Village Economies in Samoa Partner with Big Business

The Commitment – Summer 2014, SIDS Special

In Samoa it can seem near impossible for the 200,000-person population to carve out opportunities for economic mobility. Women in Business Development Inc. hopes to turn the tide in the small island nation by forging sustainable partnerships between multinational business and smallscale farmers. The non-governmental organization is bridging indigenous Samoan tradition and big-name global businesses, including The Body Shop, All Good Organics, and C1Espresso, to create a fair trade market in the developing island. “We support village economies by adding value to their agricultural products and finding export and local markets, while also providing the necessary logistics to make that happen,” Adimaimalaga Tafunai, Executive Director of Women in Business Development, told The Commitment.

Women weave baskets in Samoa.

Tufanai and her team work with villagers in 183 Samoan rural communities to build certified organic enterprises, with which they export agricultural goods to countries as far away as the United Kingdom.

The organization helps the rural farming community earn the equivalent of $260,000 USD a year, and puts more than half a million Samoan Tala into the local economy annually – totaling one percent of Samoa’s gross domestic product. Despite the organization’s name, Women in Business Development does not single out women for economic opportunities – instead, they aim to help entire families and communities develop access to international financial markets. “We work to empower Samoan families, rather than just women,” Tafunai noted. “We believe that gender issues can only be addressed through educating families at the same time. One of the key elements of our livelihood projects is finding equally valued roles for each gender.”

As a result, rural Samoan families are developing a newfound independence. For many, it marks the first time that they can pay their bills and send their children to school without reliance on aid or remittances. In Samoa, a country that is highly vulnerable to unpredictable and devastating storms, such stability offers invaluable comfort. Instead of going the microfinance route, Women in Business Development worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to tailor the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Grameen Bank model to Samoa’s rural population. Small loans are allotted to villagers without a demand for collateral. “We don’t just lend to families — we find the opportunities for them to use and add value to what they have and grow to earn a regular income, then we teach them financial literacyand encourage them to budget and save,” Tafunai highlighted.

UNDP has also sponsored a Women in Business Development programme that has trained more than 600 organically certified farmers to date. The project has led to a sustainable farm-to-table project in partnership with the Samoa National Youth Council and the Ministry for Women, Social, and Community Development.

By developing organic agriculture in the Small Island Developing States, Women in Business Development hopes to help counteract the ever-evolving effects of global warming. “Organic agriculture can make a significant contribution to reversing climate change because the health of the soil is maintained through our organic farming practices,” Tafunai said. “Our family farmers have actually farmed organically for generations and they still cover crops, practice mulching, composting and crop rotation, which restores and improves on the natural ability of the soil to hold carbon. We are currently developing a structured carbon-offsetting programme so we can enhance what is already happening on the farms.”

Tafunai and her colleagues at Women in Business Development have reached out to 11 other nations in an effort to expand their business model across the Pacific islands. They are currently working on projects in Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Haiti.

The Body Shop has expanded its unique Community Trade programme to include coconut growers from Samoa. – Richard Elzey, Creative Commons