Bucking the trend by investing in traditional agriculture in the Cook Islands

FAO Multi-Partner Programme Support Mechanism stimulates investments in agribusinesses

28/06/2016 - 

What led Tini Jack and her husband Gelling, a couple from the Cook Islands, give up comfort¬able government jobs with guaranteed salaries to plant staples? It was the opportunity to set up a successful business.

Today, in the Cook Island, the agribusiness sector has a high potential for development, in particular to meet a largely unsatisfied market demand.

For decades farmers have left their land to engage in tertiary sector activities. Today farming remains generally small scale. These trends have led to an alarming decrease in agricultural production, an inability to supply domestic markets at competitive prices and high dependence on food imports.

But things are changing. The geo-climatic conditions of the islands are such that most of the tropical fruits and vegetables that are currently imported at a high price could actually be produced by local smallholders, revamping agriculture and creating employment. Targeted interventions are however needed to enable small agribusinesses to access financial resources and deliver higher quality products.

FAO is implementing a project with the Chamber of Commerce to boost the sector through the provision of technical assistance, coaching and grants matching recipients’ financial contribution. The objective is to make agriculture a sector to invest in, by local and foreigner investors.

This project is supported by the FAO Multi-Partner Programme Support Mechanism (FMM). The FMM was established in 2010 as a novel funding mechanism for partners willing to contribute to FAO’s work through unearmarked or lightly earmarked funds. The FMM departs from the common project-based approach in favour of a programmatic approach to directly support FAO’s Strategic Framework (2010–2019). Over the years, Belgium, The Dutch Cooperation, The Netherlands and Sweden have provided dedicated support to the FMM and more than USD 60 million.

Thanks to the FMM, FAO helps to increase responsible investments in efficient and inclusive agrifood systems and activities to strengthen local communities’ capacity to mobilize investments, in line with its Strategic Objective 4.

In the Cook Islands, FAO laid the foundations for the stimulation of new investments in agribusinesses. Eleven agribusinesses (tropical orchards, processing centres, organic farms, greenhouses) were established through a small matching grants facility funded by the FMM and 24 agribusinesses were strengthened through mentoring and training.

Tini and Gelling benefitted from FAO’s support. They are now planting pawpaw, maniota, pineapple, taro, sweetsop and banana. They have an orange plot with 200 trees and have planted 100 coconut trees expected to yield an income of USD 15–20 000 a year. They have also expanded into the wholesale business where products such as pawpaw and coconut are sold to traders and retailers.

Part of the Jacks’ success is based on the technical knowledge and skills gained through the project. They learned how to meet the market’s demand. They can now determine which of their plots of land are best suited to which crops, and they are also planning to rotate crops. To control weed or vegetation they bought a “ride-on” mower with FAO’s support and carry out weed control in one day rather than a week.

With greater volumes of production and increased trade, they plan to attract more investments for their business and have their daughters join it, creating further employment for other youth in the island.