Alleviating poverty and creating I.C.T. solutions through innovation

By Ivamere Nataro ,

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Tuiolotoa Lisa Karene.

Tuiolotoa Lisa Karene. (Photo: Misiona Simo)

It was a proud moment for Nora’s Plantation Food and SkyEye Samoa as they were announced winners of the Innovation Xchange Frontier programme. 

The two local businesses received financial injection from the Australian Government to help take their businesses to the next level. 

They were among 15 outstanding Frontier Innovators awardees selected from more than 700 applicants in the Indo-Pacific region. Each of them received A$100,000 (T$193,000). 

Representing Nora’s Plantation Food was Tuiolotoa Lisa Karene who said her business was born out of our alofas for the aigas here in Samoa. 

“The issue that Nora’s Plantation Food is hoping to solve is to alleviate poverty in Samoa. 

“My husband and co-founder John and I came to Samoa for a family holiday in early 2013 just after Cyclone Evan and we’re out and about looking for snacks for the children. 

“But the images that were vivid in our minds and remained so with us for a while were the fathers and mothers standing in the heat of the sun all wet under make-shift shelter trying to sell their crops from their farms,” she shared. 

“Families at the markets often end up selling crops at a loss to try and get some money to return home with. 

“The local paper also at the time reported that there was a clear over supply of taro than the local demand and our compassion for farmers grew stronger as we went around our beautiful islands of Upolu and Savaii where roadside stalls remained unsold. 

“At the same time, the hotels where we stayed didn’t have snacks that were made from local produce and then we thought what if we can make unique foods and sold them to overseas countries where markets were bigger. 

“There Nora’s Plantation Food was born. We registered the company at the end of that year in Samoa, naming the company after my grandmother Nora, whose vegetable gardens were used to sustain the family.”

Tuiolotoa said they offer two solutions in addressing poverty in Samoa. 

“One is to offer families a larger local market for their plantation crops and two we will do our best to employ as many Samoan residents as possible. 

“Our social enterprise model means we have to be profitable in order for us to consistently buy from the farmers and employ people on a regular basis. 

“The key critical point for us is securing large export orders to give Samoan farmers a situation where that demands meets what they can actually grow and I know from talking to the farmers that they will only grow more crops if they was a market for them.” 

She added in 2015, they decided to put Nora’s  as a multinational and registered Nora’s plantation food as a Samoan company in Australia, mainly as their marketing office so that they were closer to their export customers. 

“We run our online store from Australia to try and connect to the overseas consumer and I am happy to say that we are on our second year to supplying to Japan, one of the toughest markets to enter,” Tuiolotoa said. 

“Our cocoa from both Upolu and Savaii are enjoyed by the high-end consumers who value quality over price. I also work with a few five-star hotels in Australia with the executive chefs there who love our Samoan products. 

Faaso’otauloa Sam Saili. Photo/Misiona Simo
Faaso’otauloa Sam Saili. Photo/Misiona Simo

“So for the past two and half years, we have used our Samoa cocoa products to carry out our pilot programme. We have learned many lessons along the way, but the most important of those is to answer the question are we really doing any good here in Samoa and for Samoa. 

She continued: “We conducted an in house social impact assessment last year on our cocoa farmers after four seasons. 75 percent of those are with their revenue from Nora’s Plantation Foods sales are spent directly on basic needs like food, water bills, schools fees and electricity. 

“The other 25 percent spent their money on improving their family truck or try and do a bit of saving. So we now know that for our social enterprise, we can provide another local market for our farmers. 

“The grant from the innovators award will go towards paying for testing the Australian market of our main product Nora’s Taro Crisp,” Tuiolotoa said. 

“This market test will satisfy impact investors to invest in our efforts here in Samoa. The product market test are very expensive and for us to be given this award to market test our main product is a key stepping stone to scaling and making a bigger effort impact in Samoa. 

“At its success, we go from employing 10 to 16 employees, even better we step up from sourcing from a list of 80 cocoa farmers to adding 400 farmers who grow taro and for that we want to thank the Government of Australia for supporting small companies like Nora’s, recognising that humble efforts today can be rebuild bigger things that will only go towards improving lives for local Samoans.” 

Faaso’otauloa Sam Saili said for SkyEye, the award will help the business expand and ensure Pacific countries and people can access the Pacific and Samoan grown technology and solutions that they provide. 

“This will allow us and ensure that SkyEye is geared for the next level of growth and sustainability,” Faaso’otauloa said. 

“This is exactly the kind of assistance that small businesses in the Pacific need to help transform our businesses to take it to the next level. 

“This award has also come at a perfect time for SkyEye, especially in our vision to help our Government establish Samoa as one of the regional hubs for innovative Pacific growths in ICT solutions and simply make life easier for the Pacific Islanders.” 

Faaso’otauloa explained: “For the last four years, SkyEye has been 100 percent self-funded in building operations in Samoa. Expanding into the Pacific in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, but there is a high demand for our services in neighbouring Pacific Islands. 

“Our plans for the funding is to also to enhance SkyEye’s human resource technology capacity to cater and increase demand for our geographical information system services, more specifically remote sensing using U.A.V. or drones.”

He also mentioned the U.N.D.P. project that they are undertaking is to survey and digitize the water catchment areas for Apia. 

“We hope that this project will go a long way in addressing the issue of flash flooding in Apia. 

“Because of the scale of this project, we have encountered problems in terms of remoteness of the locations and one of the initiatives that we’re taking by using this award is funding the upscaling of our capacity and technology.”

Faaso’otauloa said SkyEye was established in 2013 tracking only six vehicles in Samoa but now they are tracking more than 500 cars in Samoa and more than 400 in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. 

“We have established our GIS remote sensing services, which we are growing. 

“Our small company was established on very little capital and very big dream, a lot of hard work, a mountain of self-belief, which is very critical and most importantly the willingness of our private sector and our Samoan government to give us a chance,” Faaso’otauloa said. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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