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Agro-tourism sector remains optimistic

 

Sep 28, 2021 11:51:39 AM

Agro-tourism sector remains optimistic Prospects of the borders re-opening have lifted the spirits of Fijians in the agro-tourism sector who have suffered the brunt of the coronavirus lockdown.

Vee’s Farm owner, Vitila Vuniwaqa, is a veteran of the tourism business and no stranger to hardship.

Before COVID, her career as a flight attendant was brought to an abrupt end by a stroke that put her in rehab for two years.

Despite the setback, she went on to set up a successful farm at Sabeto Nadi, producing a wide variety seasonal fruits and vegetables and offering nature walks to tourists.

 “Business before the pandemic was good,” she says.

 During COVID Vuniwaqa’s resilience has been tested again as her income plummeted as a result of border closures and harsh lockdowns.

In an interview with FijiLive, Vuniwaqa said the biggest challenge for her during this pandemic was the heartbreaking decision to lay off two of her workers.

“I had to let go of two workers due to the drop of revenue. It was very unfavorable, emotionally and sad. Our business has been on complete lockdown,” she said.

Vuniwaqa grows cassava, watermelons, lemongrass and other crops on 12 acres of land.

In the pre-COVID period she thrived adding virgin coconut oil, honey and skin care products to her product list.

Looking back on her business she says: ““All produce and products took off swiftly in sales (before the pandemic) and slow down since everyone was home and started home gardening.

With sales of fruit and vegetables declining, Vuniqaqa had to take a close look at her business and come up with new ideas if she was to survive.

“There was no drop in sales in honey,” she noted

Her biggest challenge has been skyrocketing freight costs, something even ingenuity could not deal with.

“We are unable to solve this problem,” she said.

Vuniwaqa is not alone. A business monitor survey carried out by Pacific Trade Invest shows that the closure of borders has had a negative impact on 85 percent of businesses in the Pacific region including Fiji.

Pacific Trade Invest Australia Commissioner Caleb Jarvis said 80 percent of businesses have reported poor cash inflow due to the closure of border.

Now, she is delighted to see plans to open borders taking shape and is hopeful for Fiji’s economy.

“When the boarders open and restrictions lifted it should be booming,” she said

In the past few weeks Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya have outlined plans to open international borders by December.

“Good idea,” is Vuniwaqa’s unequivocal response.

“This will bring in the income and employment to boost the economy.

“Everything has stayed as it is since tourist enjoy our natural environment  …so nature is as it is. We are ready,” she said.

But to keep Fijians and tourists safe from infection there are a host of issues still to be addressed and border protocols to be put in place.

Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya said government officials and stakeholders are working very hard behind the scenes on finalising the government’s re-opening framework.

Koya said as soon as the framework is finished he will be sharing it with businesses and stakeholders so they can also put their re-opening plans into motion.

That will be welcome. While many businesses have work to do to be ready to restart their businesses Vuniwaqa is confident the transition will not be too difficult.

“We partner with a tourist touring company, we have a contract which all parties follow and it is still in intact,”.

“Positively thinking it should pick up as we go along and when the borders open.

By Nacanieli Tuilevuka

 

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Covid-19 Update

 

Last updated 13th October 2021

New Cases


50

Active Cases


2283

Recoveries


48,165

Deaths


661

 


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