From Prisoner to Businessman

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08 April, 2022

Life surely has its own twist and turns. But it depends very much on how you look at it.

Quite recently, one would have read about the revolutionary business model established somewhere up in the depths of the Wainibuka Province in the village of Nabulini.

Known today as the Village of Chips – for their tasty kumala, vudi or tavioka chips which has become a hit on the local market and distributed by Raiwaqa Bakery and Rotissare Restaurant.

This business is operated by the Wainuqa Farmers Co-op Ltd, a Village owned buisness whereby the farmers and villagers are shareholders.

The WFCL owns the Chips processing factory located at Nabulini Village Wainibuka Tailevu.

Travelling an hour and a half and 90 km from Suva nestled between the cool flowing Wainibuka River and the bustling Kings highway on the eastern side of Viti Levu is Nabulini

But no one would have guessed that the brains behind such a venture was only years ago locked behind the prison walls in Naboro.

At 36, Ratu Peni Semira is a self-made businessman who serves his village community and helps provide employment for his fellow villagers in a food processing plant that produces and packs the famous Nabulini kumala, vudi or tavioka chips.

He is also not shy to admit that he is an ex-offender who was sentenced in 2018 for three years and who grabbed at the opportunity to reform when given the chance in 2020.

Semira was a career banker at one of Fiji’s oldest and leading banks when he made a mistake that landed him in prison.

“I remember my first night in Suva Prison, I was lost and thought that was it.”

“But then I underwent programs to help me deal with my mistakes and admit to myself that I had done wrong, and it was time I made use of my time positively.

Semira said when he was transferred to Naboro in 2019, he was amazed at what he witnessed in the Small Business Units where the rehabilitation and up skilling of inmates took place – but which was dependent on your good behavior and obedience.

Semira, worked his way into the Business Units where plans of developing an agri-based business at home when he was released was hatched.

“When I was in the banking industry, the thought to do am agri-based business to utilize our village land never crossed my mind. But prison was like a classroom to me and I learned many new things.”

It was at the FCS Employers Expo in Lautoka where he was selected to be a candidate that he found his chance to be employed.

“I met a kind hearted woman, Atela Yee, a lady with a big heart who offered me a job at Raiwaqa Bakery and taught me to believe in myself.

“You see when we are released all we need is a chance to work because to be financially stable will ensure you are not dependent on others, because stigma goes a long way and people do not forget.”

Due to his banking background he was immediately hired by Atela Yee to work at the Raiwaqa Bakery Administration unit in Nausori.

“Ms Yee is a person who looks beyond your past mistake and only looks at the potential you have to contribute to her business, she is a great believer in second chances.”

It was while he was working at Raiwaqa Bakery and going back and forth to work and home to Nabulini village that he hatched the idea which some of his villagers about the chips idea.

“My experience at the Naboro Business Units made me believe that an agri-based business was possible, so I went to look for information, attended seminars and asked for advice.

“What we came up with was this kumala chips, vudi chips and cassava chips  – something we could produce in numbers because we already had the basic resources which was land and labour and my financial know how,’’ he added.

So with help from the Ministry of Commerce and Agriculture, a food processing plant was established at Nabulini which employed the villagers.

“We formed out Co-Operative, attended many forms of workshops and we maintained the link with Raiwaqa Bakery by providing them with a new product to distribute from their shops.”

“Today I am a self-independent person who is so much better than the one who came into jail many years ago.

“We are now the proud owners of Wainuqa Farmers Co-operatives Limited that produce ‘Chips Qoi’ our very own version of healthy food snacks, sourced from village farmers and produced into chips by the Women and youths of Nabulini Village.

Semira said another cost-cutting measure they implemented was that their products are transported to urban markets by none other than the Express buses that service the Kings Highway.

The buses are still the main mode of transportation for the 15 plus Villages in the district of Wainibuka. One People! One Bus! One River!

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