The way forward for commercial agriculture is mechanisation and this is exactly what Rajend Kumar, 47, of Malawai Settlement, Dreketi in Macuata is practicing. He was announced the winner of the Rice Farmer of the Year category at the Crest Agriculture Show that was held in Labasa last week.
The proud farmer says that nothing beats farming for a living. With a total land area of 50 acres, Rajend says that he wants to expand into other agricultural activities.
Rajend's rice farm alone covers a total area of 20 acres while another four acres of rice land is yet to be utilised. "I also plant vegetables and a few fruit trees but of course this is only for food security. I basically plant a little bit of everything on my farm and after 25 years of farming, I still wake up early in the morning with a lot of eagerness to go to the farm," laughed Rajend.
Rajend is also a part-time employee at the Dreketi Irrigation Station of the Department of Agriculture where he works as a machine operator. "Everything that I learnt about rice farming was through the various technologies introduced by rice experts that have visited Dreketi in the past years."
Rajend says that he absorbs all the information that he can from them and applies them on his farm. The hardworking farmer says that life was not all that rosy when he was growing up but he has managed to make up for it by providing the best for his family.
"I have four children who are still at school. I have been providing for them through income from the farm," he said proudly.
"People often ask me, how do I manage? My answer has never changed as I believe that the secret of success is hard work and time management."
Rajend shares his time between work as well as his rice farm."Time management is of course an important component of success and I believe that if everyone spent their time wisely, much would be achieved."
Rajend says that farming is also about taking risks and trying to rise above it all.
"I purchased a brand new tractor on loan from Merchant Finance in 2006 and later in 2009, I bought a multi-purpose power tiller machine with a $2,500 grant from the Northern Development Programme, an additional loan of $2,500 from the Fiji Development Bank as well as a deposit of $1,500 from my pocket.
"It was money well spent as my work is now easier on the farm," he smiled. Rajend says that through the purchase of his machines, he is able to increase his rice planting area. "I have rice paddies on dry land as well so that is where my tractor comes in handy and as for the power tiller machine, it helps me on boggy rice field cultivation."
The saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman rings well and true for Rajend as he admits that the success of his farm is also because of his hard working wife Mrs Aruna Devi.
"I owe her a lot as she has been my rock throughout all these years," he smiled. "She spends a lot of time on the rice field and I join in whenever I can because of other businesses that I have to attend to.
"But in the weekends, I make sure that I join her on the rice field," he added. According to Agriculture Officer (Cereals/Pulses), Ropate Canivota, Rajend is a classic example of a hardworking and honest man.
"He is not one to wait around for government assistance but forges ahead with his farming programme to ensure that he plants rice throughout the year," said Mr Canivota. Mr Canivota also went on to say that Rajend is also a staunch supporter of government's initiative in reducing rice imports. "He is also a strong advocate for rice farming and is always assisting other rice farmers with his machines for land preparation."
Through his hard work, Rajend recently purchased a Toyota twin cab vehicle to ease transportation woes on his farm.
"I also assist community members with transportation whenever there is an emergency."
Rajend will be carrying the hopes of the Northern Division at this year's main Crest Agriculture Show which will be held in Lautoka from the 6th-11th of this month at Churchill Park. "I will also be vying for the Rice Farmer of the Year Award at the Prime Ministers Awards night at the Crest Agriculture Show and I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be able to take the trophy to the Friendly North," he smiled proudly. Rajend says that there is so much that he hopes to achieve and he believes that he can."Where there is a will, there is always a way!"
* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer at the Ministry of Primary Industries.