In a small economy such as Fiji’s, a “build it and they will come” attitude to ICT facilities for the general population is too risky and expensive, Abel Caine, of Fijian government-associated provider ITC services told last month’s Pasifika ICT conference, held in Wellington.
Neighbourhood tele-centres offering ICT facilities only work if the need and opportunities for their use are evaluated first, he says. Government information and transaction services can provide useful base-work for such tele-centres, but new initiatives have been found, too. Notable among such has been one involving rural women’s groups.
With a downturn in Fiji’s staple industry, sugar, and the consequent decline in the industry’s requirement for workers, many rural people have lost a major income stream.
In addition, some ethnically Indian tenants have been displaced from their land.
To combat this, a rural women’s group in the village of Navuia has been using traditional culinary skills to make condiments, particularly chutneys, for sale in the local market.
Provision of a PC and internet connection, together with basic word processing, database and mail-merge software, and appropriate training, has allowed the group to greatly enlarge its customer base.
Caine acknowledges that the initial sales boost here, through HTML-enhanced advertising mail to civil servants, was, effectively, spamming. But, it brought in a large group of customers, with a satisfyingly broad range of ethnic origins and tastes, which boosted sales.
The “e-chutney” project threatened to become too successful in its early days. It generated so much work it led to an urgent search for a new supplier of bottles.
The range of products has since been increased and the trade is making a
significant contribution to reducing poverty in the area.