AMA Rural and Maritime Strategy Launch

November 27, 2020       AMA Head Office, Nausori

A. Salutations

? The Permanent Secretary of Agriculture, 

? Board Members of the AMA, 

? CEO of the AMA, 

? Senior Staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and the AMA, and;

? Media personnel

? Ladies and gentlemen.

B. Introduction

As you all are aware, the Ministry of Agriculture is working very closely with farmers, exporters, and the corporate sector to expand commercial agriculture so that we can increase national income as well as assist in employment creation and improvement of the livelihood of all Fijians including that of our resources owners. I must thank all stakeholders who have helped us and we have done extremely well over the last two years despite several obstacles including the current Covid 19 epidemic. Over this period:

1. We have witnessed increased participation of workers, farmers, households, exporters, and the corporate sector in realising this dream. 

2. We have witnessed an increase in exports of our agricultural produce by 15% between the first 6 months this year compared to last year. 

3. We have seen households in urban areas able to access fresh produce much easily, closer to their homes and alongside road networks;

4. We have seen this fresh produce is made more readily available and at affordable prices;

5. We have seen more households transforming their once idle land into productive agriculture;

6. We have seen young and old taking a keen interest and pride in engaging in agriculture;

7. We have witnessed a resurgence in the return to agriculture; exemplified by the scores of people who have gone back to the farm, back to their rural and maritime areas, and have returned to their roots, all with a singular purpose – to converge on utilising arable land for agricultural purposes.

It is undeniable. There is a genuine movement for agricultural growth and development and I take my hat off to all of you for choosing to be a part of this movement. 

C. Agro-Marketing Authority Performance

In this agricultural movement, AMA has raised their performance so that not only do they add on to and support exporters in promoting exports, but ensure that our rural and maritime communities also participate and benefit from this agricultural expansion and surplus generation.

For the 1st quarter of the 2019/2020 financial year last year, AMA averaged an export of 5 containers being shipped for export per month. For the 1st quarter of the 2020/2021 financial year this year, AMA has averaged an export of 9 containers being shipped for export per month. This is an increase of 80% in the number of containers being exported per month. 

The AMA has also been certified with international standards from the United States Food and Drug Administration and is also compliant under the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) standard. It has also complied with local Food Safety Standards from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. It has remodeled and re-branded its SAUTU Restaurant which is now certified as an A-Grade restaurant by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. 

This is an outstanding turnaround in performance from the AMA Team in a short period. 

The Authority’s performance speaks volumes of the level of employee and stakeholder engagement that takes place behind the scenes and I applaud you all for your tremendous input. 

D. AMA Rural and Maritime Strategy

The AMA is mandated to buy its produce from farmers in the rural, remote, and maritime regions and the increased container exports of the AMA is good news for farmers living in these regions who would otherwise have had a difficult time in selling their produce.

The AMA now focuses on buying from farmers living in the rural and remote regions of Fiji. To better assist the farmers living in these regions and to ensure that a confirmed market is provided to them, the AMA introduced the Contract Farming initiative in early May 2020. The contract farming model provides a guaranteed market for a guaranteed unit price to the contracted farmer for producing a target produce for the AMA. The AMA’s target produce is Dalo, Cassava, and Duruka. The AMA is working on some other business opportunities which will allow it to add more target produce to its list in the future. Also, the AMA has worked with the Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) and the Fiji Development Bank to provide soft loans to its farmers and it is making farmers members of the Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF).

At present, the AMA has contracted farmers throughout Fiji, in the Tailevu region, Naitasiri, Kavanagasau/ Nabitu, Serua, Nadarivatu, in the remote villages in the heartlands of Viti Levu, Nadi, Lautoka, Ba, Tavua, Nawairuku area in Rakiraki, Udu Point/ Qaranivai area, Wainikoro, Seaqaqa, Bua, Savusavu, and Taveuni. This is an excellent effort by the AMA staff in just 6 months. 

AMA has now started to buy from its contracted farmer clusters too e.g. in the last 8 weeks, the AMA has bought over 22 tonnes of produce from the New Valley Farmers cluster in the West, especially from very remote villages in the interior of Viti Levu such as Nabutautau, Mare, Nanoko, etc. The fish being bought from the Udu Point/Qaranivai region in the remote areas of northern Vanua Levu is assisting the villagers in this region to sustain their livelihoods as they have no other major source of livelihood besides selling fish to the AMA.

As part of its Maritime Regions Development Strategy, the AMA is now expanding its reach to maritime islands and AMA staff have already visited maritime islands such as Taveuni, Kadavu, Batiki, and Koro. As I speak, the AMA is already buying produce from Taveuni, bongo chillies from a farm from Koro Island, and has completed a buying trip to Kadavu just this week. AMA will soon be buying cassava from a farm in Gau Island too.

Ladies and gentlemen, to put things into perspective, the AMA in recent months is averaging around 217 tonnes of produce bought from local farmers. This represents a 66 percent increase in offtake of fresh produce from farmers all over Fiji compared to 2019. This has consequently resulted in a higher value of money transferred to farmers who sell to AMA, and the total value of all commodities bought stands at over $350,000 per month – this is a significant amount of cash injection in our farmer’s hands on the monthly basis, and represents an 88% increase in cash injection into our farmer's hands.

The AMA is also in advanced negotiations with the Ministry of Fisheries in providing a market for the fishermen living in the other maritime regions. The AMA is looking at developing a joint synergy with the Ministry of Fisheries in buying fish from these islands and providing an alternative livelihood opportunity to the villagers on these islands.

Consequently, the Rural and Maritime Strategy will actively engage the participation of our grassroots people, more specifically our farmers and primary industry actors, and this is a positive indication that will improve productivity in the long run. In the same vein, it will foster a healthy relationship that bodes well for both parties, through loyalty and trust, as the AMA becomes the preferential option as a secure market. The strategy of contracting the farmer, providing a unit price upfront upon signing of the contract, providing of planting materials at no cost to farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture, providing land clearing and preparation by the Ministry of Agriculture at subsidised costs is now deepening and widening the rural and maritime zone. This strategy is gaining momentum and over the next 6 months we wish to reach out to the remaining areas so that remote farmers are supported, their livelihoods are improved and that they’re linked to the market.

E. Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an exciting era where we are delivering multiple objectives through a government-mandated and funded entity like the AMA. 

? We are expanding agriculture via clustering and contracting small and medium-sized growers. 

? We are reaching out to areas and incentivising production via a market provision strategy;

? We are bringing in idle land under productive use;

? We are taking the market to the doorstep of the rural farm households and create a rural economy;

? We are providing returns to the owners of our resources, our landowners;

? We are creating employment opportunities and improving livelihood for rural and maritime households;

? We are incentivising capital to flow into these areas as they see potential positive returns in the future.

? We are joining exporters in raising Fiji exports of Agricultural and Agri based produce.

I believe the AMA is currently on the right track in fully serving its mandated role and is now well on course to show sustainable and incremental growth in business. I would like to thank the CEO, the AMA Board Members, the AMA Leadership team, and the AMA staff for the excellent effort they have put in to ensure that the AMA has shown significant positive changes in its business, and reach, which will further improve the livelihoods of its farmers and suppliers and contribute significantly to Fiji’s economic growth and development strategy.

Dr M R