by Arvinesh Chand
Fiji Broadcasting Reports “Minister for Primary Industries Joketani Cokanasiga says farmers should not be disheartened by the withdrawal of the European Union aid for sugar but only take it as a challenge to open up untold opportunities.”
This is the third statement in recent days that suggests that the Government sees sugar as a historical crop and is quietly stepping away from support in favor of other crops.
Cokanasiga explains that their role is to advise the Fiji Sugar Corporation on how farmers could adjust by diversifying into planting other crops to maintain their livelihood.
He adds that the Legalega Research Station in Nadi is working very closely with farmers to establish demonstration plots in order to transfer technologies researched at the station for the benefit of the farmers.
The research station is advising farmers not to only rely on the income from their sugarcane
farms but to also grow short term cash crops and raise livestock within their farming systems.
Part of Cokanasiga’s brief as Minister of Primary Industries is to promote local crops as a method of export substitution to save precious overseas funds. This is the next best option to an export crop like sugar. There is no obvious replacement export crop for sugar.
Fiji has no advantage in agriculture that is not available to every other pacific island and most of Asia.
Fiji’s only advantage in sugar was the infrastructure of mills and the skilled hardworking farmers left behind by the British. The large investment required to start a significant sugar industry had given Fiji a level of complacency as an established producer.
The demise of the supposedly efficient Australian sugar industry signaled the end of the golden years and the shadow of death for Fiji Sugar.
If the brief on the EU Assistance is read correctly it quickly becomes apparent that the EU sugar money was to diversify into other crops if it was not economic to continue to produce sugar.
This assistance is now removed so the Minister for Primary Industries has the unenviable job of trying to convince the country that the cane farmers will be better off being market gardeners.