Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Hon. Villiame Gavoka,
UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia and Pacific - Mr Christophe Bahuet,
Regional Development Director - British High Commission - Jean-Paul Penrose,
ADB Head of Programme, Ms Jacqueline Connell,
Officer-In-Charge and Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Ms Yemesrach Worki,
Invited Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula Vinaka and Good Morning to you all.
I am delighted to be here at this launch event - that empowers the sustainable use of our oceans ecosystem. As a large ocean state, our oceans serve as a lifeline for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs so it is intrinsic that we safeguard it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Spreading over 1.3 million square kilometers, it is estimated that our marine resources and their services to Fiji’s people are worth over $2.5 billion per year – and with over 70 percent of Fiji’s population living with 5 kilometers of the coastline, Fijians have an intrinsically strong relationship with the ocean economy.
In recent years, the blue economy has become an important area of focus for many countries around the world to create new opportunities and generate sustainable growth from their ocean resources. Fiji has had a role to play in that. I wish to acknowledge the previous Government on their efforts here.
In Fiji, the blue economy also holds enormous potential for the development of various industries such as food security, shipping and fisheries, to name a few. By leveraging these opportunities, Fiji can create new jobs, drive economic growth, and reduce our dependence on traditional sources of revenue. It is a very exciting opportunity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is where the Blue Accelerator Grant Scheme (‘BAGS’) provides the necessary assistance to private sector, including Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (‘MSMEs’), and co-operatives to sustainably unlock the development potential of Fiji’s blue economy.
Having served in the private sector for many years of my professional career, I know all too well the challenges faced in gaining access to finance – similar sentiments which I have gathered through my recent meetings with members of the private sector.
Blessed with great potential, the blue economy space whilst new to many needs a robust and clear pathway to graduate projects from grant dependency to viable debt and equity investments. 
And the Blue Accelerator Grant Scheme demonstrates that if tailored business development support is paired with grant based impact financing and clear pathway to scale, transformative projects that would have otherwise not seen the light of day can become increasingly viable and investable. If managed well, this can become the new template in making meaningful interventions in an Economy and in Fiji.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The new Coalition Government recognises the importance of taking innovative steps to resource mobilise Fiji’s climate ambitions and bilateral arrangements to support critical sectors that create sustainable livelihoods.
And for that reason, the private sector led growth remains vital to pave our nation's way in post pandemic-economic recovery – in parallel to economic diversification which is one of our top priorities supporting the economic empowerment of rural communities.

With the emerging need of growing Fiji’s blue economy, the United Nation Development Programme’s support of the first cohort of 8 projects gives tangible meaning to Fiji’s blue economy aspirations in the areas of sustainable aquaculture, Sustainable Eco-Tourism, Marine Conservation and Protection, Blue Shipping and E-Mobility.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This first cohort supports eight (8) projects valued over $4 million USD which is equivalent to over $8.8 million FJD. The sectors range from sustainable fisheries to blue shipping and e-mobility.  In many of these projects the community is involved, an immeasurable development and power to our people!
Projects such as, (1) J Hunter Pearls Fiji: Savusavu Community Edible Pearl Oyster Farms, (2) Talanoa Treks and (3) Uto ni Yalo Trust: Creating Fiji's Ocean Trail provides an avenue to empower communities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Marine conservation and sustainable eco-tourism are one of the many contributors towards sustainable development goals. We have Justin Hunter’s project – Savusavu Community Edible Pearl Oyster Farms which advocates for marine conservation that brings numerous farmers and repurposed their existing hatcheries to support edible oyster production and most importantly, leveraged their community owned farms to be part of the supply chain and conduct seaweed and oyster farming.
Harvested by women from nearby villages at 10-14 months of age these young oysters are not the same as your common edible oyster but more scallop like in flavour and texture. Recognising the delicacy as a hatchery reared, sustainable seafood which can be traced to an environmentally sustainable source.
I believe J. Hunter is looking at some export markets for the succulent oysters. If you have not tasted them, I have and it is highly recommended. Maybe we have found the next Fiji product!
Another important project I wish to highlight is the Uto ni Yalo Trust, a non-profit organisation that promotes responsible ocean stewardship and community development by rekindling the art of traditional sailing and navigational skills. These warriors of the Environment are leading examples of how we can blend the blue economy, cultural preservation and build opportunities.
I am told, the Uto ni Yalo will be based in Denarau, for six months every year.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We would like to see this first batch of cohorts continue to actively engage with local communities, particularly the women and youth, as an integral part of their business model. 
For instance, the Ministry has partnered with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) in forming co-operatives and conducting business training for communities. We also partnered with Live and Learn in Forest Conservation via carbon trading in forming co-operatives and economic empowerment programmes in Vanua Levu.
So what I'm trying to convey is that, we have to have separate discussions to take our partnership to the next level of long term sustainability.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The projects are not fully funded under BAGS funding. It is through financial leverage – and the coalition Government together with our partner, UNDP are looking to create a pipeline of innovative investment projects that reflect Fiji’s blue economy ambitions and unlock the economic potential of our future generation.
This, of course, is with our bilateral partners, therefore more support from bilateral partners is needed to continue supporting innovative projects such as the 8 projects in the first cohort.
With those words, I would like to commend my appreciation to UNDP and UNCDF for partnering with the Fiji Government to implement BAGS – our collaboration demonstrates a country driven approach towards sustainable development. 
I also thank the Government of the United Kingdom for its continued support in developing Fiji's blue economy. We look forward to securing more support from you Mr Jean-Paul.
In closing, I look forward to discussing more ideas and hearing your thoughts during the panel discussion.
Thank you and Vinaka Vakalevu.