Stepping Up, Expanding Options

Christina in part of her plantation.

THE warmth with which Christina Tony greets you and her mounting excitement as she describes a typical day in her 20 years of being a farmer vendor in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, belies the backbreaking work that’s the foundation of her entrepreneurial trajectory.

The 44-year old was married by her 15th birthday and realized very quickly that she needed to an income to support her family. Christina chose to start at the market and has never looked back: today she owns a conference centre in her village of Arietakiki.

“I had a dream that I must have a conference centre when we were at your (Markets for Change) training. When we have government departments or business people come here, they don’t have to sit under a tree – they hire my conference centre,” Christina said.

Christina who hosted more than 100 groups in 2018 was a 2016 beneficiary of financial literacy and agriculture training provided by the Markets for Change Project which led to her business diversification and better agriculture practices. She does not use the slash and burn method to clear plantation land for example, and she has begun using compost rather than fertilizers.

A typical day begins with household chores before some planting; Christina plants pineapple, bean, tomato, and cabbage for the market. She prefers to harvest vegetables destined for the market early in the morning which she will carry to the road, a 20-minute walk which includes crossing a “bridge” of coconut tree trunks maintained by her family. Christina takes her cargo to the city in trucks which will cost her SB$100 (US$12.35).

UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) Project is a multi-country multi-stakeholder partnership principally funded by the Australian Government with recent support from the Government of Canada; UNDP is a project partner. The Markets for Change Project has a presence in three Pacific countries – Fiji, Solomon Island, and Vanuatu.

“Since I started going through the training, I know how to manage what I’ve earned. Before that, I spent without planning. Now we eat crops from the garden and only buy rice if we really need to. I now do record-keeping record,” Christina said. “What is left is what I save for my personal savings and also for medical bills or any other unforeseen problems that might arise at any time.”

Christina continues to sell crops at the market. She can earn as little as SB$100 or as much as SB$2000 (US$347.07) on any of the days she is at the market. Christina paid SI$17,800.00 (US$3088.92) for her centre from her savings, choosing not to take a loan. For her family, Christina now has a savings scheme where each person “banks” their savings which are recorded, and it is then distributed at the end of the year – if they wish to.

Christina enjoys being part of the Honiara Central Market Vendors Association because of how much it has enriched her; learning and witnessing practices by her counterparts that she could adapt to improve her own venture makes her happy. Christina shares her knowledge with other women in Arietakiki.

“My long-term goal is to have a homestay but for now, I am trying to organize a sewing training in my centre, so more women can learn something that can bring in some money for their families,” she said.

“I have not gone through any education, but I have tried my very best to have what is best for me and my family. Sometimes I struggle alone but I do my best to do what I am thinking of doing.”

The M4C Project supports financial literacy amongst vendors and market vendor associations and is supporting greater access to financial services, improved agricultural skills and in some cases, more secure agricultural skills. M4C works to ensure that marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory.

Christina attended the International Rural Women’s Day in Auki in 2017 as a member of the association; it was also her first visit to Malaita Province. Being a member of the association, she said has opened the door for her and her family to many positive changes including an increasing circle of like-minded entrepreneurial women.

While her biggest challenge as a business operator, for now, is transportation, Christina does not deny that there are improvements needed at the market itself. She would like to see more space created for example that would allow farmers to sell their produce as casual vendors. Waste management and market cleanliness is another aspect of the market that she would like to see improved.

But for now, she celebrates life: as a businesswoman who now owns a conference centre and is working herself slowly towards a homestay. “I really like the changes. Changes which I want to show to women within the rural areas. What is best for us women in the rural area to do? I do what I learn or what I want to do so that other women can see how it’s benefiting me and us family,” Christina said.

“I see how good it has been for me and I want these to come into the rural areas without learning from different people or whoever to come and give us the advice to do this and that – we have ourselves the thinking capacity and can propose and plan what we can do.”