Mereia Volavola: “Pacific agribusiness ventures – the secret of success”

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Interview with Mereia Volavola

Mereia Volavola, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation, argues the case for developing agribusiness to shape a better future for island communities in the Pacific region.

Agribusiness offers valuable opportunities to small island states as a path for improved livelihoods, job creation and economic growth. Women have a special role to play in launching small-scale agribusiness activities and are already running a wide range of successful ventures based on the region’s rich natural resources, from spa and beauty products to honey and virgin coconut oil.

What opportunities does agribusiness offer in the Pacific region and why?

Agribusiness offers quite a number of opportunities to many Pacific island countries because of the environment and the tropical weather. With limited resources for some countries, what is available on land and the sea provides potential opportunities for agribusiness. Given the importance of agribusiness in many parts of the region, it is only logical that the Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), being the peak private sector body, should support agribusiness development in the Pacific. PIPSO has undertaken a number of studies and pilot projects in the region and it is focusing its attention on backing agribusiness as a strategy for rural development. I am currently working on developing my own agribusiness venture, though it’s too early to provide further information just yet.

What are the main ingredients of a successful agribusiness venture?

There are a number of factors that contribute to a successful agribusiness venture. First and foremost, you need a lot of perseverance and commitment. Agribusiness entrepreneurs must also know their product and market well and offer quality products with good packaging and labelling. Good transportation and efficient and clean processing plants are all essential, as is reliability in terms of supply and quality. One essential factor that is often overlooked is the flexibility to be able to change, in line with shifting market conditions. And it is often helpful, if not critical, to have at least some funding and technical assistance from development partners.

Do you think women have a special role to play here – is agribusiness especially suited to women and do women have a particular contribution to make?

There are many areas of agribusiness that are suited to women, though they are not limited to women alone. These range from fisheries to seaweed to cash crops, and from coconut virgin oil to spa and beauty products, as well as producing and marketing honey, poultry and other products. Examples from around the world, including the Pacific, show women’s success in agribusiness. In a growing number of rural settings, we see women becoming involved in agribusiness to improve the livelihoods of their families and the community.

Can you give some examples of women’s success in launching and developing agribusinesses in the Pacific?

Some of the most successful agribusiness ventures run by women in the Pacific include Pure Fiji and Senikai Spas Ltd, both based in Fiji and both offering spa and beauty products. Then there is Women in Business Samoa, which produces and markets coconut virgin oil, coffee, dried bananas and organic products and Timol Timber Ltd., which markets timber products from the Solomon Islands to buyers in Australia and beyond.

What is needed to encourage more successful agribusiness ventures, especially those involving women?

There is a real need for capacity building, to put women in a stronger position to run dynamic agribusinesses and help them to grow. Funding and technical assistance are important, especially in the early stages. Product development, marketing and quality assurance are all key to ensuring that the concept moves forward, and networking is critical, both in the region and in the international arena.