ONE hundred and four farmers yesterday received new 30-year leases and a waiver of the $900 lease surrender fee they would have had to pay under normal circumstances.
The sugarcane growers were part of a group that had lost interest in farming and had resorted to subsistence cropping because their leases were due to expire in a few years.
Speaking to the growers at Koronubu, Ba, Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki said government, through the Committee for the Better Utilisation of Land (CBUL), had heeded the pleas of growers and the onus was now on them to increase cane production.
"We are doing our part and now it is all up to you," he said.
"I will reiterate what the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has always said and continues to say, the sugar industry is here to stay.
"And we stand 100 per cent behind you because you play a vital role in our national economy.
"Sugar production is important because the money that's generated stays in the country.
"The industry affects 200,000 people and is responsible for the economy of rural centres around the country. The same can't be said of any other industry.
"If you talk about tourism, most of the resorts are foreign owned and the money generated from these businesses do not stay here," Commander Cawaki said.
Sugar Cane Growers Council's acting chief executive officer Sundresh Chetty said industry stakeholders decided to work with the iTaukei Land Trust Board to find a solution for canegrowers in the Western Division after a survey carried out last year.
"We found that many productive canegrowers were not showing interest in the $9million interest free Cane Development Revolving Fund and after making some enquiries discovered that many farm leases were due to expire in less than five years," he said.
"The announcement by government of the new lease extension and waiver of surrender fees has certainly brought a renewed interest in sugarcane farming to this community," he said. Farmers this newspaper spoke to said they were happy with the extension of the lease and waiver of the lease surrender fee.