Kina Yavusa Matainubulevu;
Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Representatives from our Partner Organizations;
Community Elders and Representatives;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Yadra vinaka to you all, and thank you for the warm welcome here in Raviravi.
It’s now my third day touring the North, where we’ve already celebrated a range of new projects that are bringing Vanua Levu into the fold of Fiji’s economic development.
But this morning, what we’ve gathered to celebrate isn’t new equipment, or a new office – we’re here to celebrate Fiji’s most valuable asset: the exceptional, hardworking spirit of the women of Raviravi, Macuata.
Today, I’ll be handing over a cheque of over $20,000 – the fruits of both labour and innovation that has brought prosperity and acclaim to your community.
The Fijian-made products that you have helped design and promote through the Navatudua Women’s Club Community Spat Collection Program are spread far and wide throughout the world, as tourists have taken home little pieces of Fiji with them.
The pearl oyster shells that you’ve carefully grown, and the mabe that you’ve carefully cultivated, have been crafted into beautiful tokens that represent the untapped potential of Fiji.
And when I say that, I’m not just talking about the shining beauty of those finished products.
Because for me, as your Prime Minister, the most beautiful part of this project is that it’s been spearheaded every step of the way by resilient, creative, and ambitious Fijian women – women who took it into their own hands to improve their own lives, the lives of their families, and the economy of Fiji as a whole.
To these business-women – and you can wear that title proudly, because you’ve earned it – you are part of the key drivers of this growing Industry.
It was your willingness, your confidence, your work, and your passion that have made this spat collection program a resounding success.
And you’ve been fellow climate champions along the way, doing so in a manner that is sustainable for not only the local economy, but for the health of our pristine oceans.
My friends, too often, in souvenir shops around the country, tourists are led into thinking they’re bringing a piece of Fiji home with them when they buy pearls and pearl shell handicraft that are prominently displayed in windows and on shelves.
But for too long, the majority of those pearls or handicrafts weren’t grown in Fiji at all – they were shipped in from other parts of the Pacific and Asia.
But now – so long as they check the labels to see that their cherished memories of Fiji were actually grown in Fiji – they can bring a true piece of our islands home with them.
And they can do so taking pride in the fact that their purchase will directly support goal-oriented women like you.
Fiji has immense potential in building a robust aqua-culture industry, and today we witness that mabe culture may be one of the best opportunities for business development in many of our country’s more isolated island areas.
So I hope the success of the Navatudua Women’s Club serves as an inspiration for others all throughout Fiji – knowing that they too can turn big ideas into stories like Raviravi’s.
I am happy to state that my Government, through the Ministry of Fisheries, allocates a quarter of a Million Dollars annually, through the Pearl Oyster Development Project, to empower ordinary Fijians to develop these ideas into reality.
I’d like to thank the Ministry of Fisheries and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research for believing in you like I have, and helping you tap into your true potential, and to all those who offered you support along the way –– from your families to the local businesses who buy your products.
I came to Raviravi today because I wanted to come to this handout personally in recognition of all you’ve accomplished. You are Fijian success stories.
And I came knowing that the spirit of hard work in your community isn’t limited to just our pearl farmers –– but that ambition has already grown into other parts of society here as well.
We’re also handing our cheques to 10 nursery owners, who have taken advantage of a new tree planting project that uplifts both our economy and our eco-system. I thank the United Nations Development Program and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community for working alongside our Ministry of Forests to kick off this initiative – providing work to Fijians who are needing it most.
The project aims to serve dual benefits: restoring our eco-system while giving Fijians the resources they need for helping plant trees and mangroves. It’s part of our greater vision of sustainable management of all of our precious eco-systems, from ridge-to-reef, and recognition of the crucial role that forests play to combating climate change.
That vision has taken full effect through the Ministry of Forestry’s ambitious plan to plant 30 million trees across Fiji over the next 15 years.
Kicked off by His Excellency The President in January of last year, over 1.9 million trees and mangroves in Fiji have been planted by international rugby stars, world leaders, royalty, and – like in Raviravi – climate champions just like you.
With the ready availability of seeds and seedlings through nurseries like these, I challenge every Fijian to join us and actively participate in Fiji’s tree-planting revolution.
To make sure your contribution is counted, every time you plant a tree, let the Ministry of Forestry know by completing the “30 Million Trees in 15 Years” survey, which is available on their website: www-dot-forestry-dot-gov-dot-fj.
So this morning is about much, much more than a couple of big cheques – it is a symbol of gratitude for your hard work. From our pearlers to our nursery owners, you’ve earned this day, made me proud as your Prime Minister, and you’ve made all of Fiji proud.
Fiji will be watching Navatudua Women’s Club continued progress in the years ahead – I know I will. Please, keep up the good work, and know that when tourists arrive back in our shores, you have put your heart and soul into capturing the best of Fiji in your work. And we will be watching all of Raviravi Village, as your success grows alongside the trees that you have planted for the benefit of not only your local eco-system, but of the planet. Especially in these times, your community, and your people, are a shining beacon of hope.
Vinaka vakalevu – Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Fiji.