Farm to table – the Tao of Kai

Having raised the profile of Samoan cuisine to dizzying heights, chef Robert Oliver is transforming traditional foods at the grassroots.

Dev Nadkarni

Award winning chef and author Robert Oliver is not one to rest on his laurels. The two-time winner of the world’s most prestigious cookbook awards for his Pacific-themed cookbooks (see box), the celebrity chef who grew up in Samoa and Fiji is passionate about leveraging this success for Samoa and other islands of the Pacific.

Robert Oliver with volunteers sorting organically grown veggies to be delivered to participating hotels of the farm to
Robert Oliver with volunteers sorting organically grown veggies to be delivered to participating hotels of the farm to table programme in Samoa. Pic: Dev Nadkarni

“The awards have sparked a genuine global interest in Pacific cuisines,” says Mr Oliver, who will be showcasing some of these at a major event on the margins of the SIDS conference. “Cultures around the world take pride in their cuisines. Take French cuisine, for instance. People travel all the way there to try it out. That’s what we need to do in the Pacific – make cuisine a sought after part of our tourist offering.”

Oliver is not just a chef and author. He is also a thinker and philosopher. While talking of the importance of packaging Pacific cuisines as a part of the general allure of Pacific destinations, he also values the role of local produce, smallholding growers and their traditional methods of farming, which are inherently natural and organic. He is also deeply concerned with the alarming incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Samoa and the Pacific.

“Cuisine is about people, identity, health, nutrition, livelihoods, the economy and of course the well being of the community,” he says passionately. “Many foods have deep traditional significance, which is also related to specific stages in the life of men and women. There is a whole of list of foods that facilitate lactation, rejuvenation and so on. We are in danger of losing that knowledge.”

The chef is working intensely on a project that touches all these aspects of food and cuisine. Along with the well-known Samoan NGO Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), he is working with a range of organic farmers to grow and supply produce to popular hotels and restaurants around Samoa. He is also working with chefs of five of these establishments to develop unique recipes inspired by traditional Pacific cuisines. “The idea is to get tourists to taste local, organic produce prepared traditionally with a twist that appeals to international palates,” he says.

The ‘Farm to Table’ project is gathering steam. More establishments are joining in the run up to the SIDS events. “It’s about building enduring relationships through the value chain,” he says. “From communities, to farmers, to chefs, right through to the consumer. Ultimately it is the whole country that benefits – not just in terms of realising tourism potential but also healthy eating and cultural pride.”

‘Samoa arrives on world cuisine stage’

“I didn’t win the award. Samoa won the award,” Oliver said when his second book based on the cuisines of the Pacific islands, ‘Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes from the Heart of Polynesia’, won one of the world’s most prestigious awards earlier this year.

The book, along with its associated television cooking show, Real Pasifik won the Gourmand Award for Best TV Chef Cookbook In The World 2013 at an award ceremony in Beijing. The globally sought after accolade is considered the Oscars of cookbooks, coming from the well-regarded house of Cointreau, the family that brought to the world the famous Cointreau liqueur, as well us the Cognacs Frapin and Rémy Martin. “It signals Samoa’s arrival on the world cuisine stage,” he says.

For Oliver and the Pacific, winning this award was a bit of de ja vu. For in 2010 his earlier tome titled Me’a Kai, the Pacific Island Cookbook was named the Best Cookbook of the Year at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris. The European media called it the gastronomic upset of the year. “We’d won the big one before so this year’s award was wholly unexpected,” says the passionate chef.

The book beat 187 participating countries. Of a shortlist of 94, 61 made it to the top three. Finalists were from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Winning the award a second time in such a short period of time only means there is something special about Pacific Island cuisine.

Natural ingredients, simplicity of preparation and cooking processes and a range of clean, subtle flavours directly reminiscent of the origins of the ingredients – the ocean and the pristine land – have proved a winning combination for the chef and Pacific cuisine.

– DN

First appeared in Islands Business magazine, September 2014

Spare a Tala for grassroots wisdom

Apia Diary

Dev Nadkarni

The longish drive from Faleolo Airport to downtown Apia is always a great opportunity for a grassroots view of the goings on in Samoa – especially when your driver, even if loquacious, is eloquently so. Views from the street are more often than not strongly biased toward the hoi polloi but they’re straight from the heart and valid opinions nonetheless. The cabbie barometer is one of the best tipping tools a scribe can ever have anywhere in the world. It’s always perceptive, even philosophical.

“From New Zealand?” asks chatty cabbie. Before I even utter ‘yes’, he continues: “Lived there a few years ago. Very nice place, nice people, nice roads, nice houses, but I came back in a year.” “Too cold?” I ask. “No. Cold is okay. Too expensive – you pay for everything, for eating, drinking, you need money for everything. Not like here. In New Zealand, no money, no life, no good.”

No need for money in Samoa? Not so much, he says. He lives in a nice ancestral home. There’s plenty of family, extended family and friends for support. There’s a patch to cultivate vegetables and fruit. There’s lots of fish. And it’s free. No money needed for day-to-day living. “Then how do you pay your bills?” I persist. “Sell the extra veggies and fruit by the side of the road, work a few hours, don’t work when you don’t need to, no pressure. See? Not like New Zealand.”

Come to think of it, all island societies – just like indigenous peoples elsewhere in the world – have not just survived but thrived without a monetary economy for millennia. And they’ve done so sustainably, without polluting, without taking more than what they need. They’ve grown food naturally and organically, without making a fuss of it or clamouring for some sort of expensive certification. They’ve treated ailments with traditional remedies and dealt with day-to-day problems with collective wisdom.

We first world slickers call that ‘subsistence living’ as though it were some lower form of existence. We desperately want to bring ‘up’ those living standards with ‘development’. Paid for by aid and cheap loans so that they may better participate in the modern global economy. So that they can pay for cheap, unhealthy high fat-salt-sugar-laden processed food and drink, which their digestive systems are scarcely attuned to. All of it produced in factories that belch carbon into the air, pollute the water and use questionable chemicals to prolong shelf life.

So, maybe the measurement and yardsticks of development ought to account for the harm it does to the traditional, natural lives that indigenous people have lived so well for a thousand years and more. Maybe Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, whom I meet and chat with later, is right about development yardsticks being seriously flawed, though his reasons might be somewhat different.

The worryingly high incidence of non-communicable diseases like type-II diabetes, a range of coronary ailments and runaway obesity rates are all consequences of development and of aligning with a modern, globalised economy. And then you find fault with ill equipped countries like Samoa, which also have inadequate human capacities to deal with these problems, of not achieving goals according to a one-size-fits-all standard that’s set by some ‘expert’ in some faraway ivory tower.

As we trundle along newly resurfaced roads to welcome some 3000 visitors from every corner of the world for the region’s biggest jamboree, I ask what he thinks of the event. “Very good for Samoa. Everyone will know Samoa. We learn from them and they learn from us.” What does he think ‘they can learn from us’? With a reflective glance over the endless ocean and with an ever so slight smirk he rather haltingly says, “If everyone lives like how we have always lived, everything will be all right.”

So earthy, so practical, so straight from the heart: but is the world listening? As it squabbles about how to prevent half-a-degree’s rise in temperature while fiercely arguing who will spew out less carbon, the still, small voice from the grassroots stays unheard.

Apt sobriquet

I quite like Samoa’s ‘model state’ sobriquet. It’s stable socially and politically, has reformed its economy slowly but in sure, small steps and has performed reasonably well in the development indices, though some might have a different view on this last bit. I often wonder what might be behind Samoa’s stolid social stability, unlike, say, that of Fiji’s, where things always seem to simmer beneath the surface.

As I meander through one of Apia’s bustling markets on a crowded Saturday morning I can’t help but notice the sheer diversity in facial features. Some are decidedly oriental. Some are completely Pacific island. Some are a bit of this and a bit of that. But unlike in other multiethnic melting pots anywhere in the world, everyone is called Samoan. There is no hyphenated, double-barrel description. Like Fijian-Indian or Indo-Fijian or Italian-American. There are no labels like Chinese-Samoan or German-Samoan in common parlance. Everyone is Samoan. Period.

One reason might well be that unlike Fiji Samoa doesn’t have to bear the cross of British colonialist legacies. Three powers fought over its territories in history – Germany, America and Britain. Fiji was ruled solely by the British, who left behind their toxic divide-and-rule legacy in many parts of the world: Fijian versus Indian just as in India it was Hindus versus Muslims. Which these divisions to this day continue to threaten havoc, both in Fiji and in India and in other former British colonies. Samoa was spared of that.

It’s a true melting pot. Chinese and European legacies are valued and celebrated but in the Samoan way. Absorption, accommodation and assimilation are the unique attributes of the Samoan way. But there is a new wave of immigrants that seems to be hitting Samoa’s shores and I notice them in bigger numbers during every subsequent visit. There are more Chinese coming in as businesspeople, traders, workers. Some Samoans are worried. They are unsure how this escalating influx will affect the Samoan way in the decades to come.

Meanwhile, everyone is excited about hosting the biggest show the country has ever seen. No one clearly knows what it all means and what benefits it will bring Samoans in the long run. When I ask the vendor selling fresh albacore and yellow-fin tuna in the Apia market, she does not quite know what SIDS is. Or how it will benefit her and her family.

But she thinks it will be good for her country that so many people are coming – she hopes they’ll take back good memories of Samoa with them. And pointing to the bright new twin cab van that roars into the parking lot says, “Maybe we’ll have some good sleep now on.” It’s the dog control van fresh from New Zealand that’s been in the headlines all morning.

First appeared in Islands Business magazine, September 2014

Reaping the whirlwind of terror

Views from Auckland

Dev Nadkarni

An ambitious king in ancient India, so the story goes, prayed fervently to the almighty to give him a soldier so powerful that no weapon could destroy him and whenever he raised his right hand over the head of an adversary or enemy, that enemy would instantly turn to a pile of ash and dust.

Pleased with the king’s sincere prayer, the almighty supplied him with a soldier called Bhasmasura, which means ‘the demon of ash’. He was a big and strong brute of a man donning impenetrable armour that would blunt any weapon and let him penetrate enemy ranks like a hot knife through butter. He would then head straight for the enemy king with his right hand raised and upon placing it above the defeated king’s head would reduce him to a pile of ash instantaneously.

And so it went on. The soldier helped the king annex kingdom after vanquished kingdom. The king could not believe his good fortune, now lording over every region he could set his eyes upon. He truly was lord of all he surveyed. Then one day the soldier realised that the king really drew all this power, glory and riches from his own magical super powers. Why should he be subservient to the king, he thought. He wanted to be the king instead of the king.

He tried to reason with the king, asking for a part of the kingdom for himself to rule over. The king of course refused. Needless to say, the negotiations broke down and soon the soldier approached menacingly toward the king, right hand raised. The king reached for his weapons and hurled them at the soldier with all the force and fury he could summon but to no avail. Then fearing the worst, he took to his heels with his soldier of great magical powers in hot pursuit.

The chase went on for several years, as the story goes, and took the duo to the very corners of the world, where in one such corner the king got a brief respite to hide, reflect and contemplate his next move. Having exhausted all options and at the end of his wits and ebbing physical strength and full of regret for asking such a dangerous weapon in the first place, he began to pray to the almighty again….

Modern day demons of ash

Unfortunately for the world today, versions of this parable are still being played out with tragic results. Only the characters have changed. The principles that are at play in the story are very much the same. Change the names and the tale is about us, about our times.

Last month former United States Secretary of State and future presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton quite candidly admitted a fact that the world has long come to believe: that the United States had created the global terror organisation al Qaeda. The US financed and armed the militant organisation in its early days to counter Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan. The militants fought soviet troops with American weaponry until the soviets left – though not least because of them.

In the process the US ended up creating a monster that ultimately turned its guns on American interests not only in the Middle East but even on American soil, culminating in the gruesome 9/11 tragedy when hijacked commercial airplanes took out the twin towers in New York and a section of the Pentagon. Symbolically, the attacks were on America’s financial and military power. Both targets were turned to ash. Well, almost.

The US is continuing on the same tack again, now in Syria. It is financing and arming factions against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which is really an upgraded version of al Qaeda. As we all know now, ISIS troops now hold sway over large swathes of both Iraq and Syria, having run over the western Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Mosul, and is now proving the toughest adversary to Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad.

It’s not just America

Creating and financing monsters is not America’s monopoly, though. Powers and leaders big and small have indulged in such power games with disastrous consequences personally or for their nations all over their world. Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi financed militants in the northwestern state of Punjab to embarrass the government in power.

When she was swept back to power in the next election, this militant faction became a headache for her, ultimately having to order a raid on a holy shrine where the militants’ command was holed up, for which she ended up being killed. Her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi did the same in Sri Lanka dallying with, financing and arming the deadly Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and, like his mother, also paid with his life just a few years later.

The common thread between al Qaeda and the Punjab and Sri Lankan separatists is that powerful leaders and governments financed, armed and propped them up for their own ulterior motives. The unintended consequence was identical in all these cases, the protégés turned upon their godfathers causing them and their people incalculable harm, spiraling multiple problems out of control with no one having a clue about how to order the menacing genie back into the bottle.

MH 17

Last month’s shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing triple seven over eastern Ukraine’s border with Russia is the latest episode in this theme. The Donetsk rebels are clearly funded, financed, armed and morally supported from across the border by Russia. Russia’s motive is clearly to weaken the administration in Ukraine after its widely criticised move over Crimea and the referendum, regarded by most of the world as a sham.

The rebels in Eastern Ukraine clearly are being encouraged to carve out a separate state to further dismember Ukraine with Russia’s not-so-covert help. The Buk missiles allegedly that brought the Malaysian jet down with nearly 300 innocent lives are not a plaything and need sophisticated operations for their deployment, which the rebels clearly do not have the competence and experience for. Russia’s fingerprints are all over the episode though it is trying to blame it all on a western conspiracy plot to discredit it.

The monster that Russia has created in Eastern Ukraine is the latest demon of ash that has claimed its first innocent victim in the form of 298 innocent people from several countries that had nothing whatsoever to do with the conflict.

How will it all end?

The king in our original story prayed once again to the almighty. Full of compassion, the almighty decided to help once again. Disguised as a beautiful woman, the almighty enticed the demon. Smitten by her charms, the demon fell on his knees and implored her to wish anything she wanted in turn for her affections. The woman asked him to pledge that he loved her by placing his right on his own head. Blinded by his infatuation he did likewise and was instantaneously turned to dust.

Unfortunately in the modern world, there is no such silver bullet available to us. But certainly what the world’s powers can do is rein in their overweening ambitions, wind down their power games and stop creating monsters, all for the greater good of the world. Else, they will keep reaping the ill whirlwind of terror.

First appeared in Islands Business magazine, August 2014

Time to add value to seasonal labour scheme

New Zealand’s successful seasonal labour programme must move up to the next level.

Dev Nadkarni

One of the more significant announcements during Prime Minister John Key’s visit to three Pacific Island countries last month is that New Zealand will allow more seasonal workers from the islands to work on the country’s farms. Numbers are likely to rise from the current 8000 to a shade more than 10,000 in the next couple of years. This will further boost remittances – the single biggest revenue earner for many Pacific Island nations.

New Zealand’s Recognised Employer Scheme (RSE) is an acclaimed success story that has created a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Launched in a small way 2007, the scheme has grown from strength to strength. It has been studied in several countries around the world as a model scheme in seasonal migration, contributing to economic development in both source and host countries.

One of the biggest impediments in the way of regional seasonal migration schemes all over the world is the fear of illegal immigration – the strong possibility of workers simply disappearing into the countries at the end of their visa duration to become illegal over stayers. However, the New Zealand experience has proved otherwise, mainly because of the way it has been designed, especially with the intention to minimise such eventualities.

To quote from a World Bank commissioned study of the RSE scheme conducted by the University of Waikato, “The design features of the programme and the low rate of overstaying have already led to this policy being heralded as international best practice. The large development impacts seen here should further foster the case for other countries to consider similar policies.” This is nothing short of an expert endorsement of the scheme for implementation elsewhere.

Better productivity, greater investment

Research conducted by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2012 says that at least 95 per cent of the farm sector RSE scheme employers believe that their participation has resulted in better quality and more productive workers and a more stable workforce than in previous years. Seventy-five per cent extended their cultivation areas since 2007, with 77 per cent of these saying participation in the scheme was a factor in their decision to expand.

Probably the best finding from the point of view of Pacific Island participants in the scheme – Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Kiribati – which have been sending their workers over the years is summed up in this sentence from the report: “Employers universally rated their Pacific workers as dependable, productive and enthusiastic.” (RSE Monitoring: Key findings from the 2012 Employers’ Survey).

Participation in the scheme has resulted in more than just accolades for Pacific Island nations. One of the conclusions of the World Bank commissioned study quoted above says, “Participating in the RSE has raised incomes in both Tonga and Vanuatu, allowed households to accumulate more assets, increased subjective standards of living, and, additionally in Tonga, improved child school attendance for older children. Communities also seem to have received modest benefits, in terms of monetary contributions from workers, with community leaders overwhelmingly viewing the policy as having an overall positive impact.”

Pacific Islands Trade & Invest NZ, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s trade and investment arm’s office in New Zealand, which has been involved with the RSE scheme since inception lists numerous small inward investment projects in Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga as a result of workers’ participation in the scheme. In March this year this year, a unique joint venture private sector enterprise between a RSE worker and his Kiwi employer began operations on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island.

Vinepower, a Marlborough based viticultural contracting company and its long time ni-Vanuatu RSE employee Seth Kaurua have set up Tanna Famas, which will grow and export coffee and high quality coconut oil for niche markets in New Zealand. Likewise, workers from the island of Santo have invested in a community transport and fishing boat, while workers from Samoa have invested in a bus to service a remote area of their island. It is heartening to see a RSE worker put not only his capital but also the skills he has learned in New Zealand into a JV with his own employer in his native country. This trend needs to be encouraged.

Boosting skills, entrepreneurship

Skills development could well be a worthy adjunct to the RSE scheme for encouraging greater economic development in the home countries. For instance, selected workers already in New Zealand on valid work visas could receive additional training in the trades or skills not easily found back home. This is already being done at a fairly basic level. Workers are being given training in financial management, banking and investing in micro enterprises at short workshops. Two and three days’ programmes teaching other skills have also been added to the mix. But it needs to be scaled up.

To begin with, New Zealand’s many government owned polytechnics and institutes of technology could be tapped to deliver customised, short term (six to 12 week long) courses on trades like carpentry, plumbing and building, to name only a few. This could either be done at the site of their seasonal work or at nearby campuses (the government has more than two dozen such institutes scattered across the country, many in rural areas). A selection process for the right kind of students will have to be put in place. Visa issues will also have to be worked out by involving the immigration authorities.

RSE workers who complete the courses satisfactorily have the potential to grow into a potentially valuable human resource back in their home countries. They would have the knowhow to set up small businesses back home, work to earn an income in the offseason periods and transfer their knowledge to others to run a yearlong enterprise, even if they have to return to New Zealand to work the next season. Also, local building skills, for example, could prove valuable in the aftermath of natural disasters – a fairly common occurrence in the cyclone season.

Such an upgrade to an already successful programme such as the RSE scheme would prove quite meaningful as an effective economic development initiative using the human resources route. Indeed, this would be a living instance of the old adage of teaching a man to fish rather than arranging to give him one every day.

First appeared in the July 2014 issue of Islands Business magazine

Slumbering elephant stirs

India, often described as a sleeping elephant in contrast to the Chinese dragon, has thrown up a clear verdict for change. With a new prime minister and an all-new government, what will this mean for the world – and the Pacific?

Dev Nadkarni

Last month the world’s largest democracy delivered it’s most decisive verdict in three decades, completely belying the prognoses of political pundits of all hues. An overwhelming majority of India’s voters sent a loud and clear message to the political class: they were fed up with the status quo and wanted big changes in the world’s second most populous nation. Does this signal the stirring of the proverbial slumbering elephant?

The Indian elections are a statistical spectacle that has always held the free world spellbound. It is the biggest political logistic exercise anywhere in the world. The latest polls had 815 million eligible voters, 935,000 polling stations, 11 million election officials, 8250 candidates contesting 543 seats, in an election process that ran from April 7 to May 12, the longest ever. The voting was totally paperless with the deployment of more than 1.7 million electronic voting machines. At more than 66 per cent, this election saw the biggest voter turnout ever – underscoring the steely determination of the Indian public to vote for change.

Unambiguous verdict

The results were declared on May 16 and the country’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was declared the winner with a clear majority. The Congress party, which has been in power for most of the years since the country’s independence, suffered the worst ever loss in its history. For the first time in thirty years, the electorate has delivered so clear a verdict that the winning party will need no coalition support from its allies. It can govern on its own. On May 26, Narendra Modi, who led the party to this decisive victory, became India’s new Prime Minister.

In many ways, this election has been a game changer for India and its dealings with the world. For one, the voting public has put the dynastically ruled Congress Party and its corruption tainted leaders out to pasture. It has swept to power a humble, former street tea vendor to the country’s highest office – something that has not only never happened before but was inconceivable given the Nehru-Gandhi family’s dynastic hold on the upper echelons of India’s politics.

The previous regime was racked with dozens of mega corruption scandals running into billions of dollars, involving almost every core industry sector ranging from mining and energy to telecommunications and infrastructure. India, once touted as the second fastest growing economy, with near double digit growth rates at the turn of the century, has slowed down to almost half that. Infrastructure growth is lagging behind and the country’s institutions, its bureaucracy and its workforce are in dire need of modernisation.

Negative portrayal belied

Prime Minister Modi has been widely portrayed as being a hardline right wing politician and has been accused of complicity in a major communal conflagration in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat where he has been the chief minister for 12 years. The fact that India’s supreme court has exonerated him has not convinced a section of his critics. But now the silent Indian voter, with such an unambiguous verdict, has all but silenced even his bitterest critic.

The campaign against Mr Modi and his party was so strong that several countries including the United States and the United Kingdom denied him visas while they had no qualms about laying out the red carpet to proven political rogues from other parts of the world. These two powerful countries, too, have been delivered a firm message by the Indian voter through the most democratic of processes – a message they simply cannot ignore. And they haven’t: just hours after the results were declared last month, both countries shamefacedly extended invitations to Mr Modi to visit them.

Analysts and long time India watchers see this election as a turning point in the country’s history, not only internally within the country and not just with its neighbours, with many of whom it has had difficult relationships, but also with the rest of the world. Throughout his election campaign, Mr Modi has stressed on inclusiveness and even in this most decisive of election victories has invited dialogue with an all but decimated opposition.

Mantra of inclusiveness

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif became the first ever prime minister of his country to attend the oath taking ceremony of an Indian prime minister. Prime ministers of nearly all the SAARC countries, too, attended. It is widely believed that Mr Modi will most likely look east before he looks west. Reports indicate that the Chinese dragon seems happy to play ball with the stirring elephant: it is looking forward to the new dispensation in New Delhi and to building new bridges with a fresh administration that is widely seen as being far more business friendly and efficient than the one before.

India’s old ties with Russia are also likely to be strengthened. An India-Russia-China counterweight to the west looks more possible now than at any stage before in history. In his television interviews in the run up to the polls, he has talked about improving relations with countries across the world following the ancient Indian concept of ‘the world is truly one family’. He has talked extensively, particularly about reaching out to nations that are now home to India’s nearly 30 million strong diaspora scattered across the globe. That includes countries like Fiji, Mauritius, the Maldives, Suriname, the Caribbean states, among others.

Opportunities for the Pacific

There is great hope among Indians as well as the rest of the world that the country’s stalled business reforms will continue and Indian business will be far more integrated into the world economy than before. This presents a great opportunity for the Pacific Islands region just as it does for many other countries. Just as the region has developed deep links with China, which is now beginning to bear fruit for the islands, it can now look with hope to another huge marketplace of a billion people and more.

Indian businesses are slowly but surely increasing their presence in the region. There are several Indian firms operating in Papua New Guinea and looking for opportunities further into the Pacific. Indian professionals are also known the world over for their work ethic, pragmatism, entrepreneurship and innovative styles of doing business. Their ability to communicate in the English language makes it easier for them to work with the rest of the world. This is an asset that the region can leverage, just as the US and the UK have over the past few decades.

Now is a better time than ever before for the Pacific’s leadership to think in terms of setting up a collective presence for the region in New Delhi particularly with a view to attracting investment in the region and promoting trade. The Pacific region as a whole, bar Fiji, has been a bit of a blind spot for Indian administrations in the past. That needs to be corrected if the region is to benefit from the new, forward-looking Indian Government.

First appeared in the June 2014 issue of Islands Business

That was too soon a deadline, bosso

Dev Nadkarni

Exactly a decade ago to the day, on April 18, 2004, when I emailed my first ever Views from Auckland column to Laisa for the May 2005 issue of this magazine, little did I imagine that my tenth anniversary column would be her tribute. In fact, when I called from Auckland to wish her on her birthday on January 15 this year, she reminded me that 2014 was my column’s tenth year. Ever since, I’ve been wondering what the theme for my anniversary column for the May issue should be. Laisa, like many times before, gave me the idea – but in such a sad way, this once. And to think that Bosso won’t even be reading it…

Laisa’s trademark wink-and-smirk, known to so many of us, was her way of saying, “You’re on… just go ahead and do it!”
Laisa’s trademark wink-and-smirk, known to so many of us, was her way of saying, “You’re on… just go ahead and do it!”

Laisa’s professionalism and work ethic always held me in awe. In her final weeks, she wanted to work as long as she would be able to. When she was too frail to travel to work, she insisted that a small office be set up at her home. It was done but sadly, it did not work out well but Laisa did not give up. The last issue of this magazine left the presses on April 3. Her colleagues rushed with an advance copy to her home. Though she was too weak to meet with them, her son Aisake leafed through the copy for her that evening. He later said she smiled and then went to sleep. She passed away the next morning.

Her ability to plan ahead and work simultaneously on as many as six titles on an average workday was simply superhuman. Ever the meticulous planner, Laisa had the cover story for this magazine’s April issue written well in advance in March. In what can only be a strong premonition of the inevitable that April 4 was to bring, she not only held that cover story back but also had several extra stories prescheduled for April. “A major reason why the Islands Business team was able to come out early with the April edition is basically because of Laisa’s immaculate forward planning and impressive work ethic,” says Samisoni Pareti, who held the fort for Bosso.

Laisa was a tremendous leader. She led from the front but never making her presence felt. She never asserted authority but nobody ever forgot she was in charge. Her steely strength and firmness had a strong undercurrent of compassion. That compassion extended well beyond her colleagues, coworkers and circle of friends to the common folk of Fiji and the Pacific. It wasn’t hard to see that she had her ear on the ground for them and her heart beat for them. Like all true leaders she commanded respect – never demanded it.

With her sharp intellect she could analyse a situation threadbare to suggest a story angle or a stand for comment. A cool head on those strong shoulders, she was a great listener, too, never afraid of standing corrected if she had made an erroneous assumption. But whenever she disagreed, she never let it come in the way of her friendships. As mentor and senior colleague, Laisa had the capability to bring out the best in her team. She did it most unobtrusively but firmly and with a great conviction that sometimes surpassed a junior’s own confidence to carry out the task.

It was Laisa who persuaded me to take on assignments I never thought I would ever do because of what I saw as my lack of knowledge and experience about the region in my early days. She once phoned me out of the blue in Auckland and told me in no uncertain terms – in true bosso style – that she thought she believed I could take on writing this magazine’s leader columns. I would have never attempted to do that hadn’t she encouraged me.

Self-effacing and humble to a fault, Laisa never ever sought the limelight. Not many knew until they read her tributes that she was Fiji’s first ever woman newspaper editor. Nor did many know that she was an ace sprinter who represented her beloved country in the Commonwealth Games. She editorially helmed nearly a dozen magazines with varying frequencies concurrently for several years. I wondered how this one-woman powerhouse worked with so many deadlines, often simultaneously. When I once asked her, she made light of it. Small wonder that some of her emails were time stamped 0145 and 0215 hours.

She was so good at spotting trends and discussing current affairs issues that many times I felt she should have done more writing than she actually did. But editorial management and production editing (including rewriting contributors’ pieces) became such a big part of her long, long workday that it must have left little time for her to write anything more than her monthly, much looked forward to ‘Letter from Suva’.

Despite the workload, she was unflappable, composed and always had her wit, humour and smiles about her. Her trademark smirk-and-wink, which I was lucky to capture in this picture in 2005, was her way of saying ‘You’re on’. Her ability to mingle with everybody around her was worth emulating. I do not understand Fijian but her conversations with others that I overheard resulted in peals and guffaws of hearty laughter, a testimony to her earthy and highly infectious sense of humour. Her photos on Facebook tagged by others (Laisa couldn’t be bothered putting them up herself) show how much of a family and people’s person she was. Busy workweeks notwithstanding, she made time for her near and dear ones and for her friends.

Laisa was one of the first persons I got to know when I arrived in Fiji to teach journalism at the University of the South Pacific. In my very second week in the country, she invited me to lunch with her friend and then PINA manager Seini Lakai. I remember that lazy afternoon repast, where we got to know about each other better. She invited me to contribute to Islands Business straightaway and I did. She introduced me to her publisher and the doyen of journalism in the Pacific, the late Robert Keith-Reid and to Godfrey Scoullar. Those early, animated discussions with Laisa and Robert set me on the path of my continuing writing stint in the region.

Laisa undoubtedly had what they call a high emotional quotient. Most of my interaction with her after I left Suva to live in Auckland was by phone and email. During our conversations three or four times a month to discuss editorial content, she would make it a point to enquire after my family, particularly my 92-year-old father. She once told me she had great respect for him because he was an author and journalist from a previous era, though she had never met him.

I will miss speaking with Bosso every month as will I miss her emails suggesting ideas, angles and editorial stands and her reminders asking me to send copy by deadline, always with the subject line “Desperately waiting for your copy”.

It is only because I have tried my best to emulate her sense of commitment and work ethic and to live up to her expectations – and because of her compassion, understanding and her faith in me and in my work, that I have never ever let her down.

RIP, Bosso.

This column first appeared in Islands Business Magazine, May 2014

‘The end is nigh,’ say rocket scientists

Dev Nadkarni

That grim, much-derided prediction of impending apocalypse that has provided satirical grist to many a cartoonist’s mill – so often depicting an unkempt, placard-carrying vagrant picketing the street – was last month elevated to the status of rocket science. Literally. Research funded by no less hallowed an institution as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has predicted that our civilisation is in terminal decline. Not many of us will be around to welcome the dawn of the next century, apparently.

The way we have been destroying our environment over the past couple of centuries and the way climate change – man made or not – is ravaging us, we don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that we’re all heading for trouble. Big trouble. But when an organisation like NASA, full of rocket scientists besides other nerdy, brainy sorts, gets associated with what claims to be a serious study proposing that we’re all doomed, the world does take notice.

The study draws parallels between several past civilisations that declined and disappeared, some of them mysteriously, many of them for good reasons – and compares them with the challenges that our civilisation finds itself confronting. Again, most of the findings are more common sense than rocket science: too many people chasing dwindling resources, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots upsetting the social status quo leading to war, disease, chaos and ultimately, decimation.

Instances of past civilisations going down the tube are legion. From the highly progressive Nabta Playa people who disappeared in about 6000 BCE around what is now Egypt, through the great Indus Valley civilisation (India/Pakistan/Afghanistan) that is believed to have gone to seed around 1900 BCE to the Khmers (in today’s Cambodia) and the Incas (in modern Peru) well into the Christian era, history is littered with vanished civilisations. The list is endless: Romans, Guptas, Mesopotamians, Mauryas, Han….

Nearer home in the Pacific, we have the lost Nan Madol civilisation in Pohnpei, Micronesia, the vanished people who built the giant Pulemelei stone structure on the island of Savai’i in Samoa and of course the much written about disappearance of the great stone statue erectors of Rapa Nui or Easter Island. These sites and stories have been the subject of countless books, novels, films and television shows and have inspired dozens of Hollywood blockbusters – all feeding the insatiable human appetite for conspiracy theories ranging from alien abductions to simply mysterious disappearances.

According to the NASA funded study, many civilisations declined and disappeared because they became unsustainable – ecologically, economically and socially. As resources became scarcer, the top echelons of society cornered and hoarded them because of their wealth and power over the lower rungs of the masses. It was only a question of time when the deprived hoi polloi became restive and violently militant upsetting societal equilibrium. That inevitably resulted in warfare, undermining of the law and order system, breakdown of the social code, eventually spiraling out of control into complete chaos.

However, there is one big difference between all these civilisations of the past that declined and disappeared and our own modern one. While these past societies were separated by vast swathes of both eras and geographical distances, our present civilisation has grown to become a global one and seemingly seamless, encompassing the entire planet. Thanks to communications technology, the world today is more connected than at any time before in the history of mankind. Besides, every other field of technology has progressed in the past 100 years enough to make our world look as if it is completely integrated.

So is this one important difference between our own civilisation and the ones that disappeared before our times enough for us to assume that we will not follow them into the abyss of forgotten histories and survive forever? Is our civilisation safe because it is so widespread and appears so well integrated globally? Will our mastery over technology and the fabulous promise of new discoveries being made in so many critical fields affecting us all over the next few decades insulate us from terminal decline?

While it is tempting to argue that our civilisation is indeed different from those before us because of its wide spread and all these scientific and technological achievements, we must note that we have failed to address the three main reasons that the researchers say why civilisations disappear – over population, the decline of sustainable practices and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Despite all our so-called economic progress, income gaps have continually widened in much of the world and we have been living well beyond our means as far as resources go for several decades now. Even more crucially, in the pursuit of “better” living standards, we have not only dug deep into the earth and plumbed the depths of the oceans for natural resources but have also polluted our ecosystems unsustainably. Many scientists believe we have already reached the point of no return as far as environmental degradation goes.

Exponential population growth, dwindling resources and the simultaneous drive to improve living standards fuelling consumption is the very cocktail of circumstances that killed civilisations in the past. It has nothing to do with the size and extent of civilisations. It is all about sustainability – learning to live within one’s means.

Unfortunately, our diehard capitalistic civilisation’s yardstick measures success the other way: it’s more about growth, greater production and greater consumption leading, of course, to greater profits. The realisation that all this comes at an unsustainable cost – dwindling, irreplaceable resources that ultimately tip natural systems out of kilter – is willfully glossed over. As long as the only yardstick of capitalistic success remains pure and simple “growth” of statistical things like GDP and stock market indices, the relentless plunder of natural resources and the pollution of the environment will continue unabated.

And the non-inclusiveness that is ever so subtly built into the capitalistic system will ensure that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer. Small wonder, then, that the total food wasted at the consumption stage in developed countries is equal to the total food production of the poorest countries in Africa: one billion go to bed hungry each night.

As the study points out, the signs that we too will join the vanished civilisations are all there: overweening greed and excessive exploitation and consumption on the one hand, and exploding populations, social exclusion and environmental degradation on the other.

Maybe there’s a conspiracy theory here somewhere. The rocket scientists at NASA perhaps funded this study to strengthen their case for their métier – interplanetary travel: set up colonies on the moon, Mars or further afield now that civilisation on Planet Earth seems doomed. What an opportunity to begin civilisation all over again on a clean slate on a new planet….

Never underestimate rocket scientists!

First appeared in the April issue of Islands Business magazine.

Climate Karma – chickens come home to roost?

Dev Nadkarni

According to popular climate change lore, the continuous spewing of carbon and harmful greenhouse gases over nearly 200 years, primarily by western nations, is what has caused the earth to warm up irrevocably these past few decades. This warming has caused polar ice caps and continental glaciers to melt like ice cream on a hot tin roof. Different climate scientists have come out with different estimates at different times about how much this melting will cause sea levels to rise over the next century or so.

Estimates vary from a couple of metres to several tens of metres. Scary scenarios have been painted about what the world map and the world’s demographics will look like in 100 years. Famines, water shortages, mass migration, wars, natural catastrophes, even apocalypse have all been predicted with all manner of scientific modeling. The direst of these contend that only 20 per cent of humanity will live to see the year 2100.

At climate change meets down the years, small island states and countries that perceive themselves as being vulnerable to rising sea levels have repeatedly complained that they are being made to pay for the centuries long abuse of the environment by the industrialised world. Countries like Tuvalu have leveraged the emotive appeal of this argument to drum up support from governments and world development organisations.

A few years ago, even Queen Elizabeth said in a speech that the world’s poor were suffering the effects of climate change for no fault of theirs and because of the industrial pollution caused by the relentless growth ambitions of the industrial western world. Rising sea levels has all along been seen as the single most devastating effect of climate change – and low lying coastal areas and small island states have been seen as those being the first to be affected.

The poor, impoverished, far flung, low lying nations of the world being made to suffer because of the careless, callous profligacy of the rich nations! What a travesty of the Karmic principle, if ever there was one. ‘Make them pay’ – that was the refrain of the small nations at the receiving end of the effects of climate change.

Under growing pressure and perhaps out of some desire to clean up the world after them and probably their conscience, large mitigation and adaptation funds were announced and pledged to help the soon to be inundated little people. The actual funds, however, have been long in coming for a variety of reasons – political, economic and scientific, besides others.

But Karma might still be at work, as might be the wont of the fatalistically inclined to say. Over the past few years, freak wild weather largely attributed to climate change has affected the developed western world much more and immediately than the anticipated effects of sea level rise. Typhoons, king tides, polar blasts, heat waves, droughts unprecedented flooding and other unusually inclement weather have badgered much of the developed world.

Many of these weather incidents have been described as once in 500 years events. The high temperatures caused by heat waves in California and Australia in recent times was predicted for the 2030s, according to climate change models. The flooding in the United Kingdom, particularly around London and the southeast, are the worst in recent history and authorities fear there might be even worse inundation coming.

It seems as though climate change modeling, at least as reported in the world media, was hitherto too focused on sea level rise and the potential inundation of coastal and small islands’ population. Not much attention was paid to the rapidity of changing weather patterns and whether that is directly linked to climate change.

With this rash of disasters in the past six to eight months almost on every continent, the threat of the effects of climate change seem much more urgent and all pervading rather than confined to attention paid to measuring a few millimetres’ rise of sea levels around far flung islands. If the link of these recent disasters with climate change is established beyond doubt for politicians and those inclined to deny climate change – whether natural or manmade – the approach to tackling climate change and the attitude of the industrial nations will undoubtedly change.

For the first time since the climate dialogues began, the industrial world has been rattled by such a first hand experience of climate change. It is no longer some distant bogey, which is going to affect tiny, idyllic islands in the middle of some ocean somewhere at some unspecified time in the future. These events are ferocious, threatening, and more importantly, happening in their very countries – that, too, repeatedly.

The two polar blasts that have snowed out Canada, the United States and Japan in the northern winter  – incessant snowfalls in -40 degree cold is an extremely rare event. But it has happened. Not once but twice. Weather scientists are now saying there will be more unpredictable instances of wild weather. Weather patterns have changed so dramatically and suddenly that even the staunchest of climate change deniers will find it hard to delink such events with the effects of climate change.

The question is no longer whether climate change is natural or anthropogenic or a bit of both. The fact is that it is happening here and now – whatever may be the reason, it is reality and it is devastating. Perhaps there is little that can be done to stop it from happening so repeatedly. Perhaps it is too late and whatever we might attempt to do now is too little. But what can undoubtedly be done is step up preparedness to meet the challenges that disasters will bring in their wake.

“Money is no object,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron, when his Government was accused of doing too little too late to prevent the never before seen flooding around London. The British Royals provided Social Media with viral fodder as they chipped in to sandbag towns threatened by the flooding. The wild weather both in the US and the UK have shown how poorly prepared even the industrialised west is to face up to sudden, calamitous events.

These events as well as the ones that will inevitably follow, according to weather experts and climate scientists, bring a sense of immediacy like never before to the political and economic business of dealing with the effects of climate change. Natural disasters don’t follow the boundaries of political geography. Any preventative strategy has to be global and must encompass all regions and peoples.

These extreme weather events of the past few months might yet prove to be instrumental in changing the way the rich nations look at climate change financing and mitigation and adaptation strategies for the world at large during future climate change meets. This may well be the time when the rich nations put the money where their mouth is, to walk the talk – time is clearly running out, if it hasn’t run out already.

First appeared in the March 2014 edition of Islands Business magazine

The Davos charade

Dev Nadkarni

As the world’s super rich and ultra influential movers and shakers rub shoulders at the hardy annual that is the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the champions of the world’s have-nots do everything they can to give them as big a guilt complex as possible. But in a world in which Gordon Gecko and The Wolf of Wall Street – who have no use for anything even remotely resembling a moral compass – are role models worthy of emulation, is there anything that could entice them away from the dollar paved path leading to the temple of the goddess of greed?

This year a bleeding heart NGO used statistics with some effect. Just before the January forum, the global media went wild with stories about the world’s 85 richest people having as much wealth as the poorest half of all humans on earth. The Oxfam report, which sought to highlight rising inequality across the world also found that just one per cent of the world’s population owns 65 times the total wealth of those in the bottom half of wealth distribution. This one per cent owns some $110 trillion – about half the world’s accounted wealth.

While economists and analysts are divided on the assumptions, premises, methodology and even sources on which these statements are based, the report has brought back to centrestage debates such as whether true egalitarianism in free market democracies is achievable realistically; if dire poverty can really be wiped out within a capitalistic framework; if a more equitable redistribution of wealth can be achieved democratically to avoid utterly preventable problems that plague over a billion humans – such as hunger, health, shelter, hygiene, education and livelihoods.

This year, Pope Francis addressed the Davos jamboree telling the uber influential attendees to ensure that humanity was served by wealth, not ruled by it. The Pope called for “ … decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” Also among the other sideshows, I believe there were meditation sessions, which the participants could attend to develop ‘mindfulness’.

All very noble and humbling initiatives, indeed – but can such altruistic intention be translated into action that can make a difference? Some eminent non-business leaders who attended Davos have said that nearly every attendee they interact with agrees on a personal level that something needs to be done to bring the downtrodden half of the world’s population up to speed with the haves, but most plead their inability to do so because of all sorts of reasons, blaming it on the system, legislation, political compulsions, commercial sensitivity and legal issues.

This is a cop out. When it suits them, these same movers and shakers leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of their personal or corporate goals, often cutting legal and legislative corners to amass billions of dollars in profits, commissions and bonuses. Often, this is paid for by taxes from that very bottom half for whom they profess sympathy, wearing their hearts on their sleeves at events like Davos.

The Davos meeting gets together some 2500 of the world’s top political and business leaders, intellectuals, academics and journalists, among others to discuss the some of the most urgent issues the world faces – and that includes poverty, health and the environment besides others. While Davos serves as the place to be for the world’s political and financial glitterati, it also generates a great deal of intellectual debate around it. Yet, it has little to show in terms of the difference it has made to the mass of humanity whose cause it purports to champion. But then, all the mutual backslapping seems to have certainly made a difference to the likes that attend the event.

Consider this: According to the report, the world’s richest one per cent increased their share of income between 1980 and 2012 in 24 out of the 26 countries where the data is available. Believe it or not – and this may or may not be coincidental – that is almost exactly when the annual Davos event started. Before that, say statisticians, the wealth gap between the rich and the poor was not as wide as it is today, meaning that inequality levels were far less then. It also coincides with the time that the world plunged headlong into free market driven policies and that’s also when globalisation began in right earnest.

The report also points out a more recent phenomenon: in the United States, the wealthiest one per cent cornered 95 per cent of the post global financial crisis growth, while the bottom 90 per cent became poorer. Which only means that no lessons have been learned from the global financial crisis and that the financial world is well on its way back to its old habits. One asset manager speaking at a panel discussion in Davos said that some banks were still leveraging as much as sixty per cent of their capital in dealing with risky financial products like the GFC-tainted derivatives.

Irrespective of what the real motivations behind the timing of the Oxfam report were, it succeeded in bringing the debate around the relevance of the annual Davos event into the public discourse just before and after the high profile meet. While the gathering no doubt brings some of the world’s most influential people to the snowy Swiss destination every January, its true potential as regards making a positive difference to the world’s most disadvantaged – which indeed is its touted raison d’etre – remains grossly underutilised. Small wonder, then, that critics rather harshly contend that it is a place to achieve little more than strengthen the old boys’ network.

Interestingly, at about the same time as this report made the rounds of the global media last month, Microsoft founder and the world’s wealthiest man Bill Gates said that there would not be any poor country by the year 2035. He said there were more desperately poor countries while he was growing up than there are today. In 20 years time, there would only be a handful of abjectly poor nations, he believes. Clearly, the definition of ‘poverty’ needs an upgrade. It’s all a matter of perspective.

As a perceptive economist put it: a person in a poor country can get into a debt of say $10,000 and pay it off over a lifetime because of high interest and his low income. A person in a rich country can possibly get into a debt of $200,000 and pay it off for a lifetime despite lower interest and his higher income (but because of the comparatively higher cost of living). The difference is that the person in the rich country has the choice of getting into more debt because of willing lending banks. But at the end of it, what their net worth over their lifetimes is zero – the assets are all essentially owned by that top one per cent of the world’s richest.

See you at next year’s meeting to save the world.

First appeared in the February 2014 edition of Islands Business magazine

New magazine shines light on Pacific’s health issues

Dev Nadkarni

It has been known for some time now that people of Pacific island origin living in New Zealand find themselves overrepresented in health-related statistics – particularly around lifestyle ailments. Three in every five Pacific Islanders is obese, three times more islanders have diabetes and markedly more Pacific people have oral and mental health issues than other groups.

This is a major worry for New Zealand’s health authorities and while the concerned government ministries have continuing information dissemination and awareness generation programmes across different media, there has not been a regular, periodic media vehicle to address Pacific health concerns aimed at the general Pacific Island audience in the country.

A new quarterly magazine titled ‘Pacific Peoples Health’ launched in January 2014 plans to change that. Oceania Media, which has published the popular and successful six-issues a year Spasifik magazine for a decade now, is the team behind this new, more specialised offering. Publisher and editor Innes Logan says there has been a growing demand for covering more health stories over the past few years.

“I think there has been a general acceptance with the way we cover health stories – we don’t shirk from the stats but provide stories which our people engage in. For Pacific people, the lack of engagement and access to the health system has been one of the barriers,” Logan told Islands Business. Planned as a quarterly, the magazine also has an online edition.

Asked about the wisdom behind a conventional, paper-based magazine in the age of the tablet and smartphone Logan said, “I believe print still has its value. People spend more time reading print rather than online where it’s easier to get sidetracked. It’s amazing how many people who have seen it online have requested a hard copy.”

The magazine is distributed at retail outlets nationwide without a cover price and is available on subscription. “The sheer size of the [health] problem meant we needed to engage with more of the population. So we increased the print run and have calculated on gaining more advertising to cover the costs. Like all such ventures, there’s risk, but the initial response has been great and we’re confident it will pay off,” Logan added.

The first issue covers a mixture of key health issues that affect the community (the recently published Child Poverty Report, aged care, dangers of fizzy drinks); personal stories (Samoan rugby player Peter Fatialofa’s untimely death); inspirational people (48-year-old Auckland father of six Andrew Fifita-Lamb, who ran the 160-kilometre round the mountain race in Taranaki wearing only homemade jandals); statistics; healthcare tips; key contacts related to healthcare and fitness besides other content.

At present, Spasifik’s small editorial team puts together the new magazine along with a couple of contributors. “But we’ll look to have more specialists providing their contribution is suitable for a mass audience,” Logan said.

Pacific organisations in the islands as well as from the growing Pacific communities in Australia and the United States have contacted Oceania Media since the launch of the new magazine. “They don’t have access to the in-depth health stats New Zealand accumulates for its population but they say the stats in their country would be even worse – particularly the US Pacific community. The stats are still relevant to the islands. I’d like to see it available in the islands,” Logan said.

Though it is early days, Logan said the magazine has been received positively. “Readers generally like the mix of content, and they’re generally more responsive to a ‘by Pacific, for Pacific’ approach.” Stressing the importance of the ‘by Pacific, for Pacific’ approach he said, “For a variety of reasons many Pacific people have an instant expectation that mainstream media coverage on such issues will be generally negative and brown-beating. That expectation isn’t always justified but such perceptions will prevent worthwhile engagement from the outset.”

Logan is confident the new magazine will go some way in making a difference to Pacific people’s attitude to healthcare issues. “With the initial feedback and our longstanding track record with Spasifik, I genuinely believe it can and will make a difference. Providing attractive, engaging, accurate and relevant content and making it free and accessible, which is key,” he said.

Alarming stats

Sixty-two per cent, which translates to three in every five Pacific island adults being obese. It is a rate two and a half times as high as non-Pacific people. With one in ten diagnosed with diabetes, three times more islanders have this debilitating lifestyle disease than the non-Pacific population. Importantly, almost half of the at-risk Pacific population remains to be diagnosed. So the real scenario could be far more alarming.

Poor choices in food and drink and a lack of preventative dental care measures cause both Pacific adults and children to have a higher rate of teeth removal due to decay or other factors than non-Pacific adults and children while Pacific adults have a higher rate of mental health issues. Dwellings of Pacific island people have also been found to be of a poorer standard in terms of insulation and air circulation leading to more allergies and respiratory tract infections.   

The problem is compounded by the fact that Pacific Islanders also find themselves among the lowest earning segment in New Zealand’s income pecking order. Costs and transportation issues are the reason why nearly a third of Pacific adults cannot have their primary healthcare needs met over a 12-month period, studies show. Pacific people made up 6.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population in 2006. Their numbers are estimated to grow to 10 per cent by 2023.

Pacific Peoples Health can be accessed online at

First appeared in Islands Business Magazine, February 2014