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A resilient journey with Fiji THRIVE.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Ranjana Malti manages 'Nature's Finest' – an agribusiness – from her family farm in Dilkusha, Nausori that’s ideally situated next to the Rewa river.

This SME operator is focused on the production and retailing of agricultural-based products such as honey, eggs and poultry. She is now venturing into the manufacture of milk-based cosmetics.

Last year, Ms. Malti was part a group that pioneered Fiji THRIVE Program, a co-designed business development programme for locally-owned, including women-led, businesses in Fiji.

THRIVE is an initiative between BSP and the Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) and the acronym, which stands for "Together, Helping [to build a] Resilient, Inclusive [and] Vibrant Economy," is central to this programme.

It aims to empower entrepreneurs, thereby fostering more resilient and sustainable communities.  Ms. Malti admitted that she joined the programme faced with the frustration of not having enough hours in the day.
Each day would begin at 6 a.m., tending to her chickens and continues tirelessly with packing and making deliveries, often not stopping until her children got home from school.

Through Fiji THRIVE, she received guidance from ABV mentors Kaylene Benson and Shean Gannon, who encouraged her to step back from the whirlwind and look for simple efficiencies, for example, making deliveries on two days instead of five.

Since implementing her learnings from the Programme, Nature’s Finest has progressed to achieve better yield and through the efficiencies gained, Ms. Malti has expanded to a new venture — producing natural milk-based cosmetics from the goats she recently purchased.

However, the star of Nature's Finest is its exceptional honey. What began with a small loan from her mother-in-law and four hives has grown into a thousand hives in just over a decade.  The dry climates of Sigatoka and Nausori provide the ideal conditions for their hives; excessive rainfall can hinder bees from foraging on flowers, leading them to overconsume their own honey.

In 2020, after entrusting her husband to manage the bee keeping business, Ms. Malti bought a hundred retired chickens in a post-COVID sale at the bargain price of three birds for $15.  Over three years, she has grown this flock to a staggering six-hundred and eighty, which she solely manages alongside her flocks of ducks.

Despite her accomplishments, Ms. Malti is humble, acknowledging that she still feels like "one-quarter of an expert," continuing to make full use of the opportunities that come her way, learning from fellow farmers and online resources.

One of her most recent highlights has been her streamlined egg production discovered through trial and error resulting in identifying when and how the best laying happens.

A common request received by ABV mentors has been on how businesses should formulate their operational cost and pricing structure to achieve sustainable profits. Ms. Malti needed help finding a costing structure that could accurately reflect the quality of her products while maintaining affordability, which she now has the financial tools to do. When asked how she has been able to expand her business year after year despite setbacks, she said, "I can make something out of anything."

The Fiji THRIVE Program co-designed by BSP and ABV, has also begun in the Western Division where other local businesses are currently benefiting from the coaching and mentoring opportunities.