Earth Island News
Fiji Organic Project
"In the remote Yaqara Valley of Viti Levu, at the very edge of a primitive rainforest, lies a vast artesian aquifer, a huge volcanic chamber confined by the rock walls of an ancient crater. This is the source of FIJI Water." Thus reads the Web site www.fijiwater.com.
While the source of the bottled FIJI Water that Americans and citizens of other industrialized nations purchase may be pure and pristine, other bodies and pools of water in Fiji are certainly not. Most rural communities in Fiji get their water from nearby rivers and creeks. A study from 2002 shows the total coliform count from the spring source at Tavarau settlement to greatly exceed the acceptable levels as per the World Health Organization (WHO). While much of the contamination is due to improper sewage treatment, agricultural practices in Fiji such as allowing fertilizer run-off and using herbicides on sugar cane fields are also major contributors to water pollution.
Revenue from sugar cane production is second only to tourism and generates between FJD $230 and 240 million annually. The industry provides income for 40,000 people, one-third of the country's population.
Paraquat, also known as Gramaxone, is the most common pesticide in Fiji, used widely to control weeds on sugar cane fields. The agrochemical is used primarily by smallholder farmers, most vulnerable to its effects as they have the least information about its dangers and the least access to training for proper use. Even when they do receive training, they often lack the resources to purchase protective equipment.
Paraquat is a dangerous pesticide that should be prohibited, according to WHO and the Pesticide Action Network. It is prohibited in various Scandinavian countries, and restricted in the US, where the Environmental Protection Agency has classified it as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
With so many Fiji Islanders deriving their livelihood from sugar cane, eliminating the use of such agrochemicals would have a widespread positive effect on the health of Fiji's population and environment. For farmers who live harvest to harvest, though, simply learning about the potential benefits for their health and for the ecosystem is not enough to ensure a transition. We need to show them the money.
With sales of organic food booming in the US and abroad, there is growing demand for organically grown crops. Sugar cane, an essential ingredient in so many processed organic foods, is in particularly high demand. US food manufacturers' needs have far exceeded the amount of organic sugar grown in the US alone. (In fact, there is still to date only one organic sugar cane farm in the US. The farm imports much of its sugar from Paraguay to meet demand.) The price per ton for organic sugar is usually about double the world market price.
There is one more reason for Fiji's sugar cane industry to "go organic," perhaps the most compelling one.
The Lomé Convention is a preferential trade agreement between the European Union and African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, ensuring a higher price for Fiji's sugar than would be garnered from the world market. This preferential price will be terminated in 2007 in accordance with the demands of the World Trade Organization for free trade. This will force Fiji to compete at the same level as all other sugar-producing countries in the world, and will cause the price obtained to drop dramatically to the unpredictable world market price of sugar. Fiji's sugar industry will have to be extremely competitive to survive, and with its current level of production capacity and efficiency (and without its preferential prices), Fiji will never be a viable player in the world market for conventional sugar.
The Fiji Organic Project, a new project of Earth Island Institute, has been created to promote sustainable agriculture in Fiji, and particularly to assist a transition to organic sugar cane production. Project Directors Molly Rockamann and Makelesi Tavaiqia are building a coalition to support the project, and will be hosting an exploratory meeting with the various stakeholders in early 2007.
For more information, see www.fijiorganic.org