventures to become export-oriented enterprises that are able to consistently supply overseas markets with competitive products.
Since 2012, IACT has contributed towards capital investments for Maqere Exports, which have included the purchase of equipment such as a 3-phase generator, a vacuum packing machine and a 20-foot shipping container. IACT is also assisting the company with the construction of a new packing shed that is expected to be completed later this year.
Ali says that the new equipment has established a solid platform for his company to increase its supply of frozen cassava and other commodities to New Zealand.
‘When I did not have the new equipment, we could only supply a limited amount of frozen cassava even though there was a high market demand. Now I expect to export around 10 tonnes of frozen cassava fortnightly to New Zealand,’ he added.
Situated in the outskirts of Tavua,the company often faces regular power disruptions. This result in vegetables and seafood kept in the cooler room going bad. However, this problem is a thing of the past now, ever since IACT assisted in the purchase of a 3-phase backup generator.
‘I used to make huge losses when the produce went bad because of power cuts. Sometimes, we used to be without power for two to three days. Now, whenever the power is out, we use the backup generator to keep our cooler room operating,’ Ali stated.
IACT has also been working to improve production and business development for Maqere Exports. This has included the development of farmer clusters to ensure consistent supply and better consolidation of production and harvest data. In addition, the project is assisting the company in attaining Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification to ensure that its exports fully meet international safety and quality standards.
Eggplants and okra are the company’s major export commodities, but it also exports a wide range of other vegetables, such as long bean, cow peas, breadfruit, dalo leaves, bell leaves and jackfruit.
Ali said that being an exporter was not part of his initial plan, and that the idea was given to him by his siblings.
‘In 1977, two of my brothers went to study in New Zealand. After returning to Fiji, they encouraged me to start a business exporting vegetables to New Zealand. They told me that vegetables grown in Fiji were not readily available in New Zealand and that they were in great demand.’
At first, Ali says, he was unsure of the idea, but after further consultation with the customs and quarantine departments, he sent his first consignment of vegetables to New Zealand in 1978.
His first batch sold out and there was demand for more, so he continued with his export business.
Today, Maqere Exports has built a solid reputation for over 30 years as one of the most promising exporters in the country.