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Daring to be different

Lote Raboila
Friday, November 09, 2012

MOHAN Dass of Navovo, Sigatoka is a man of great contrasts.

From teaching mathematics in an air-conditioned classroom to the great outdoors of tough agriculture work in the Sigatoka Valley, 70 or so year old Master Dass (didn't want to reveal his age) has taken on a different challenge altogether.

And to think that someone would start farming at that age may all be too much for some, but not for this evergreen mathematician cum farmer.

As if that's not enough, he has gone against the advice of both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Fiji Development Bank and planted ginger on dry sugarcane land.

Anyone who has lived in Fiji long enough will know Nadroga is not known for ginger farming unlike the provinces of Tailevu and Naitasiri where the majority of Fiji's ginger is grown.

Some of the neighbouring farmers thought he was bold while others thought he was merely naïve. Yet everyone but Master Dass, as he is commonly known, was shocked to see his ginger thriving.

"I know a lot of people disapproved or were shocked to see me planting ginger in this dry cane land but I knew that I could do it.

"Weather patterns have changed in the last 10 or so years which have been evident in the recent long rain spells here in the Western Division. So I thought why not? "Ginger is a valuable crop these days with the opening up of the Australian market," said Master Dass.

Master Dass is a former lecturer at the Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT) in Suva, now part of the Fiji National University, since 1977 and later becoming head of school for General Studies before retiring.

Master Dass is the youngest of four brothers one of whom, Sanmugam has passed away while the two older ones Gan Pati and Deo Rain have migrated to New Zealand. Master Dass now manages the farm of his two brothers who are clients of the Fiji Development Bank (FDB).

Both clients were resettled farmers at Navovo settlement and were assisted by FDB under the agriculture facility for the development of the land for growing vegetables and the construction of a farm house.

FDB approved their loan in July 2010 which was utilised in the purchase of the housing material from Tropik Wood, bulldozing, land preparation for the farm works and the purchase and transportation of water tanks to the farm.

At first they started with the planting of dalo, cassava, kumala, rock melon, okra pulses and other vegetables.

However last year, Master Dass began to venture into unknown territory when he cultivated three acres of land and planted ginger on it — a crop not known to thrive in the dry western climate.

"I planted three acres of ginger on the piece of land sometimes in March 2012 whereby the majority of the crops were damaged during the unfavorable weather condition that took charge at the beginning of the year however we were fortunate to harvest at least five tonnes," said Master Dass.

Much to the amazement of the Department of Agriculture, his ginger crops grew very well on dry land previously covered with cane. So much so that other farmers in the area are now also experimenting with ginger.

As such, his main market are the other aspiring ginger farmers around the Sigatoka Valley who have also ventured into ginger farming.

He revealed he has had talks with Kaiming Agro Processing Ltd — also an FDB client — and the Department of Agriculture for the sale of his ginger. He expects to harvest about seven to 10 tonnes of ginger soon which will sell at $1200 per tonne.

Master Dass is a firm believer that farmers in Fiji and all stakeholders should promote the planting of crops which are not traditional to Fiji such as soya, mustard, and ginger and also promote renewable energy sources through wind, water and biofuel.

"I believe that only through the promotion of agriculture that the eradication of poverty can be accomplished. We have ample land in Fiji and if we maximise its use, we will be much better off and living standards in the country will improve a lot," he said.

"I'm doing it with ginger. If an old man like me can do this, than what's stopping others?"

Master Dass plans to increase his ginger acreage. His determination and out of the box thinking is making waves in Sigatoka especially with a crop that is unusually thriving in dry cane land.

p Lote Raboila is the media and community relations officer of the FDB.

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