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 FIJI TIMES ONLINE Kuini Waqasavou Monday, July 16, 2012

WOMEN on the island of Rabi are very fortunate to have a group specifically looking after their needs bearing in mind the fact that they are also great role models in their families.

The Women's Interest Group or the Banaban Women's Organisation has been running successfully over the years since its establishment through the councillors of the Rabi Island Council.

According to group officer, 50-year-old Arariki Ka'ake, members include women from all the villages and settlements on the island who have been meeting on a weekly basis to discuss the way forward and how best they can help improve the lives of their individual families.

"We all know that men are the leaders of the households, but it takes both a husband and a wife to run family affairs. This is why we think we are also important in the family," said Arariki.

Handicrafts have been their specialty and the women design and create their own jewellery and clothes to sell at their headquarters in Tabwewa.

"We have also started producing virgin coconut oil which is sold on the island and distributed to stores in the North and Viti Levu," Arariki explained.

The staunch believer in hardwork says Rabi virgin oil is one of a kind and the quality of the oil speaks for itself.

"We have been processing virgin oil manually without the use of machine. I guess this traditional method brings out the best quality in the oil," she said.

With 15 women groups on the island, Arariki says they take turns producing virgin oil for the markets and the income earned is put to great use.

"The leaders from the 15 groups visit the office on a regular basis and they are briefed on the various programmes that they need to carry out so that things run smoothly." Arariki says the coconuts are well utilised from its flesh for oil and shells for jewellery.

"The women have also been producing body lotion using coconuts and adding flowers like frangipani for scent," she said.

"We all know that coconut is the tree of life and we have been utilising the coconut to its full potential."

Arariki says there are plans in the pipeline to involve the women in more agricultural activities such as bee-keeping for the production of honey.

"There are endless opportunities for us on the island and we know that through more trainings and advisory services, we will be able to be on par with other women organisations in Vanua Levu and Viti Levu."

The Women's Interest Group virgin coconut oil is priced between $7-$10 per bottle while the body lotion costs $5 per bottle.

Arariki says most of the women have been assisting the men by providing meals for the family.

"This is through their own small back-yard gardens that they have in their compounds," she said.

"This is an area that we want to strengthen in the coming months so that all families have their own vegetable gardens to supplement their daily meals."

According to Senior Agriculture Officer (Cakaudrove), Esava Tuimoala, Rabi Island will need a lot more trainings and advisory services for farmers in terms of agricultural development.

"Most of them depend on the resources from the sea but we are pleased to note that more people are beginning to realise the importance of growing their own food," said Mr Tuimoala.

"A demonstration farm has been set up in Uma whereby farmers are taught to plant vegetables under coconut trees.

"Most of the fertile land is up in the hills and the idea is for the farmers to utilise the land under the coconut trees especially for vegetable production."

Mr Tuimoala says rice production is proving to be a success after the recent planting season for the island.

He hopes more women on the island will take up rice farming as a means of food security.

"Rice is the staple food for this island and they spend a lot of money buying rice so we have started a farm in Nuku Settlement and hope that more farmers will be able to show their interest in rice farming."

Arariki says through awareness and trainings, the women on the island will be able to go the extra mile when it comes to food security.

"All the mothers on the island only want what is best for their families and I think that rice and vegetable production being introduced on the island is a positive start towards a more developed island.

"We are ready to learn all that we can especially for agricultural production whether it be livestock or crops. I am sure that Rabi will be a force to reckon with in the coming years," she said proudly.

Arariki says Rome was not built in a day so the women on the island of Rabi are taking positive baby steps towards a more vibrant and healthy island nation.

* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer at the Ministry of Primary Industries.

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