Dravuni – Rural Village Economy

In concluding the blog post: ‘Romanticizing Village Life’ (published on 08.10.16), I had attempted to characterize the changing Dravuni economy and had thus opined that out of the ashes of ‘The Death of Subsistence Affluence’, a ‘Rural Village Economy’ has taken roots. I did not expand on what the new term meant. I propose to do that below in two stages: a generalized approach – essentially definitional to substantiate my choice of words; and secondly to discuss the contents/nature of this new economy, specific to Dravuni.

I believe that others have used ‘Rural Village Economy’ to characterize similar situations. From my perspective, ‘rural’ is placing the economy concerned outside urban and peri-urban spheres and thus bringing into focus the economy concerned, its evolution and growth, essentially under the policies, policy instruments and resources of the government’s rural development services – rural development being the operative words. This, however, does not exclude services from non-government agencies. Being rural connotes a number of characteristics that constrain development: small size of the economy, transport, communication and telecommunication difficulties; relatively high costs of economic activities, especially inputs into these activities; remoteness from markets, etc. For maritime Dravuni, the frequency and regularity of shipping services specifically can be an added constraint.

‘Village’ as a prefix to ‘economy’ makes an interesting area of study. The placement of the economy concerned within the bounds of a village, places in direct contrast the no-nonsense approach of commercialism and its attendant fallouts with the protocols and rigidity of cultures and tradition. The resultant dynamics can be nightmarish to even consider let alone trying to manage it.

‘Economy’ of course encompasses all activities related to production, consumption and trade of goods and services in an area. The area in this case is an island that characteristically lacks agricultural potential.

So far so good for generalities!

When it comes to specifics, Dravuni’s emerging economy is one of services, more specifically tourism. This is indeed a natural response – an optimization of its abundant natural and pristine maritime resources, including the attraction of the Great Astrolobe Reefs that encircle the island. Two tourist activities are in place and functioning. The regular visits of tourist ships to Dravuni on a monthly basis on average, and the Kokomo Resorts on adjacent Yaukuve Levu Island that has already had its soft opening. These tourist activities contribute to national tourism, Fiji’s largest export industry and the country’s principal source of foreign exchange.

Tourist-Beach-8 sm

Trading in copra which provided the basis of the island economy of yesteryears is as good as dead for a number of reasons, including the rise of virgin oil production, the increasing sale of green coconut (bu) to tourists visiting the island, and the natural productivity decline of the coconut trees due to senility.

Servicing the regular visits of tourist ships to Dravuni is a joint project also involving the villagers from Buliya, next to Dravuni. The range of services on offer to the tourists include welcoming reception, entertainment, conducting various tours, facilitating recreational activities and sale of touristic wares and other personal services like massage and hair braiding. Managing the project includes keeping the village, the beach, island tracks, historic sites and public amenities clean and tidy; assembly and disassembly of the landing pontoon. A committee ensures that the project operates smoothly. The committee also works in conjunction with the relevant government and private sector agencies involved in the cruise ship industry.

The Kokomo Resorts, next door, offers paid employment and a market for produce and other products and services on demand by the hotel.

Like all economic activities, these tourist projects generate direct and indirect benefits for the villagers. These can be identified and appropriately quantified. Moreover, their costs can be quantified as well. However, an important aspect of these economic projects, especially as they constitute a Rural Village Economy in this specific discourse, is a discussion of the externalities – favourable and unfavourable, that each project generates. These externalities can appear amplified in the context of a village economy as defined earlier. These externalities form the essential rubric of this specific economy. Their impacts are still unfolding. Clearly, a full assessment needs to be carried out to enable a more informed examination of these impacts and the formulation of their respective solutions.

Focusing specifically on the cruise ships industry, the benefits can be enumerated as follows:

  • Income source for the villagers;
  • Incentivizing rural entrepreneurship, including those who permanently operate village stores; and
  • Incentivizing promotion of cultural and traditional activities.

The downside of the equation includes:

  • Apart from the villagers of Dravuni and Buliya coming onto Dravuni to market their wares, there is an increasing number of relatives and remotely-related relatives who are coming from other villages on Ono Island and from Suva and taking their gains/profits with them. This is increasing traffic in and out of Dravuni and raising questions on how best to manage such traffic; and
  • Lack of quality control on wares being sold.

On the other hand, Kokomo Resorts Hotel generates benefits as follows:

  • Paid employment;
  • Paid employment and market for local skills;
  • Market for local produce, products and other services on demand;
  • Increasing cash transactions on the island has given rise to the establishment of a banking agency on Dravuni apart of course from the telegraphic money order (TMO) provisions offered by the Dravuni Post Office;
  • Hotel transport barge and helicopter provide free passages to Suva on occasions. These supplement the commercial boats that operate under the government franchise system, under which Dravuni benefits fairly well: Dravuni being the first and last port of call for boats servicing Kadavu;
  • Hotel helicopter provides emergency services when available;
  • Employees now bring additional disposable income to the village and thus have spending power which can be taken full advantage of. The male employees of the village recently raised funds to pay for the provision of solar power to the village church and for the residence of the catechist. Their female counterparts are also involved in other village development projects. New technology being introduced into the village will need to be serviced, thus raising the need for new skills to be acquired locally;
  • Some others have financed their own solar power energy. One in particular has produced excess power and is able to give the excess to his neighbour; and
  • Villagers who are equity-holders in Kokomo Resorts Limited (members of the Mataqali Natusara) have increased their personal income from lease payment proceeds, and can thus fund family development projects. Those who are not (members of the Mataqali Navusalevu) have been encouraged to collectively raise funds for their own family improvement projects, including improvement to the village rain water catchment system to enable it to meet increased demand. The village water system is receiving attention currently due to the increased use of flush toilets in the village. The attention focuses, not only on systemic capacity, but more importantly, on their environmental impact in the future.

The downside of the equation includes:

  • Increasing number of non-Dravuni employees seeking accommodation in Dravuni. This is creating new relational dynamics in the village. It is also creating a new demand for housing which is impacting the current discussions on village boundaries; new demand can also be reflected in new places in primary school and kindergarten;
  • Problems of abuse of alcohol and drugs have surfaced as a result. The new residents however cannot be fully blamed for this. This situation however is creating an environment in the village for supportive consideration of the draft new Village By laws;
  • Increasing paid employees in the hotel has reduced the labour force available for collective village and traditional duties; and
  • Increasing paid employment is also reflected in the decline of family food gardens. This is reflected in the rise of bought food items from village stores, including that owned by Fiji Post.

By way of concluding remarks, it can be said that Dravuni’s Rural Village Economy, essentially a service industry, should be recognized for what it is – an export industry, part of Fiji’s main export and largest source of foreign exchange. Therefore, its promotion should be articulated as such to attract relevant incentives and concessions for its growth and sustainability. Secondly, this island economy is vulnerable as it grows and expands. The relevant development agency in the village: Dravuni Development Committee should now cease being on the sideline and actively offer its directional and supporting role to its Tourism Sub-Committee that has performed well above expectations notwithstanding the various constraints it has faced.