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Samoa: Harnessing the economic power of women, villages and traditional cultures to access new markets

In Samoa, despite a high unemployment rate of women, there is a growing recognition and understanding that empowering and engaging women in economic activities is a powerful vehicle for development, enabling to spur national productivity and growth. The EIF programme has been supportive of this acknowledgment, supporting a development model that is in alignment with Samoan values, tradition and culture.


Samoa's sole national plan devoted to the trade sector, the EIF‑supported Trade, Commerce and Manufacturing Sector Plan (2012-2016) was developed from the 2010 Diagnostic Trade Integration Study. Samoa is taking forward the sector's vision with help from the EIF to ensure equitable sustainable livelihoods for all Samoans, to enhance production and income generation opportunities and to maximize the gains from domestic and foreign trade. Assistance has also been provided to develop pilot projects for community entrepreneurship to cultivate and promote niche products, e.g., the Women in Business project, which assists farmers to plant and harvest coconuts to produce virgin coconut oil for the Body Shop in the UK market.


The EIF is also funding the Trade Sector Support Programme (TSSP), which was launched in 2014 as part of the Stimulus Package initiated by the Government in 2010 in response to the 2009 tsunami and to the recovery challenges caused by cyclone Evan, which hit Samoa in the final weeks of 2012. The TSSP focuses on scaling up the collaboration between the largest state‑owned agricultural producer in Samoa, trade associations and women's cooperatives in order to add value to cocoa and coconut (Samoa's traditional crops) destined for export. A central component of the project is women empowerment through the activities of the Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), which is dedicated to strengthening village economies in Samoa and addressing gender imbalances. The WIBDI's economic empowerment programmes recognize the distinct contribution of women as well as of men in supporting women through taking over their chores within family farming enterprises.


The TSSP has been revitalizing Samoa's coconut and cocoa farms, establishing centralized processing facilities and procuring appropriate technology for the research and development of niche coconut and cocoa value-added products. All these efforts are directed to boost inclusive trade in goods for Samoa and in turn minimize its trade deficit. The TSSP has provided seedlings for re‑plantation of cocoa and coconut trees covering 200 acres of land at the Samoa Trust Estates Corporation (STEC) plantation. Planting of a further 300 acres is already under way, and assistance has been provided to the STEC to procure the seedlings and planting tools and contracting village community groups to conduct maintenance and clearance works required at the farm.


Through promoting use of research and development initiatives especially developed by the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa (SROS), the TSSP has continued to develop new product varieties from coconut and cocoa, which will be transferred to the WIBDI for commercialization once the WIBDI processing warehouse is completed in November 2016. The WIBDI warehouse, 85% of which is funded by the EIF, provides the opportunity to centralize the processes of organic products within an HACCP‑certified environment, which adds value to the products for export to be marketed by the WIBDI. The warehouse will also provide a proper storage space for products ready to be shipped.


The WIBDI has undertaken further practical research and identified Criollo and Trinitario cocoa varieties as the most demanded product varieties by the market as well as by markets for export and has empowered organic farmers to identify and grow these varieties. The WIBDI has also organized two shipments of cocoa to Australia in the last ten months, and other shipments are planned. Australia has thus specifically developed a chocolate bar made from 100% Samoan cocoa beans and has been very supportive of the local community getting involved in the value chain.


For coconut, the WIBDI has secured markets for the organic virgin coconut oil that gets exported to the Body Shop UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Production sites have been set up on organic certified farms where farmers are in charge of the daily production, and, in return, they are earning regular incomes, gaining a high value for their coconuts. The coconut production also provides employment opportunities for the village people. The SROS has assisted the WIBDI to scientifically test products and ensure quality conformity, which has enabled the development of organic coconut soaps, insect repellent and coconut‑infused fetau oil, which is highly demanded on the local market.


As one of the project implementers alongside the Ministries of Finance and of Commerce, Industry and Labour, the WIBDI takes a family approach to work within the Samoan culture so as not to create power imbalances within family structures, promoting instead family cohesion and intergenerational transfer of new and traditional knowledge. Working in 183 Samoan villages within family households of over 11,568 people, of which 43% are female adults and 57% are male adults (WIBDI 2015 statistics), the WIBDI encourages women within the projects to take on leadership roles as village leaders, trainers and recruiters. Mothers are also encouraged to pass down traditional knowledge to their daughters in the making of traditional handicrafts.


The TSSP also focuses on strengthening the sector policy so as to enhance private sector participation and manufacturing linkages, which has resulted in the Buy Samoa initiative. As a result of this initiative, Samoa Brand trade shows have been organized and held in New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa showcasing Samoan products. The Buy Samoa Made Exhibition was launched in New Zealand in November 2013 to connect Samoan goods and services with potential markets and to attract foreign direct investment. Consequently, total exports increased by 11% after the launch in New Zealand, and taro exports doubled in 2014 compared to the previous year as a result of a revitalized taro industry and gained a sizeable market share in New Zealand. A similar initiative was launched in Australia in March 2015 by the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters together with other manufacturers to showcase Samoan products.   


Funding is also allocated to the Samoa Bureau of Statistics to enhance and strengthen the reliability and validity of the Trade, Commerce and Manufacturing Sector statistics in order to promote evidence-based policy development and overall impact assessment of TSSP initiatives. Assistance has also been provided to private sector organizations, enabling them to get their members ISO‑ and HACCP‑certificated as well as introducing barcoding for their products.


Plans are under way to continue developing international, regional and domestic trade, especially with the recent graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status (2014) and accession to the WTO in 2012. To build long-term sustainability, Samoa has continued to take steps to develop a holistic Government approach on policy development and sector‑wide strategies through a series of sector plans anchored to sector steering committees.


Going forward, supporting local skills development and technical know-how as well as attracting wider backing from partners will be critical for the inclusive trade agenda in Samoa to take off to new heights. The EIF is continuing to provide post-graduation support to achieve inclusive economic development in Samoa.


“We support people who really want to help themselves, the determined people who have a vision for their families. We have learned over years that the key to successful ventures in Samoa is working with the family unit.” Ms Adimaimalaga Tafuna’i, WIBDI Co-founder and Executive Director.