When Luke Fryett visited some friends in the highlands of Fiji, he watched as local children sucked on and spat out the pips of “cherries” growing on trees all around the village.
Those cherries turned out to be wild coffee beans — the small, round stone fruit produced by the coffee plant.
“I couldn’t believe that there was so much coffee around and nothing was being done with it,” Mr Fryett said.
“It was just falling on the ground and going rotten.”
The fateful day over a decade ago led the New Zealander to establish Bula Coffee, which has grown into one of the country’s first agritourism ventures.
Mr Fryett started by harvesting 20 kilograms of cherries from just one family’s coffee plants.
“Nobody would believe us that we would buy coffee and that we would pay them for it,” he said.
“So, we just started with one family and slowly grew it from there.
“Now we’re buying off about 5,000 people annually and we’re doing about 60 tonnes of cherries now.”
A murky history
The coffee industry in Fiji relies on the efforts of those living in rural villages to harvest the wild coffee.
But this has left room for exploitation.
Mr Fryett and his team are hoping to change that by working off three key pillars: people, planet and profits.
“If any one of them grows without the other two growing with it, then we consider that as the business isn’t succeeding,” he said.
“We can’t be turning over huge profits and destroying the planet and not looking after the people that we set out to help.”
Mr Fryett’s dedication to transparency is supported by a receipt system and connecting with local harvesters.
“We know a lot of them by name, we know their families, we know where they are in the village,” he said.
“So when there are cyclones, we’re always there to go and talk to them and figure out what they need.”
Diana “Didi” Tohou Domalailai and her family have known and worked with Mr Fryett for more than a decade.
She supports the company’s values and its role in providing income for Fijian women.
“I heard these stories and how amazing it is, that it was helping our community — all the women up in the interior,” she said.
“In Fiji, men are traditionally the breadwinners of the family.
“To know that this company supports women to be financially independent is wonderful.”
As coffee production has expanded, so has the company’s offering.
An on-farm cafe and coffee shop means tourists can taste wild Fijian coffee and see how it’s grown.
It means Mr Fryett is now running one of Fiji’s first agritourism ventures.
“It’s one of the first and hopefully not the last,” Ms Tohou Domalailai said.
“It is a new thing for Fiji and not a lot of people know that we could actually take tourists around farms.
“Word is getting out and it’s getting quite popular.”
A desire to find local produce brought US tourists Vincent Arishvara and Vania Hendratna to the plantation’s cafe.
They ordered short blacks in the hope of experiencing the taste of Fijian coffee.
We were just doing our Google research to see if there is any local coffee in Fiji,” Ms Hendratna said.
“The coffee isn’t local in the resorts so we wanted to find something local, so here we are.
“This is the first paddock-to-plate experience we have seen in Fiji.”
The married couple also wanted to go beyond the resorts for a real Fiji experience.
“The culture, locally grown things, stuff that helps the economy of the local people — that’s what we are into,” Ms Hendratna said.