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A FEATURE: KORO- FORNIA DREAMING
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22 October 2010

 Koro Island lies to the northeast of Viti Levu in the Lomaiviti Group, a nine hour boat ride from Suva. Its volcanic origins is visible everywhere you go from the basaltic cinder cones that form a crest across the island to the large igneous boulders that hug the coastline broken only by white stretches of sand that segues seamlessly into the cerulean waters of the Koro Sea.

Koro Island is also home to Tulani Estate along Dere Bay, a 450 lot estate privately developed and sold to international buyers looking for an escape from the hum drum of the big smoke. Clint Eastwood and Lauren Hutton are two Hollywood icons who have purchased property there. The short-lived 2002 U.S. reality show Under One Roof was also filmed on Koro Island - from California to Korofornia.

Spanning an area of 109 square kilometers, Koro is the sixth largest island in the Fiji Group and home to approximately 5,000 people who make their living by exporting copra, dalo, grog and dried voi voi (pandanus) leaves to Viti and Vanua Levu. Koro Island is renowned for producing the best voi voi in Fiji. It is also home to the people of Nacamaki one of only two places in Fiji where people are gifted with turtle calling and a coconut bio-diesel plant opened by Government in March this year.

Coconut is supplied by villagers from all over Koro to the few copra dryers on the island who process and then supply the plant. The plant undoubtedly, has improved economic life on the island by providing a cheaper and greener fuel for the village generators. The plant buys copra at $600/ tonne, a far cry from the $350/tonne bought by middlemen who took it Suva or Savusavu and on sold for a profit.

Statistics kept by the Agriculture Field Office at Nasau, shows that villagers on Koro produce and sell around 900 kilogrammes to one tonne of yagona to the Suva Market. Farm gate price is around $20 per kilogramme.

Dalo (Tausala variety) is sold to Agro Marketing and other small exporters for between $1.50 and $1.80 per kilogramme – an improvement from the $1.30 to $1.50 paid by middlemen prior to the arrival of Agro Marketing to the island. Koro produces around 360 tonnes of dalo every year.
 
The Ministry of Agriculture is currently working with a group of young people in each village on the island to do collective farming to increase the production of kava and dalo.
 
Voi voi on the other hand is sold to markets in Suva for between $14 and $25 for a bundle of 100 leaves depending on its length.
 
Life on Koro is generally laid back. The only thing that moves quicker than the passing four wheel drive is the village chicken who skips quickly across the road to avoid becoming a statistic. No one else is in any hurry, unless it’s around the time the weekly ferry pulls in then everything kicks into high gear for about two days with villagers getting their produce ready for pick up and transport to Suva or Savusavu.
 
Mosese Vuki, 26, from Sinuvaca Village and Eroni Delai, 35 who lives midway between Sinuvaca and Namudu village are both clients of Fiji Development Bank who run their respective village  shops, farms and provide cartage for produce sellers on the island. “I became a client of FDB in 2003 when I bought a truck to start this business and for seven years there was only me and one other person who did cartage for the whole island,” Eroni said.
 
“In 2009 I bought three more trucks because of the demand but in the time since I now have two others who are in the same line of business and the competition does present its own challenges which, is why I am now considering diversifying my business into heavy machinery hire.”
 
On places like Koro, there are no public service vehicles and carriers that collect and drop off people or transport produce from the farms to the market, provide a vital lifeline for those who depend on the sale of their produce for a living. Eroni not only collects the produce but he carts it all the way to the markets in Suva where the pre-arranged buyers collect them. On his return trip from Suva he brings back pre-ordered items which he drops off at the respective village shops or individuals who ordered them.
 
Mosese on the other hand who has been a client of the Bank’s since 2007 when he bought his truck, has a contract with a dalo buyer in Suva to pick up four tonnes of dalo every week from farmers around the island. He takes it down to the wharf and unloads it onto one of Eroni’s trucks which takes it all the way to Suva. He also collects people getting off the ferry and transports them to their villages for a nominal fare.
 
For Mosese, the cartage business takes up only two days of his week. On the other days, he helps his parents run the canteen at Sinuvaca and takes care of his 4,000 dalo and 2,000 yagona plants. When asked how many acres of land he had, Mosese just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
 
While Eroni is away in Suva, his father Waisale takes care of the shop and the farm.
 
Eroni turns over around $2,300 a week and Mosese $500 a week from the cartage business alone – not bad for a few days work.
 
 
 
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