[Image: 'Fijian Fairtrade Sugar Cane Farmer' | © Fairtrade ANZ]
It's one thing to read and hear about how climate change is already impacting the world, it's quite another to see it with your own eyes in a country particularly ill–equipped to cope with those impacts.
Over the past year, I've been privileged to be working on a couple of projects that are looking to help Fiji's 16,500 cane farmers to sell more Fairtrade sugar; something that, if successful, could have a significant and far–reaching positive impact on the more than 200,000 Fijians who currently rely on sugar for their livelihoods.
In doing this work I've had to learn as much about sugar cane farming in Fiji as I can, as well as trying to make sense of the broader sustainable development challenges facing Fiji and all the other nations in the Pacific. Development challenges that most definitely have climate change front and centre.
In digging into this area, a couple of things became very apparent, very quickly. The first is how vulnerable Fiji is to the likely impacts of climate change, impacts that were all too obvious when Cyclone Winston devastated the islands in 2016. The second is how little resources they have to actually manage that vulnerability in a planned and sustained way.
The longer I've spent working on the Fiji Fairtrade sugar challenge, the clearer it's become how the islands are very much on the frontline of climate change. Something that could also be said to be true of countries like Australia, with the key difference being how few resources Fiji has to actually address the challenges it faces when compared with more developed countries like Australia.
That's not to say Fiji isn't doing its utmost to address the threat climate change poses to its communities, with the country's leadership of the 2017 COP in Bonn a very tangible example of this, as is the relocation of villages like Vunidogoloa away from more climate threatened areas.
However, both of these initiatives have relied very heavily on external assistance and funding from the likes of the European Union and New Zealand's MFAT, and it is extremely likely that much more structured assistance like this will be needed by Fiji in the years and decades to come.
It's also extremely likely that Fiji will be impacted by more severe tropical cyclones like Winston in the coming years, with the islanders' base resilience coming under increasing pressure as the interval between each severe cyclone continues to get shorter and shorter.
And this reality will impact Fiji's sugar cane farmers. Devastating their cane fields. Flattening their homes and schools. Washing away their roads. Encouraging the younger generations to move away from farming. Taking some of their lives.
Knowing this is a sobering thought as I try to find ways to help them sell more of their sugar as Fairtrade. It makes me realise that, whilst more Fairtrade sales will undoubtedly help to build their climate resilience, they are still going to have to live through the impacts that climate change throws at them. Impacts for which, unfortunately, no clear and simple solutions are available.
It could, and probably should, make me feel like any efforts I can make are not really going to help in the long run. Instead, I look at the daily efforts Fiji's sugar farmers make to give their families a better life, and redouble my own to try and help them sell just a little bit more Fairtrade sugar so that they can better help themselves.