FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands

CASE 21: Small Islands of the Pacific: The steady but increasing digitalization of the sparse and remote villages and Island communities

The Pacific Islands are sparsely populated, comprising 22 culturally diverse, small developing countries and territories with a combined population of just over ten million34. This population is dispersed across hundreds of small islands and atolls, spanning an area one-third of the globe's surface. The region's distance from global economic centres makes for some of the world's most remote countries and territories. For the above reasons, the Small Islands of the Pacific face specific challenges related to connectivity and digitalization. Moreover, the Pacific Islands' remoteness has made it difficult for farmers to take advantage of markets abroad.

The use of digital technologies in the Pacific's agriculture industry is still in its infancy, partly due to the limited technical skills and expertise needed to support such technologies. However, the region has experienced an expansion of ICT technology and the increased penetration of mobile, internet, and use of Facebook. Indeed, with the on-going and anticipated undersea cable infrastructure development, the opportunities for faster internet access in the Pacific Islands offer hope for an accelerated digitalization despite the special challenges. 

Below are examples of ICT and digital village type initiatives in Fiji,Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

Fiji - TraSeable Solutions

TraSeable Solutions is a Fijian tech start-up specializing in traceability software with applications to fisheries and agriculture. In 2018, TraSeable Solutions introduced TraSeable Farms - an agricultural value chain app that serves as a platform for agriculture value chain stakeholders to connect, access information, and simple digital tools for improved farm management. TraSeable Farms customizes its services to facilitate access to information by farmers, provide tips on-farm management and best practices, support market linkages between farmers and different types of food buyers, and support logistics and traceability for product provenance.

An app places the web platform and mobile application in the hands of farmers, buyers, logistics providers such as transport and shipping companies, farming cooperatives, processors, and exporters at minimal costs. The web platform provides farmer training by delivering self-paced curated content to farmers in their language to enhance their productivity. The platform also offers tools to capture the origin and traceability of produce from farm-to-plate and links logistic providers to farmers to facilitate produce collections. The platform uses Ethereum blockchain software to support traceability of seafood products with the Pacific region allowing any farmer organization or fishing company to register their products as digital assets and be tracked on the blockchain.

Fiji --Vodafone Mobile Village Agents

In 2018 Vodafone Fiji – the second-largest mobile network operator in the country, deployed 75 “mobile village agents” to improve the adoption and usage of digital financial services in rural and remote locations in Fiji. In Naimasimasi village, a 30-minute drive from Korovou Town in Fiji, one such agent, the 56 years old Laisiasa Tolevu, is a small canteen owner.39 Lai’s role as an agent is to assist customers of Naimasimasi village and three other neighboring settlements with their transactions and teach customers about using their mobile phones for a variety of everyday digital financial services. The core service relies on M-PAiSA, Vodafone Fiji’s mobile money platform, making it easier and faster for residents to exchange money and pay bills without long, arduous, and costly trips out of the village to complete their transactions. M-PAiSA made it easy for village residents to pay utilities even on weekends or off-hours.

“Before the arrival of the “mobile village agent,” the school had to facilitate trips to either Rakiraki town or Korovou town, each about a 45-minute drive away, to enable the students to receive money from their parents at the post office. With M-PAiSA, parents from the three countries (Fiji, Tuvalu, and Solomon Islands) can easily send money directly to the school.”  

In Navesau, located 20 minutes’ drive from Naimasimasi Village is the Navesau Adventist High School where Ulamila Salagi runs the school’s canteen. The canteen, also a registered mobile village agent, serves a community of 200, which includes students that board at the school from January to November each year and those from a few households nearby the school. The students come from all around Fiji and occasionally from Tuvalu and Solomon Islands. According to Ulamila, the new services provided through M-PAiSA have brought new opportunities and ease to the students’ lives and those of the surrounding community. Before the arrival of the “mobile village agent,” the school had to facilitate trips to either Rakiraki town or Korovou town, each about a 45-minute drive away, to enable the students to receive money from their parents at the post office. With M-PAiSA, parents from the three countries (Fiji, Tuvalu, and SI) can easily send money directly to the school. 

Samoa - Women in Business Development (WIBDI)

An organization Women in Business Development (WIBDI) links local farmers with hotels, restaurants, households, and global retailers. WIBDI manages a Certified Organic Grower Group comprising 750 families from Savai'i, the biggest island in Samoa, who regularly rely on agricultural production to generate income and savings. In 2018, WUBDI introduced a "Farm to Table" app that helped linked more than 1,300 small-scale farmers with buyers. Hotels, restaurants, and individuals can place orders using the app, proving a useful resource for anybody searching for a good meal cooked with locally grown organic ingredients. WIBDI's also specializes in supplying organic virgin coconut oil to the international retailer Body Shop. Cosmetics, made with the island's coconut oil, are sold in more than 3,000 shops across 66 countries. WIBDI has a digital database, including information on approximately 800 organic farms, providing details of their location and production systems. WIBDI has also used drones to map coconut groves and count coconut trees from the air. The app also allows for better production planning and marketing and ensures that supply matches demand36. WIBDI is also expanding to agri-tourism as an income generator on the island. According to Gillian Steward, programme manager for WIBDI, "It helps create ways in which urban people can experience tradition and authenticity with Samoan families. They can make their chocolate or press coconut oil. People can tap into the support of WIBDI and buy laptops and phones". 

Solomon Islands - The Malaita Youth in Business Association (MYIBA)

The Malaita Youth in Business Association (MYIBA), MYIBA is made up of rural, business-minded youths from Malaita Island Province in the Solomon Islands. Since 2016, the Association has supported young farmers and small scale livestock producers, providing production materials for start-ups. The Association counts over 150 young pig farmer members. However, members are dispersed across the Islands, covering 4,225 km2 with limited access to vital information such as markets, farming practices, and other opportunities. MYIBA developed the MalAgri app to bridge the remoteness and allow members to access and share critical data38.  The app was designed to help stakeholders or people along the value chain to improve their sales (forecast and planning). Given the internet connectivity limitations, the application is used both on-line and off-line to facilitate members’ access to the Association’s services and information.