OVER 40,000 papaya seedlings have been planted in the Western Division as growers aided by the export industry pushes forward with rehabilitation programs in a bid to recapture lost markets in Australia and New Zealand.
Papaya exports from the country in 2010 brought in $700,000. This boomed to $6 million last year — bolstered by the quality and popularity of Fiji-grown fruit.
As growers and exporters looked forward to a bigger export year in 2012, tragedy struck after two successive floods hit the division in January and March devastating papaya plantations in the Sigatoka Valley where over 90 percent of the export fruit was grown.
Nature's Way Co-operative Limited chief executive officer Michael Finau Brown said the co-operative, along with government and donor agencies including Bula Agro Enterprises, Taiwan Trade Mission and Sigatoka Research Station had provided over 41,000 seedlings to bolster production.
"So far we have already planted 41,160 seedlings — 10,500 from SRS, 7660 from NWC, 3000 from BAE and 20,000 from TTM," he said.
Meanwhile, Sigatoka Valley grower and managing director of Pacific Harvest Limited Rizwan Khan said while government and the NWC had to be commended for their efforts, a lot more had to be done to bring the industry back to where it was pre-flood.
"There is no doubting the government and industry's commitment to getting papaya growers up and running as soon as possible but some thought and assistance should also be offered to exporters and bigger entities.
"If exporters get a boost then this will also boost their ability to recapture market share and aid smaller growers at the same time. Getting our slice of the Australian market won't be easy because they have obviously looked elsewhere to fill the vacuum," he said.
Agriculture Ministry permanent secretary Ropate Ligairi said while it was acknowledged that export markets had not been adequately serviced due to the effects of the flood, rehabilitation programs have seen the replanting of 24.7 of a total of pre-flood 32.9 hectares.
"This leaves us with a balance of 8 hectares which should be completed by the end of September this year," he said.
Mr Ligairi said the pawpaw export industry should be back to pre-flood levels by mid next year.