Fiji is a country of many islands, and the two largest Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are home to most of its 900,000 people. With a quarter the land area of Tasmania, Fiji is twice as populous. Settled by sea voyaging traders 5,000 years ago, locals call the main island Viti. Other Pacific peoples said Fisi, and Cook adopted this when he named the territory in 1774. It was a British colony for a century until 1970. A Pacific tradition popular in Fiji is kava, the non-alcoholic beverage made from the root of the pepper plant. Many enjoy a bowl of kava at ceremonial or social gatherings, and its relaxing qualities are famous for creating a sense of contentment.
At a Glance
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History has left Fiji with a mix of indigenous, Indo-Fijian and Asian people. Cultural differences between native Fijians (57%) and those of Indian extraction (37%) are the main cause of recent political frictions. Military coups in 1987 were prompted by concerns of Indian domination. A new constitution cemented native Fijian control - but has caused many Indo-Fijians to emigrate. More positively, a rich cultural mosaic attracts half a million tourists a year. Visitors boost the economy as they delight in the island nation's variety of languages, food and cuisine, dress and costume, arts and crafts, music and dance.
Fiji is one of the more developed Pacific economies, with per capita GDP of $4900 (Purchasing Power Parity or PPP). At an equivalent $13 a day, this ranks Fiji between countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. Economic growth was solid in the 1960’s and 70’s, but has stagnated since the 1987 coup and its resultant political instability. The economy relies heavily on sugar, but returns are vulnerable to changing EU subsidies. Other natural resources include gold, copper, and timber, and a small garment making industry has established itself. But the economy is now mainly dependent on tourism and remittances from abroad.
Fiji has made progress in reducing poverty, with the percentage of the population living on less than $2.50 a day down from 55% in 2003 to 35% in 2009. But the effort has been hampered by political instability, low business investment, and emigration of young educated people. The country has a youthful population. Some 29% of the people are under 14, and only 9% are aged 60 and over. Life expectancy is 69 for men and 74 for women, and demographic projections suggest the elderly population will continue to increase.
Fiji has relatively high literacy rates with 95% of men and 92% of women being literate. On average, Fijian children receive 11 years of schooling. However, while Fiji has gender equality in primary and secondary school enrolments, males by far dominate females in the workforce. Despite government commitment to eliminate discrimination and violence against women, unfortunately the statistics suggest there is still much to be done. As a guide to the country’s general standard of living, the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Fiji at 88 out of 187 countries, slightly above Pacific neighbours Tonga and Samoa.
Microfinance programs have had limited success in the Pacific because of the difficulty in achieving scale in small island states. A recent study in Fiji found that over 15% of loans were in arrears by more than 30 days (world benchmarks suggest anything above 5% is a sign of poor lending practice). A recent entrant to this market is Good Return's partner South Pacific Business Development (SPBD). Launched in 2010, SPBD Fiji already has over 5,200 loan clients and a US$1m credit portfolio. It estimates unmet credit demand by low income households at US $12m.
Financial inclusion means vulnerable and low-income people have access to responsible financial services at an affordable cost. The Pacific is one of the world’s least banked regions, with 70% of people financially excluded. In some countries it is estimated less than 10% have access to basic financial services. Challenging geography, poor infrastructure, and subsistence livelihoods have all contributed to a lack of financial inclusion in a region that spans a third of the globe. All Pacific countries are examining ways to encourage and broaden access. Fiji's Financial Inclusion Taskforce sees branchless banking and mobile money as a solution to serve 150,000 unbanked individuals.
Here are our people in Fiji. Read stories from local perspective – our born and bred Fijian Village Trainer and Community Banker. And from the Australian expat – our Field Support Officer, who is living in Fiji for the first time.
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