SUGARCANE growers from Nawaicoba, Malolo, Maqalevu, Sikituru and Yavusania have pleaded with Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama to help improve cane access roads in their areas.
Representatives from the various sectors informed Commodore Bainimarama that inaccessible roads had resulted in over 30,000 tonnes of standover cane in these areas, leaving farmers out of pocket and heavily in debt.
Growers informed Commodore Bainimarama all farmers in these areas were at a disadvantage. Those who had access to lorry transport were hit by high transport costs while many could not cart harvested crop to mills because of inaccessible roads.
More than 200 farmers who gathered at cane farmer Aten Kumar's home in Nawaicoba heard the PM reaffirm government's commitment to lift the sugar industry. The Prime Minister met farmers to directly hear their grievances on their daily struggle to cultivate, nurture, harvest and transport sugar cane.
"The bad road conditions are having a serious impact on our ability to transport cane to the Lautoka mill," said Nawaicoba farmers representative Mohammed Aslam Khan.
"Lorry operators simply do not want to take unnecessary risks."
"It is also worthy to note that our first quarter allocation for cane access road improvement has been significantly reduced, we received $25,000 last year and only $8000 this year."
Mr Khan said cane growers were not consulted when the decision was made to acquire contractors to rehabilitate cane access roads, resulting in many vital links being left in a poor state.
Commodore Bainimarama reassured growers that issuing funds directly to road contractors would immediately cease and cane access road funding would be made in consultation with growers. "I made a decision on Tuesday to release $1million from the Prime Minister's Flood Relief Fund to hasten cane access road rehabilitation and you should see improvements being made very shortly. And this time you will have a say in the road rehabilitation funding allocation and process," he said.
Commodore Bainimarama said discussions had already begun between the Land Transport Authority, Sugar Cane Growers Council and Sugar Industry Tribunal to set up guidelines and tariffs for the regulation of the cane lorry transport operators.
"Similar to what we have for buses, growers will be charged according to stages rather than the ad hoc manner in which fees are levied now," he said.