Fiji: Market Vendors show camaraderie after severe floods

In the wake of Tropical Cyclone Josie in April 2018, severe flooding struck several parts of Fiji, particularly in the West, home to hundreds of farmers and market vendors.

The flooding adversely affected market vendors of the Ba municipal market. Located in the Western side of the main island of Viti Levu with over 300 vendors the Ba market was one of the hardest hit. The municipal market flooded overnight with mud and silt damaging market infrastructure. Vendors resorted to selling produce outside local supermarkets to maintain their livelihood.

In response to the dire situation faced by their fellow vendors, market vendors in Fiji’s central division offered a much-needed helping hand to assist market vendors in Ba.

For Venina Vakarusere, President of the Nausori Market Vendors Association, the drive to support vendors at the Ba Market came naturally. With shared goals and challenges, and after building relationships through UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) project, Venina shared that market vendor associations are a big family:

‘The pain and hurt that hit the vendors in Ba market touched our hearts. The unity in our market moved us to quickly sit down and have a talk about it, and then go to the Market Master. It was done out of love. I see that all the markets in Fiji are like one family because we all know each other now, so we should look out for each other.’

Nausori Market Vendors Association President, Venina Vakarusere (left) and Nitesh Prasad, Ba Market Vendors Association President (right) at the handover of ration packs following severe floods in Fiji. Photo Credit: UN Women/ Mouna Peters

Venina described how vendors at the Nausori market started a collection drive after hearing about the floods and how it had affected fellow vendors in Ba.They gathered enough contributions for 150 ration packs.

Ration packs included food items such as sugar, rice, flour, tea, bread, sacks of root crops and coconuts, as well as clothes for the affected vendors and their families.

Nitesh Prasad, Ba Market Vendors Association President, said they were moved by the gesture and kindness shown by the Nausori Association:

‘I was really touched when I saw the Nausori vendors and I want to thank them very much for doing this, for thinking of us and coming to help the Ba market vendors just a few days after the flood. They were among the first to come to help us.’

Nitesh said all the vendors in Ba market were affected badly as this was one of the worst floods they have experienced:

‘Because the flooding happened in the weekend, most vendors lost their stock and supplies. Not all vendors live near the town and they couldn’t come to the market because the areas where they live were already flooded.’

Nicolas Burniat, UN Women Fiji Multi Country Office Representative, said the show of solidarity between the market vendor associations was both heart-warming and a proud moment for the  Markets for Change program, which works to strengthen market vendor associations:

‘As a development agency, you know you are making a sustainable difference when your partners start implementing national south-south cooperation of their own initiative.’

The Markets for Change (M4C) program is a six-year, multi-country initiative funded by the Australian Government, through the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women) program, and implemented in partnership with UN Women and UNDP. It aims to ensure marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

M4C works with stakeholders, service providers and the market vendors themselves to: build and support inclusive, effective and representative advocacy groups; deliver appropriate services, training and interventions; ensure women’s voices are heard and taken into account at the decision-making level; and to improve physical infrastructure and operating systems.