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The Impacts Of The COVID-19 Virus On Fiji Agricultural Value Chains

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 Simon Cole is calling on regional governments for quick action on the restoration of Tourism and Export Market linkages IMAGE: TravelOnline

By Simon Cole, Chairman of Fiji Crop & Livestock Council

Covid 19 was an unforeseen threat to Fiji Agriculture.

It is unlikely the Covid threat will be replicated for many years, but Fiji is in a region prone to natural disasters and there is an opportunity to learn from the impacts and responses to the Virus which can provide guidance when future disasters threaten the local agriculture sector.

In July 2020, the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council, with the backing of PIFON, interviewed the heads of the Council’s (commodity based) Associations to learn how their different values chains had been impacted both in the short and long term.

The hiatus caused by the Covid virus has had a direct and indirect impacts on Fiji Agriculture. These impacts include market and price disruptions, breakdown in market logistics, impact on crop husbandry, industry scale and an increase in agricultural theft. TC Harold impacted the country at the same time as the virus.

Fortunately, most impacts are temporary and have already worked their way out of the agricultural systems (Dairy, Cocoa, Bananas, Vegetables, Mushrooms). Other value chains are returning to normal slowly (Coconut, Yaqona, Dalo and Cassava). Some impacts are positive.  The Ginger industry has boomed during the Covid period as social media touts ginger as a preventative for the virus.  Other cash crop value chains are seeing an increased scale of planting as a remedy to unemployment in other sectors of Fiji’s economy. (Ginger, Dalo, Cassava, Vegetables Yaqona).

Because of the virus, there has been a movement towards more subsistence agriculture, using agriculture as a social support mechanism with new and unskilled farmers. While necessary as social support mechanism, this trend risks oversupplying limited markets, a fall in production efficiencies and even threatens commercial production by inculcating and spreading disease through poorly managed crops. (Ginger, Honey, Vegetables, Yaqona)

Until regional Governments can restore tourism and export market linkages, there remain some long-term impacts that continue to negatively impact the sector (Spices, Pigs, Beef, All Exports). We expected there will be further impacts on local markets by years end. There is a need for the industry to match the increased planting, achieved post lockdown, with increased markets. Failure to achieve this will result in over supplied markets, falling farm gate prices and a loss of enthusiasm in new farmers. The industry should invest now in developing more markets for local production.

It is important that the industry supports the restoration of pre Covid logistical networks. The emergency systems put in place during the lockdown were essential at the time but are a distortion of market networks.

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