FRUITS from three months of labour is proving to be very sweet for the Burenitu Potato Farmers group in Ra as it has started with their potato harvest for this season.
With nine members in the group, this is their first potato planting season but not the first in the area.
According to group leader, 40-year-old Ilaitia Lecia, potatoes grew in abundance in Burenitu in the late 1980s.
"We were young then and still in school and we witnessed the farms that were cultivated with rice and potatoes and food security was never threatened in any way for our families," explained Ilaitia.
"It was a scheme that was introduced back then and soon after that, sugar cane was introduced."
Ilaitia says that the return of the cultivation of potatoes is a good sign of better days to come.
"We are really ecstatic to be given a second chance to cultivate potatoes and we are adamant to continue with potato cultivation come the next planting season," he said.
The group was given 54 bags of potato seedlings to plant on six acres of their mataqali (landowning unit) land.
Ilaitia says it has been hard work from day one and members have been taking turns at working on the farm.
"We also have our individual farms so it is imperative that we also work on our farms so that we are on par with each other."
Like any other farming day, work begins at dawn before the sun rises and since their farm is some distance from the village, the hardworking individuals ensure that they are up before the sun peeps over the horizon.
"This has been our routine for years since we began planting cassava, yaqona as well as other produce for the local markets. But since this is the first time for our generation to plant potatoes, we wanted to be cautious with our work program and ensure that we gave all our dedication to the prized potatoes.
"Most of us also have sugarcane farms so the drill of waking up early in the morning is not a new thing."
Life was not all that rosy for the nine members as they were faced with the biggest challenge of carting water 200 metres from the closest river to their farm.
"But like all hardworking farmers, we took it all in good stride and we are now reaping the benefits of our hard work."
The sheer excitement since day one of harvesting has been evident on the faces of the members as well as villagers that have pitched in to help.
For 55-year-old Ilikani Navari, it also brings back fond memories of his potato planting days.
"Potatoes were planted back then and the results were also excellent and it just goes to show that anything can be cultivated now but of course with the right advice and technical know how," a smiling Ilikani explained.
According to agricultural assistant (Saivou) of the Department of Agriculture, Josaia Kolinivalu, members of the Burenitu Farmers Group have really played their roles well and have been consistent with their farming program.
"They have proven themselves and we are content with their first harvest and this goes to show the dedication and sacrifices that they have made to ensure that they have a bumper harvest for their first planting season," said Kolinivalu.
Kolinivalu also went on to say the group was assisted by government providing a digger that carried out on their farms at a subsidised cost of $28 per hour.
The hardworking farming group has already harvested a total of one tonne of potatoes and is still continuing.
The group will sell its potatoes at the Rakiraki Market at a price yet to be determined.
Even though the potato season is over, the group will be taking on a new venture and that is the revitalisation of their rice farms.
Kolinivalu says the group will be carrying out dry-land rice cultivation.
For Ilikani, this is just like the good old days.
"I also planted rice back then and I even harvested up to 62 bags which were then sold to Rewa Rice in Nausori," he reminisced.
He hopes the experiences learnt from those days will help with the rice planting season which is about to begin.
"There are so many opportunities that the land has to offer but the onus is on the individual as the success or downfall of a farming venture will be solely his or her responsibility," said Ilikani. "There are factors like time management, responsibilities and of course dedication that attribute to the success of a venture like farming and this is something that we here at Burenitu can relate to.
"Farming should not be looked down upon as a worthless profession but one that we should be proud of because whatever we put into the ground, we will reap."
Members of the Burenitu Farmers Group hope that their story will be an inspiration to those who may have lost their way and are still looking for a brighter future.
"The land is calling and if you know that you have what it takes to take up the challenge of farming please do not waste time as there is so much to be achieved."
"We have built our dreams from scratch and sweat and that is the pride that no one can take away from us."
The Burenitu Farmers Group is already looking forward to land preparation and starting with their rice farm.
* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer with the Department of Agriculture in the Ministry of Primary Industries.