UNSUSTAINABLE sugar cane production has led to land degradation causing sedimentation of rivers and resulting in flash floods in the Western Division.
The acting director of the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat for Pacific Communities, Inoke Ratukalou, told the 2012 Asia Pacific Sugar Conference in Nadi this week, extensive soil loss of up to 11.7 million tonnes in Ba, Nadi and Sigatoka annually has contributed to flooding and widespread damage to reef ecosystems in the division.
As a result the devastation has cost millions of dollars and expensive rehabilitation exercises like river dredging in the aftermath of widespread flooding.
"Since the 1970s, boosted by privileges from the European Union, sugar production has increased significantly with 17,197 growers farming 74,322 hectares in 1976 compared to 22,339 farmers planting on 97,699ha in 1996," he said.
"The unsustainable manner in which the land was developed for sugar cane farming has led to soil erosion, soil fertility loss, decreases in soil water holding capacity and the increase in invasive species, pest and disease infestation."
Mr Ratukalou said increased sedimentation in rivers and the formation of mud banks had contributed significantly to flash floods during periods of heavy rain.
"Increased soil loss into river systems has led to flooding, the destruction of urban settlements, the destruction of fish spawning areas and the loss of reef biodiversity.
" It has become a serious and expensive problem in Fiji."
Mr Ratukalou said sustainable land management strategies that had been put in place had failed to stem the increasing soil loss into waterways in the country.
"Sustainable land resources management is addressed in a sectoral and ad hoc basis but should be tackled in a participatory and holistic manner," he said.