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We continue with Floris on her journey to defend her right to own and farm her ancestral land. When she returned to Samoa, she realised that the expectations of society were far different from what she had envisioned for herself as an organic farmer.

I was reminded that Samoa is still a patriarchal society and that some members of my community, both men and women, believed that my decisions and viewpoints threatened the status quo and were disrespectful. But this was just the beginning of what it means to be a female farmer in Samoa.

A strong aspect was my ability to make decisions on our land as a woman and successfully farm without attributing that success to a man in my life, (usually a husband).  One of the reasons I have kept my brother out of my business on the farm is to prove to my family that I can do this without the help of a man.

I farm organically because food is essential and it is vital to produce it in an environmentally-safe way © Denisa Manaskova

To inspire and encourage other women, my friends and I founded, the Samoa Women’s Association of Growers (#SWAG). It is an NGO that aims to create a safe space for women to discuss their concerns and offer their thoughts as a collective voice. It is also a platform for women farmers to learn, share, network and socialise in an open and supportive environment.

I believe that initiatives like #SWAG and #IGrowYourFood are great platforms for farmers to share their messages, for example, about the challenges they face in their daily lives.[1]

We have volunteers coming through WWOOF to learn more about organic agriculture and help out at the farm © Denisa Manaskova

The perils of farming organically

It turns out that being an organic farmer in Samoa is a challenge in itself. Especially when I am open about how I farm.

Many farmers spray the weeds, plants and soil with highly toxic pesticides and fertilisers, which they see as a progressive symbol because such synthetic inputs are expensive.

My decision not to use these chemicals, and to show how dangerous they are to the soil and to our health, has often been ridiculed at agricultural meetings. But it went further than that.

It is important for the young generation to know about the variety of food we have and how it is grown © Denisa Manaskova

When I spoke out against my neighbours’ wilful spraying of my road, driveway, and boundary, I received violent threats and was even referred to as a foreigner (because I grew up partly in New Zealand, even if I am Samoan). Almost 50% of my cocoa and 70% of my other crops were stolen or destroyed as a result of the harassment that persisted.

I reported the incident to the police, who referred me to the village council, which deals with such cases. But because I am a woman, I was not allowed to go to the council to report these cases. My brother had to do it for me.

Women are the main food growers in Samoa and it is important that we acknowledge the work they do © Floris Niu

A woman is not permitted to attend village council meetings, thus whenever she wishes to bring up a concern, she must do so through a man holding the title of chief. These rules differ from one village to the next. My village is particularly patriarchal.

In addition to prolonging the problem-solving process, it is also stressful and exhausting.

#SWAG plays an important role in helping me and other women farmers through such difficult times and gives me the strength to continue speaking out about the damage substances such as Glyphosate can do to people and the planet.

A video showing how cacao has impacted my life

Finding solace in organic

Despite everything, when I am on my farm, connecting with the rich, dark, healthy soil and planting my crops, I am one with Mother Nature.

She nourishes and protects me. Despite all the challenges I face as a farmer, I know I am working to preserve this land for my daughter and many others who will come after her. 

When you farm organically, you begin to understand how everything in the ecosystem is connected, and why it is vital that we protect and promote biodiversity on this planet. This is why I came up with this concept of living a “planet-conscious” life. We are not just here for ourselves, we are here for each other.

[1] I Grow Your Food (IGYF) was started in 2019 by IFOAM – Organics International as a platform for farmers to share their messages globally. It happens in September and I will be one of the participants.

Floris Niu, Ms Sunshine Farms, Samoa

Floris is the founder of Ms Sunshine Farms, a cocoa plantation she is developing into an agro-tourism market. She is also the co-founder of #SWAG, an NGO that raises the voices of women in Samoan agriculture. Despite the many struggles she faced in becoming an organic farmer, including domestic violence, she continues to advocate for the rights of women farmers in Samoa.