RAVIRAVI WOMEN TEND PIONEER PEARL FARM

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 26) - Pearl farming is a fairly new industry in Fiji. But this has not deterred 39 women of Raviravi Village in Seaqaqa, Fiji, who believe they can make a mark in this industry within the next five years.

With limited sources of income apart from selling fish and a few root crops, the women have pooled together all their resources in order to achieve success in their pearl farming enterprise. This is apart from the personal sacrifices they have to invest in their new enterprise, which calls for a lot of patience, time and perseverance.

The women sought the assistance of Robert Covert, a former soldier, who resigned from the Fiji Military Forces to look after the family estate located near Raviravi.

Covert said the chiefs from Raviravi Village approached him on behalf of the women to assist them in their effort to set up a pearl farm.

"I agreed because the chiefs asked me to do it, and I am offering them all the expertise and advice I have," he said.

Covert said to start a pearl farm was an expensive exercise and one had to have the right capital to kick-start the project.

"You need to have millions of dollars to start a pearl farm, because everything used in a pearl farm is expensive," he said.

The women said the idea to set up such a farm has been floated around their village for eight years. Three years ago, the women embarked on this ambitious program.

Raviravi Village women's secretary Fanny Masilomani said the women had wanted to do something to assist their men in lifting the standards of living in the village.

"So we decided that why not have a pearl farm because we heard that millions of dollars could be reaped from the pearls when sold," she said.

Masilomani said the women started their pearl farm with only FJ$300 (US$181).

"We did our fundraising where the 39 women had to contribute to the fundraising, and we raised $300," she said.

With the assistance of Covert and his wide-ranging network, the women were able to secure equipment for the pearl farm, after which they never gave up their dream to be successful pearl farmers. What little money they collected was invested into the pearl farm.

Covert said the village was able to build a community hall with funds raised from the fundraising activities held by the women.

They were also able to provide the 33 households of Raviravi with electricity by purchasing a generator.

"We would go out fishing and sell our root crops in either Seaqaqa or Labasa and money received from our sales was diverted entirely to the women's account," said Masilomani.

The District Officer Seaqaqa was also of great assistance to the village when it provided the women with a new outboard for pearl farming.

Covert said it was a difficult business to venture into because there were no funds available.

"When I approached the Fisheries department for funds they told me there was no funds available for pearl farming," said Covert. "So I used some of my relatives in Australia to send some pearl farming implements over to kick start the project."

Masilomani said they also managed to secure experts from Japan, and it was an expensive exercise.

"Especially when they would only stay in hotels, and if they come to us they would have to book with Nukubati Resort which is about $1,500 per night," she said.

The experts are brought into the country to dissect the shells and check the shells to be farmed.

"In one day the experts from Japan can only cut 300 shells. So you can only imagine how long they had to stay in hotels.

The women appointed two from their group to attend a six-month course in Savusavu that was coordinated by the Fisheries department.

Knowledge gained from the six-month course was put into practice at the farm.

"We took about 500 shells to Savusavu so the two women that attended the six month course would use the shells for practical activities," said Masilomani.

Today the village has about 1,500 shells farmed in Raviravi waters.

When The Fiji Times team visited the pearl farm, more than 500 buoys floated in the sea to indicate the pearl farm.

The women that traveled with us to sea had to pull up one of the strings of shells out of the water to show us how they were strung together.

"It's difficult to see the pearls because they have to be cleaned and checked," said Covert.

Masilomani said the strong winds and heavy showers in the northern division last week saw Raviravi men drop the pearls by some more meters from the strong currents.

Now the women are anticipating their first harvest in September.

Masilomani said once the pearl harvesting begins they would be harvesting continuously.

Covert said without the support of the Raviravi Village men the women would not have achieved what they have already achieved.

The village women also run a store and a dispensary. To them the pearl farm will definitely boost their attempts to raise their standards of life.

April 27, 2005

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