Floriculture to alleviate poverty

| October 9, 2018

My husband and I started South Sea Orchids in Suva in the 1970s when the Floriculture industry was extremely small. There was one commercial florist and only a few nurseries that sold cut flowers and plants. At the time, very few people were willing to pay for plants and flowers.

We moved to the West in 1985, a more rural environment, and I felt strongly that as most women in villages have access to unutilised land other women their back yards, this could potentially allow them to make a bit of money to help their families. They could still be at home to take care of the children and have a small business selling plants and flowers.

As a very persistent and probably annoying woman to the many men who dismissed my idea as not possibly being successful, I managed to get Dr Andrew McGregor to do a feasibility study for an out-grower project for women and he concluded that it was viable.

I initially started the out-grower project in 1996 with 15 women who were able to get loans from the Fiji Development Bank which financed a shade house and 2000 imported cut flower orchid plants from Hawaii for each grower. The success of these women paved the way for our project today.

Fortunately, there have been many organisations which have supported this project. We run workshops at SSO to train our growers on correct growing and harvesting practices and as most of our women have never been in business, how to run a small business. CTA have funded the training manuals and booklets we have produced that are used during the workshops and funded a lot of the workshops also.

We have also hosted regional workshops at SSO for various agricultural organisations and have also been asked to conduct workshops in Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Our poverty alleviation project was funded by AusAID and included 15 ladies from Koroipita, which houses some of the poorest people in Fiji and 15 ladies from Housing Assistance Relief Trust (HART) villages. Koroipita is now planning phase two of the project with its own funding because it is one of the most successful poverty alleviation projects in the village.

Some of the growers and I established a Floriculture Support Association and the committee makes all the decisions with regard to the project and controls the finances. We have two distribution centres. SSO in Nadi and Kokosiga in Suva, where growers take their flowers and everything they produce is bought and sold on to the florists. The establishment of this wholesale market has resulted in not only an increase in the number of interested growers, but also a large increase in the number of new florists who can now access flowers easily.

In Fiji, floriculture is still relatively small and is therefore considered a cottage industry. We are trying to get recognised as a floriculture industry by the Government because we have great difficulty with red tape when, for example, trying to import plants to enable us to diversify and grow. I haven’t given up and with the help of organisations like PIFON we may one day succeed.

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Aileen Burness

Aileen Burness and her husband Don are pioneers of the floriculture industry in Fiji and have been instrumental in working to alleviate poverty in the community through floriculture.