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Making Ends Meet
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21 April 2011

 

 
The ride to Nakorovou, in Kubulawa, Bua is an arduous 93 kilometre journey on gravel road from Nabouwalu, the centre of business for the province.
 
Taking the better part of two hours each way, the discomfort of gravel is more than made up for with some breathtaking scenery that include vistas that stretch for a mile and banded iron deposits smoothed across rock faces that form walls on either side of the road. In the right light, the sight is arresting.
 
In certain places, the road inclines are so steep that on approach, acceleration is the key to getting to the top while still on a respectable third, or second gear. In the event, you’re unfortunate to meet wet weather and need to slow down at the approach,
engaging in four wheel drive is probably the only way you will get to the top. The road can be treacherous in bad weather.
 
Having experienced these conditions during a recent visit from Nabouwalu to Nakorovou, a sense of appreciation for what villagers along the way experience each day is immediate. Without complaint, villagers travel on these roads to and from their farms, to the markets, to the main centres in Savusavu, Labasa or Nabouwalu forbusiness, or to seek essential services at the nearest
Government station.
 
In places like Nakorovou Village, there is no bus service because of the poor road conditions. Villagers have to rely on passing carriers to get them to where they’re going or to the nearest depot where public transport can be accessed. Anyone who has traveled and rely on this mode of transportation, will know that it is not cheap and can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 per person, even more, depending on how many people and how far the one needs to travel.
 
For the people of Nakorovou, who eke out a subsistence and semicommercial living off copra, yaqona and dalo, this can be hard going.
 
Maria Dimara, 36, owns the only village canteen in Nakorovou Village which she operates from her house. Her shop provides an essential service to a population of close to 105 people that live in the village and the five settlements nearby.
 
Every fortnight, Maria makes her buying trip to Savusavu, about 70kms away. There are several options available to the people in Nakorovou, one of which is a 5km walk to get to Namalata, to board the bus that goes to Labasa.
 
“We usually get off at the Naibalebale Junction and catch a carrier to Savusavu because goods are cheaper in Savusavu than in Labasa,” Maria said adding, “but the bus is unreliable because of the road conditions.”
 
A carrier trip to Savusavu costs between $100 and $120 one-way, depending on the negotiating skills of the hirer. The mounting cost of transportation and the price control on basic food items is making Maria rethink her business.
 
“I started my shop at the end of 2009 after I attended a small business training organised by the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprise Development in Kilaka Village,” she said.
 
“At the time, my mother, Luisa (Drika) had for two years, been selling small things to people in the village stored in a carton at home and whatever money she made helped towards our soli to the vanua, church and sending my younger siblings, nieces and
nephews to school.”
 
Seeing the business potential for what was an essential service, Maria, with the assistance of a grant under the Northern Development Programme and a loan from the Fiji Development Bank under the Micro Credit Scheme, opened shop.
 
The MCS provided loans of between $500 and $5,000 to people earning less than $7,500 per annum and who were interested in doing non-farming related business. The MCS was one of two microfinance products under the Bank’s wider Social Banking Facility, which included Agri-finance for agriculture related business. The SBF was suspended in December 2009 following the exhaustion of the $3 million allocation.
 
“When I started, business was very, very good and I made a fairly decent return some times as high as $1,000 a week,” she said of the turnover she made on sales of everyday items like tinned fish and tuna, soap, sugar, salt, yeast, flour and rice amongst a few other items such as hair products.
 
Proceeds from her business helped Maria educate and care for her only child plus taking over the financial responsibilities her mother previously had for her nieces and nephews.
 
Then in October last year, the bubble burst when the Commerce Commission released a list of revised items under the Price List for  Food Items (No.1) Order.
 
“This made a huge impact and I was very upset because the price control set a very marginal return for me and for two weeks, I didn’t buy stocks to replenish the shelves – that’s how upset I was,” Maria said.
 
Maria’s displeasure stemmed mainly from having bought a carton of tuna from Savusavu for $48 and under the price control, she recovered only $38 and made a loss of $10.
 
“I can understand that they need to set price limits for certain items but they need to also consider the conditions under which we live and how difficult it is to for us to travel, buy and come back and all the costs that associated with that,” she pleads.
 
Nowadays, Maria’s shop turns over on average $200 or $250 on a good week.
 
“If the road is fixed, then we should be able to have traveling sales vans come this way and if they do, it will save on transportation costs and help improve our lives because then, we will be better able to access services and other services can also reach us,” she said.
 
Now that Maria has had a few months to adjust to the downturn inturnover for her business, she is looking ahead toward the future and understands that closing her shop is not an option as it will have economical and social repercussions on her community so as any good businesswoman does, she is considering diversifying to include the sale of fuel such as kerosene, diesel and premix for household, vehicle and boats run by villagers nearby.
 
“My home has a generator so I’m thinking of buying a chest freezer and selling frozen food as well,” she said. Maria has almost paid off her loan with FDB. Her story is an example of how micro credit can make a difference in people’s lives.
 
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