Despite leaving school early, 15 year old Iopu is determined to build his parents a home. Oxfam’s partner Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) is helping turn this dream into reality with their organic farming programme.
Iopu Tauleoo Vaelua lives with his parents and seven of his eight siblings in Faleasiu village on the island of Upolu, Samoa. His house has no running water or electricity and they often have to pay for water from their neighbours.
Iopu was teased a lot in school because of a disability and, like many in Samoa, his parents could not afford to keep sending him to school. So he left early, but made the decision that he would support his parents and build them and his family a new home. Currently, they all live together as one household (excluding a sister who moved to Savaii for work), living off their land for food and income. They have no close family members living overseas so don’t receive any of the remittances that are critical to many people in Samoa. The family rely upon their vegetable garden as their main source of income, supplemented by the earnings from Iopu’s two elder brothers.
Iopu loves vegetable farming and joined WIBDI’s organics programme to learn new skills and techniques in gardening. WIBDI identify opportunities for generating incomes and creating jobs in rural villages, meaning people like Iopu aren’t forced to move away to urban areas to look for work.
WIBDI has taught Iopu about composting, diverse cropping, organic pesticides and Iopu is now confident enough in his new skills that he is trialling out unfamiliar crops such as the Hawaiian papaya. Iopu is now changing the cash crops they plant seasonally because his family’s land gets very dry in the arid months. When Oxfam staff visited Iopu in July 2012 he had planted peanuts instead of his usual Pak choi cabbage because peanuts grow much better in drier soil.
Iopu sells his crops in his village and at roadside markets. He also travels into the capital Apia every Friday to deliver baskets of organic vegetables to WIBDI, which generates up to $100 tala (NZD$53) each week. WIBDI sell the fruit and vegetables to the lucrative tourist trade and expats, gaining a premium price for the produce. From this money, Iopu puts $5 each week into a savings account. Although the money may seem small, it is money that his family would never have earnt without WIBDI’s support. The rest of the money Iopu uses to buy family essentials including sugar, salt, tea and kerosene.
With Oxfam’s support, WIBDI is providing rural families like Iopu’s with the opportunity to improve their standard of living. WIBDI want to take their organics scheme a step further by establishing a Samoan organic farming industry based on the principles of fair trade, which would allow families access to niche international markets. Iopu and many others on the 625 farms where WIBDI works will pass the skills they have learnt onto the next generation, contributing to Samoa’s ongoing development.
- Find out more about prize-winning organics in Samoa.
- This story appeared in the New Zealand Aid programme newsletter.