A project to address food security issues in Fiji’s kai fishery will improve livelihoods of rural communities and help empower women, a workshop initiating the project heard this week.
A freshwater clam known locally as kai (Batissa violacea) is found in all major river systems in Fiji, and is the basis of the largest freshwater fishery in the country and one of the top three in the Pacific.
The kai fishery is distinct in that it is dominated by women, who can spend three to four hours per day, four to five days per week free-diving for kai, which are then sold at roadside stalls or in local markets. Revenue from kai sales are used to provide for family needs, school fees and traditional obligations in the village. It is therefore an important means of livelihood for rural communities that live near the large rivers.
However, microbial contamination can affect kai, potentially transmitting bacterial diseases such as typhoid. The kai fishery is occasionally closed by the health authorities when it is suspected of causing illness, so that the bivalves can be tested. The closure of the kai fishery – even temporarily – can impact greatly upon the livelihood of the local communities. The lack of adequate quality assurance measures also inhibits exporting kai to potentially-lucrative international markets. It also limits the potential for value-adding to the kai product within Fiji.
IUCN is implementing a new project in the Rewa River catchment to help increase the economic benefits for communities from the kai fishery by addressing the food safety issues. The Rewa River is the largest river in Fiji, with a catchment area of almost 3,000 km2. The communities that live in the Rewa catchment depend on the freshwater and mangrove fisheries for their livelihoods. The project will involve developing a quality assurance program to enhance consumer confidence and to attract investment in value-adding and export of this freshwater bivalve.
The project inception workshop heard from experts about the food safety issues facing the kai fishery, example quality assurance programs that have been successful in other countries, and value-adding opportunities that can be pursued once the food safety issues have been addressed. Representatives from villages in the Rewa catchment also presented to the workshop about the importance of the kai fishery to their communities.
“This workshop has provided a unique forum where we have managed to convene the fishers, health authorities, researchers and product developers to discuss the pertinent issues facing the kai fishery and hopefully empower women by securing better returns for their catch. It is the first step of a project that is seeking to address food security, gender and economic development in rural communities” said Dr Milika Sobey, Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator at IUCN Oceania.
The project is financed by the French Pacific Fund, with a representative from the French Embassy present at the workshop. Other participants included ministry representatives, scientific experts, market specialists, conservation organizations and village representatives from Rewa Province.
For further information contact Dr Milika Sobey, Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator, email@example.com