Editorial comment – Our Sugar industry

Rakiraki truck driver Muni Chand (2nd from left) with other drivers waits patiently for the Lautoka Sugar Mill to start crushing. Picture: REINAL CHAND/FILE

THE future of Fiji’s sugar industry is such a hot topic for some of our registered political parties. Once the backbone of our economy, sugar has rumbled, and rolled along a path that inches out varying degrees of emotions. You could either fall on to one extreme or take the opposing view. In early 2012 for instance, extensive flooding in the Western Division caused about $21 million damage to the industry. The fact is natural disasters will continue to bring in worrying scenarios. Let’s take this scenario for instance. The floodwaters in 2012 left a damage bill of $17.4 million for the agriculture and livestock sectors. In the face of the massive financial impact, there was optimism then. The figures were daunting and so was the outlook for rehabilitation efforts. We were also reminded at the time of the State’s commitment to ensuring those responsible for the failed $86 million sugar mill upgrades were taken to task. It was encouraging that the State remained committed to putting in place reforms to continue the revitalisation of the sugar industry. The Fiji Sugar Corporation had recorded a loss of $175.1 million in 2010, $36.8m in 2009 and $19.3m in 2008. The downward spiral was attributed then mainly to frequent mill breakdowns, inefficient cane processing and sugar production. Because of the volatile world sugar market at the time, and uncertainty about market demand from the European Union, small sugar-producing nations such as Fiji needed to develop their industries. Shifting back to 2018, at least three registered political parties appear to share a view that actually paints a rather bleak picture of the industry. The Unity Fiji party, Fiji Labour Party (FLP) and National Federation Party (NFP) say they are worried about the future of the industry. As we continue our countdown to the 2018 General Election, we asked the six registered political parties for their views on Fiji’s sugar industry. They were asked about their take on the state of the industry and their plans to improve its performance. The Unity Fiji party, FLP and NFP responded to the questions. Unity Fiji leader Savenaca Narube believes the main issue facing the industry is inadequate returns from sugarcane farming. FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry placed a serious question mark on the future of the industry despite assurances and funds diverted to it each year. NFP parliamentary Whip Prem Singh insists the industry has been “staggering towards death over the past 12 years”. The views differ from those of the State. While we may also have different views, the challenge is to decide what action is appropriate, and what needs to be done, that is if anything needs to be done at all. But the views today will no doubt give us a fair idea about how some parties are thinking about this very important industry.

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