Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, Fiji is an archipelago of over 330 islands with a vibrant culture that proudly celebrates its rich heritage, community life, and national sport, rugby.
Yet, as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Fiji faces a number of development challenges including vulnerability to external shocks, such as climate change, a high dependence on imported fossil fuels, declining land and marine biodiversity due to unsustainable land management and coral reef degradation, and costly infrastructure and services in urban and rural communities.
To tackle these challenges, the Government of Fiji (GoF) has recognized the pivotal role that green growth plays in building a sustainable, inclusive and vibrant economy for all communities. In developing the 2014 Green Growth Framework (GGF), Fiji identified the need to better harness its natural resources, reduce vulnerability to environmental risks, and promote socially inclusive development. By adopting green growth, Fiji aims to lead by example, especially in climate change: Fiji was the first country to ratify the UN Paris Climate Agreement, and, now, is the first Pacific Island country to hold the Presidency of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties for the COP23 in Bonn, Germany later this year.
The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) is assisting Fiji in mainstreaming the GGF into their new National Development Plan (NDP), working in close partnership with the Department of Strategic Planning in the Ministry of Economy. The collaboration between GGGI and the GoF promotes green growth as the pathway to a strong economy in Fiji that benefits local communities and protects the environment. GGGI is focused, in particular, on supporting two components of Fiji’s GGF – plans to achieve 100% renewable electricity and turning coconut oil mills into sources of sustainable food and fuel production. In cooperation with the government, GGGI is finding new ways to design and implement green energy projects, and reinvigorate existing projects, providing the information and pathway needed for effective and sustainable implementation.
100% renewable electricity target to lead Fiji’s green growth
With an ambitious objective to achieve 100% renewable energy-based electricity generation by 2035, delivering green growth for Fiji’s communities and businesses is key. By 2030, the population of Fiji could exceed 1 million, with 61% of people living in major urban centers, exerting significant demands on vital resources, including energy.To determine the best pathway to achieve Fiji’s electricity sector renewable energy goals, GGGI is leading a study to establish how Fiji’s third and sixth biggest islands – Taveuni and Ovalau – can become self-sufficient in electricity generation with a secure and sustainable clean energy supply from renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydropower.
By starting small and focusing on these two islands, GGGI expects the study will provide insights that can be replicated and implemented on both the larger and smaller islands by identifying options for transitioning to 100% renewable energy-based electricity generation.
Mr. Kamal Gounder, Principle Economic Planning Officer in the Ministry of Economy, notes that this transition to a greener future “is all about people, the service they will be getting, and the improvements they will see.” Steady and secure electricity will benefit economic productivity on the islands and improve local employment opportunities. It will also provide lower-income households with electric light for children to study under at night, and better Internet access.
Building strong economies based on clean energy
Both Taveuni and Ovalau are poised for increasing electricity demand as economic growth expands and the islands continue their ongoing recovery from the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston, which struck in 2016.
Over the next few years, as the electricity grid is extended, Taveuni is expected to grow in tourism and agricultural productivity. Yet, apart from the Somosomo hydroelectric plant, the island’s energy comes mainly from diesel generators. Burning fossil fuels such as diesel contributes to global warming, and leaves Fiji exposed to volatile changes in the global price of oil. Although low at the moment, prices have fluctuated considerably in the last ten years and show an increasing long-term trend. GGGI’s focus, therefore, is to explore how renewables can create more secure, reliable, and locally sustainable energy for islanders.
On Ovalau, a more secure electricity supply will benefit the PAFCO tuna cannery. The largest employer on the island, the cannery contributes significantly to the island’s economy. At the same time, with a workforce made up of 70% women, the cannery provides job security for many community members.
With enhanced productivity and further opportunities for economic growth in local communities, as seen with increased electrification on the mainland, Ovalau’s commercial centers and businesses could capitalize on tourism opportunities: Fiji’s original capital city and UNESCO World Heritage site, Levuka, is located on the island. Not only could an increase in steady and secure renewable energy help bring more visitors to Levuka, but clean energy would also reduce the noise and air pollution that currently disturbs the site.
Access to clean energy promises to help communities become more resilient to climate change impacts. Cyclones, like Winston, can destroy energy infrastructure, but having diverse and decentralized sources of clean energy will bring greater security. Importantly, this clean, green approach directly integrates the local private sector, which sees opportunities to contribute to Fiji’s ambition. “Government and private sector collaboration for new energy access is critical. We have to work together and not in isolation to get it done,” says Bruce Clay of Clay Energy, a long-established renewable energy consulting and installation company in the Pacific. “The GGGI and Government of Fiji approach is making it possible to work with the private sector, bringing all stakeholders together. It’s a sensible way to tackle power and energy problems in rural areas because there is a market for the private sector here. Just look at mobile phones and their uptake; rural renewable energy is heading in the same direction: there is a potentially profitable market.”
With Ovalau and Taveuni at a crossroads for energy development, GGGI’s study aims to offer a new pathway, steer them away from diesel use, and create more secure and reliable electricity for communities and businesses. Powering the islands with clean, climate-resilient energy could have significant impacts for Fiji and the larger Pacific region. Katerina Syngellakis, GGGI Country Representative for Fiji and Vanuatu says, “We’re looking at two major islands in Fiji that nobody has looked at before. A complete pathway to 100% renewable energy for smaller islands has not been done in Fiji; there is no road map currently for this on any of the islands. If we can show how it can be done for Ovalau and Taveuni, this can be replicated on other islands.”
Coconuts provide the fuel for sustainable communities
Recognizing the challenges of both the high cost of importing fuel, and the need for energy security to support the economy, in 2005 the GoF introduced a program to encourage the use of coconuts for biofuels in remote islands. This included establishing coconut oil processing mills in small, remote islands, with the dual objectives of energy security and rural income generation.
Despite significant investment from the government to develop a biofuel industry in Fiji, the confluence of the declining price of diesel, internationally, and the resulting lack of market demand for biofuel caused significant issues in the commercialization and sustainability of the program. Additionally, inadequate logistical set up and market engagement resulted in difficulties producing and selling coconut oil-based biofuel. These factors severely constrained the operations of the mills and, by 2016, none of the mills invested in were running anywhere near full capacity. Clearly an opportunity was being missed.
Reinvigorating, not reinventing
With the support of GGGI, the Government of Fiji is undertaking a review of the biofuel program particularly for the mills on the small, remote islands to determine the challenges and opportunities in implementation to date, and explore ways to reinvigorate the industry. In carrying out the review, GGGI is considering the technical, economic, and social issues affecting the growth of the biofuel sector in Fiji, while also exploring how new business approaches could support the productivity of the mills on the remote islands.
The aim of the review is to explore other economic opportunities that are present within the mills rather than simply identifying what has not worked in the past, and find solutions to make the mills a viable enterprise. This is possible because of the consultation, partnership and flexibility embedded within the green growth approach. By proposing new products, markets and collaborations, GGGI is working to reactivate the existing mills through a comprehensive, in-depth review to determine the steps required to get the mills running effectively.
Mr. Jeke Pai Vakaloloma, Biofuel Engineer with the Department of Energy for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport notes that GGGI has played an important role in identifying where efforts can be focused, or shifted, rather than starting over. “The review provides information about the opportunity and the potential that is already there,” he says. “GGGI is really digging down to get all the information from the bottom up by auditing every mill to see how they can produce biofuel. This amount of information gives us confidence in the recommendations.”
While the review is not yet complete, initial findings suggest a clear opportunity to turn the mills from producing biofuel alone, into mills that are also producing and selling food – coconut oil and copra meal. Pivoting the business model in this way will allow the community to engage in other local commercial activities, for example, growing, harvesting and transporting coconuts, and using the copra meal for animal food on local farms. “GGGI came at the right time. After five years of implementation and a steady reduction in the fossil fuel price, we were challenged in making these mills viable. GGGI came in and is assisting to rescue this program,” notes Mr. Vakaloloma.
Ultimately, the Government is aiming to replace 25,000 kiloliters of imported gasoline by locally produced biofuels by 2030. “Biofuels have a future in Fiji and globally. People will come here [to Fiji] to buy biofuel,” adds Mr. Vakaloloma. To support this ambition, the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, is opening a biofuel laboratory and testing facility in 2017, adding value to Fiji’s biofuel sector.
Community benefits of a thriving coconut processing industry
However, for local communities, it is the broader green growth opportunities that the mills can provide in the short to medium term that matter. While the mills were initially set up primarily for biofuels, in carrying out the review, GGGI saw an opportunity to further engage the community in the economic viability of the mills.
The initial results of the GGGI review noted that while the mill sites have difficulty generating money through biofuels, food products, such as coconut oil, could provide an effective revenue source. Therefore, integrating both food and fuel in the business model is more sustainable, and also offers the potential for the mills to be owned, organized, and run locally by the community.
As such, GGGI is examining how, with the essential support and engagement of the community, a food and fuel business can be established. The aim is to create a diversified economic base that will provide communities with employment and increased stability given the greater opportunity for selling, and using, processed coconut oil and copra meal, locally and overseas. For example, copra meal can be used for local animal feed, meaning the mills can become vertically integrated into the local island economy through agricultural activities. Therefore, producing copra meal can assist other industries to develop, such as chicken and pig farming thanks to an economically viable food supply for the animals. As a result, the entire community can benefit – both people who use the copra meal, such as farmers, and those who buy the farm products.
The vision for the mills operating as key parts of the community, which will directly and indirectly benefit local people, demonstrates strong potential for developing vibrant economies. The study has already identified some key learnings toward this vision:
- The need to foster leadership at all levels
- The business mentoring of local managers and staff
- Transparent payment structures and profit sharing
- The opportunity for women to work in the coconut harvesting and the management of the mills
This holistic approach to the biofuel program demonstrates that adopting green growth is about much more than just economics. By looking for complementary economic opportunities that are present within the coconut mills, sustainable commercial opportunities in combination with community and environmental benefits can be realized. Supported by the flexible, partnership-based approach that green growth facilitates, GGGI is enabling effective economics so that when the market conditions for biofuels change, Fiji is ready to take full advantage of it.
Both of these GGGI initiatives – the 100% renewable electricity study and biofuel program review – align with Fiji’s ambition for sustainable green growth, and stand to put the country more firmly on the green economy map. As the world looks to Fiji later this year to lead the UNFCCC climate negotiations, they may also be looking at one of the first countries to make pro-poor, green growth in the Pacific islands a reality.