PRIME Minister and Minister for Sugar Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has recommitted to an earlier promise that all farms hit by the recent floods will not have to pay lease rentals for 2012.
And in talks with a group of Nadi cane growers yesterday, he agreed that farm land leases should be extended to 99 years instead of the 30-year tenure currently in place.
Commodore Bainimarama said his government was working towards finding solutions to agricultural land lease issues.
He called on all growers whose leases were due to expire to contact the iTaukei Land Trust Board and express interest in renewing their leases. The Prime Minister is in the Western Division this week holding consultations with cane growers from Rakiraki to Sigatoka, accompanied by senior industry stakeholders.
At the Ba meeting on Tuesday, Commodore Bainimarama urged all growers affected by floods but were yet to receive the waiver to contact industry stakeholders or the Sugar Ministry immediately. More than 500 farmers were in attendance.
"Regardless of whether this is Crown or Native Lease, all farms that have been affected will receive the waiver," he said in response to the plea of cane farmers from Rarawai Sector.
This group of farmers told the PM that officials at the Lands Department were unaware of the lease fee waiver when queries were made.
"When we went to enquire about land issues, we were informed that no directive had been given about the lease fee waiver. Rarawai is one of many sectors that is always affected when flooding occurs in Ba," said cane grower Jai Ram.
Yesterday at Nawaicoba, between Nadi and Sigatoka towns, Commodore Bainimarama said government was discussing the issue of 99-year leases.
"I agree with you. Leases need to be extended to 99 years instead of the 30 years that is currently in place now. This is something that we are working on," he said.
TLTB representatives at the forum informed growers that expressions of interest had to be written in to their office to be given due consideration.
"For us to renew any lease, the land in question must be cultivated and all rentals must be up to date. Otherwise it will be difficult to get landowners to agree to the renewal of leases," explained TLTB's regional manager west Mesake Ledua.
Mr Ledua said apart from facilitating economic growth and ensuring development took place by making land available, the TLTB also had a responsibility to the landowners in the effective management of their natural resource - the land.