MORE than half of the sugar cane farming land in Rakiraki remains idle and government is urging farmers and landowners to seriously consider putting to productive use the 3943 hectares of vacant land in the region.
At Wednesday's cane seed nursery opening in Yaqara Pastoral Farm at Caboni, Togovere, Ra, Penang mill field services manager Isoa Saukuru said only 50 per cent of the total land previously used for cane farming was utilised.
There are 1723 growers in Rakiraki and Mr Saukuru said of the total 7924 hectares of available cane land in the region only 3981 hectares were covered with sugar cane while the balance of 3943 hectares were lying idle.
He said as a result, the drop in cultivation affected the annual production of the mill.
Mr Saukuru said the mill harvested 264,498 tonnes of cane in 2006 and this dropped to 229,838 in 2007.
"In 2008 the mill harvested 21,450 tonnes, 181,650 tonnes in 2009, 175,701 in 2010 and last year as we began to resurrect the industry we harvested 208,860 tonnes."
"In our crop plan for the next three years we were planning to harvest 201,000 tonnes in 2012, 250,000 tonnes in 2013 and 279,200 by 2014.
"So we can see from here that we have a vision for our mill to crush more than 300,000 by 2015 taking into account the total vision by our executive chairman to cut 500,000 tonnes for Penang mill by 2020," Mr Saukuru said.
Sugar permanent secretary Manasa Vaniqi encouraged farmers to make use of the land as the government was committed to helping them.
He said the government introduced many new forms of assistance schemes to assist farmers in the cultivation of sugar cane.
Another concern for the government was the small numbers of iTaukei farmers committed to the industry despite their abundance of resources.
Mr Saukuru said of the 1723 growers only 35 per cent were iTaukei.
Ra provincial administrator Sitiveni Tavaga said the farmers were encouraged to invest in the sugar industry during district and provincial council meetings.