On Friday, I sauntered over to Aviva Farms, a Fijian-owned and operated organic farm, to meet the owner Livai Tora, whom I had been seeking for the entire month of July as he went from the US to Jamaica to Taveuni to Suva and the interior. And when I finally met him, I was deeply impressed: he’s an ambitious, entrepreneurial man who genuinely cares about his home (Sabeto), and spends a lot of his time and resources on community development work. He’s an inspirational guy, a breath of fresh air.
Livai is the son of an ex-minister of parliament from the neighboring village of Natalau, and as such has inherited a large tract of land that is primarily leased out to Indo-Fijians for sugar cane farming (the main source of income for the Sabeto area). Livai has taken this and turned it into a dynamic business, including a nursery focusing exclusively on native trees, vegetable farm, and a whopping 8 acres of papayas for export. He is planning the construction of four additional bures for tourists to stay in – they will also offer grounds for tents.
I went to home with four to five different things to discuss (they piled up over the month), and he was very helpful on all points. First of all, I am interested in bringing the Sabeto Environmental Club back to the farm to do more hands-on work, which he is fully supportive of. We are also trying to plant some native and fruit trees at the school, and he’s promised to come by, do the land assessment, and then donate the trees so we can begin planting in the next two weeks (this is planting season, August-September, before the rains hit). Next, I mentioned my idea of encouraging sugar cane farmers in the area to plant trees around their farmland, as a means to both prevent soil erosion and supplement their income, and while he liked the idea, he cautioned me to work with farmers who are similarly motivated. And finally, he advised me on my newest project, a dictionary of the Sabeto language (it’s NOT just a “dialect”), mentioning his brother as a useful source, as well as Talatala Susu, a scholar of Sabeto history.
Where Livai was truly inspiring to me, though, was in the depth and breadth of his knowledge about the Sabeto area as an ecology, and in his condemnation of those that are stripping Sabeto of it’s natural resources. He could point out which trees on the Tuawa (Sleeping Giant mountain) were non-native to the region and the previous lines they have been advancing by after each fire. And he described to me how rock mining companies have stripped the upper river of it’s boulders and the lower river of it’s silt to build the tourist monstrosity/economic behemoth of Denarau Island (it’s not actually an island), and how this has led to increasingly dangerous floods as resistance to rainwater upriver has disappeared. Livai then noted that though Denarau employs a lot of kaiSabeto, they are all the low-wage jobs: the owners and managers, the real money-makers, are almost all Kaivalagis. This is the kind of criticism that awakens people and societies.
In summation, I’ve found another inspirational and motivated kaiSabeto in Livai, and I’m excited to begin working with him on environmental and cultural projects in Sabeto.
You can find Aviva Farms Facebook page here.