THE expiry of agricultural land leases has affected the student numbers at Waidamudamu Primary School in Labasa.
Normally, the school has a roll of 160 and 180 students but this has dropped to 40 in the past three years.
Waidamudamu Primary School headteacher Gaj Raj Prasad said farmers had been evicted from the area which used to thrive on cane farming.
Mr Prasad said the school reduced their staff and was running composite classes because of the school roll they now had.
Waidamudamu cane farmer and school manager Raj Patel said farmers in the area were evicted after the expiry of their leases and they chose to find greener pastures in other towns, with many of them moving to Viti Levu. "It is very expensive to renew leases with the high fees that we have and a farmer normally has to pay lease renewal fee of approximately $12,000 and an annual land rent of $700 to $800," said Mr Patel.
"This is very expensive and many farmers have opted to move out as we cannot cater for other expenses incurred during the process of cane farming, taking into account the cost of labour, fertiliser and transportation costs.
"This area used to thrive with cane farmers which saw the need to build a school but the current school roll is evidence of the amount of farmers who have moved out and opted for other means of generating income other than cane farming, thus affecting the school roll in this cane belt area," he said.
Principal education officer North Seru Curuivalu confirmed the Education Ministry in the Northern Division had identified that the expiry of cane farming leases directly affected the school roll in cane farming areas in the north as farmers opted to move to areas with better opportunities.
"Not only has this affected the school roll but it has also affected the grade of schools in that they have dropped," said Mr Curuivalu.