FARMERS have reaped the benefits of their three months of toil and hard work now that the 2012 potato season is over.
Semi Rokara, 49, of Naiserelagi Village in Ra is one of the many farmers who have cultivated potatoes since they were reintroduced in 2010.
He lives at Wailevu settlement with his family and has been concentrating on farming since leaving his job.
"I had a good job but when potato farming was reintroduced back to the province of Ra, I knew that the land was calling," Mr Rokara said with a smile.
He left his job and moved back to his home in Wailevu and has stuck with farming ever since.
There is no regret on his part for this wise decision.
Mr Rokara has been working with four other farmers in the settlement and they have formed the Wailevu Farmers Group.
Into their third season of potato planting, Mr Rokara says there have been a lot of lessons learnt along the way.
"When we started planting potatoes in 2010 there were a lot of hiccups that we faced especially with land preparation and the care that had to be given to the plants," he explained.
"We now have the hang of it and I am so happy that everything is going according to plan."
They didn't just stop there.
Mr Rokara went on to explain that after their first harvest sales the members agreed to set up their own cattle farm.
They purchased fencing material and the Wailevu Farmers Group are now proud owners of 15 cows.
They also have plans to expand their cattle farm and they are confident of being successful.
"We are going to increase the number (of cows) and through hard work and sacrifice we are going to reach our goals," Mr Rokara said.
As with any organisation, there are objectives to be met and for Mr Rokara and his group, their main objective is to utilise the land to its full potential.
"There is so much arable land that has been lying idle and I have been encouraging the members to toil it because we will be the ones to reap the benefits," he said smiling.
And working is what they have been doing not only on the group farm but on their respective farms too.
Through the solesolevaki (the iTaukei mode of working together for a common outcome) program that they have been following, the members have been able to be on par with each other on their respective farms as well.
The group doesn't only concentrate solely on potato farming, they have branched out to farming other vegetables in great demand in their area.
They have even identified markets for their produce.
"We also plant assorted vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, maize, chillies," Mr Rokara said.
"We have been supplying to the local market as well as the Ra Maternity Hospital at Nanukuloa whenever they place their orders," he revealed.
Mr Rokara said even people from nearby village have also been frequenting their settlement to order cassava and vegetables.
"This farming business is getting sweeter by the day and I am so happy that I get to spend a lot of time on the farm, doing what I love best," he said proudly.
The group harvested one tonne of potatoes and this was more than last season's harvest.
The Wailevu settlement potatoes are being sold at the farm gate at $1 per kilogram.
According to the locality officer, Josaia Kolinivalu this year's planting season had been a success for the group.
"The group had planted potatoes on two acres with 30 bags of Ilam Hardy variety potato planting material per acre," he said.
"They have improved a lot on their planting techniques and we are happy to be part of their success," Mr Kolinivalu said.
"The group was assisted under government's Food Security Program with agro-inputs such as fertiliser, tank sprays, potato seedlings and watermelon seeds."
Mr Kolinivalu said with the potato season over, land preparation would be carried out for off-season vegetable farming.
"Vegetables during the off-season fetch a higher price and this is an area that the group would like to expand into," he said.
Mr Rokara said farming should not only be a means of earning a living but should be first and foremost a means of food security to their respective families.
"If we eat healthy and nutritious food fresh from the farm, we should not have to worry about where to get our next meal from," the Naiserelagi villager said.
While making sure their respective families' needs are met this group of farmers also take seriously their responsibility to their community.
The Wailevu Farmers Group have a lot of plans already in the pipeline and one of them is to get their water supply up and running.
"We are currently relying on tank water and with all the money that we have been saving from the sales of our produce, we are purchasing pipes and other equipment to connect us to our own water source," he explained.
"So far, so good and we know that we are going to achieve our dreams," he proudly said.
Mr Rokara says nothing beats farming for a living but, of course, with the right mindset and good time management.
"Farming takes a lot of courage especially if you want to compete on the semi-commercial and commercial stage."
He hopes that people around the country will start to realise the importance of farming.
Mr Rokara said there was no reason for children of landowners to be unemployed as the toils of the land and its harvest was a well-paid job.
"There is so much land that is still lying idle and yet so many of our children are still in the urban areas looking for employment."
"I would like to encourage our youths to take up farming as the opportunities are endless and the income worth the sweat and tears," he said proudly.
The Ra man proudly vouches for guaranteed success in farming and he is living testimony to this as he is never lacking in anything.
The staunch Christian says nothing beats tasting sweet success after a hard day's work.
He is adamant that farming is something he will not turn his back on.
"As long as I have energy and the will to continue with my farming venture, I will do so," he said.
His plans for the future?
Mr Rokara is not slowing down any time soon.
He hopes that other people around the country will do the same and take up farming as a means of earning a decent living.
* Kuini Waqasavou is a media officer with the Ministry of Primary Industries.