SUGAR cane farmers will soon be required to plant half an acre of rice to support the government’s food security program.
Principal agricultural officer west Sugrim Chand said rice farming had proven successful in parts of Ra, Ba and Tavua.
There are plans to expand cultivation to the Sigatoka Valley as indicated by the many farmers who showed interest in the rice industry during the agriculture show in Lautoka last week.
Mr Chand said the exercise would also assist reduce the rice import bill.
“Under our food security program, we are promoting rice growing in the west. There is a $50million spending on rice import each year,” said Mr Chand.
“Our program is spread over the Western Division but we are focusing more on Rakiraki, Ba and Tavua and now we are also going into the Sigatoka Valley.
“Now we also have varieties that can mature within three months. Rice planting will happen in September to October and to be harvested in March and April.
“This is the time that rice grows well in the west and more importantly we have introduced a variety to go in rotation with sugar cane since it is only a three-month crop and fits in well in the cane off-season.”
Mr Chand said while rice planting would provide farmers food security, the ministry would play its part by assisting these farmers.
“Farmers in the west are encouraged to plant rice especially in the cane belt.
“At the moment there are 1600 rice farmers planting 24 hectares in the west and we’re aiming to increase the number of farmers this year.
“The focus is in the cane belt — if all farmers plant half acre of rice in the west, the government will save more than $4million in import each year.
“The north is producing 12,000 tonnes of rice per year and for the west we are looking at around 4000 tonnes this year.”