THIRTY-SEVEN-year-old Sakiusa Nabehiki of Dreke, Nadroga has known for a while there is much money to be made in cattle farming, provided all the conditions are met. Raised by his late uncle Lepani Ravouvou, a cattle farmer himself, Sakiusa is quite familiar with the challenges and the potential that exist within the beef industry.
Now a husband and a father, he lives on a 374-acre farm in Dreke with his wife and three children where he has a livestock count of 34 cattle and 36 goats which he is working on increasing.
While attending high school in Suva in 1989, Sakiusa noticed the family farm was deteriorating so he asked his father to send him to Navuso Agricultural School where he spent the next two years. It was there that his commitment to farming was reaffirmed. He joined the then Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Forests (MAFF) in 1992 where for the next four years he gained the necessary experience before deciding to give up the security of a regular paying job to return to the farm to eke out a living for his family.
"It was my uncle's influence that got me hooked onto beef farming. He was a beef farmer who started his business with a loan from the Fiji Development Bank but as time went by when he couldn't take care of his farm I stepped in," Sakiusa said.
"In the back of my mind, I always wondered how my uncle did as well as he did with his beef farm without any academic qualifications and how much more I could go with the knowledge I'd gained from growing up on the farm and from Navuso."
In 2011, Sakiusa approached the FDB branch in Sigatoka for a loan to improve his farm.
"I had gone to one of the commercial banks to enquire but there were a lot of requirements involved so I tried FDB and I was glad I did because they were very helpful and got me started. From the FDB assistance I was able to improve fencing and purchase an additional 11 head of cattle," Sakiusa said.
Sakiusa was assisted under FDB's Beef Farming Loan Facility which is tailor-made for beef farmers, seed stock farmers, butchers, and processors. This facility can assist farmers in the purchase of land, construction of farm house, purchase of vehicle, equipment, machinery and stock.
FDB also offers assistance under its Import Substitution and Export Finance Facility (ISEFF).This facility is targeted to assist exporters and large scale agricultural farming businesses to borrow at a concessional rate from FDB. The import substitution component of this facility provides financing to farmers cultivating crops and raising livestock for domestic consumption so as to reduce reliance on the import of the same commodity. Beef and dairy farming are on the import substitution list because of the decrease in local beef production.
While Fiji is self-sufficient in the lower grade beef, much of the high-quality cuts used by the hotel industry are imported. In 2011, local production of beef was 1761 tonnes and 1206 tonnes valued at $7 million were imported from Australia and New Zealand. The country's beef production in 1987 was 3762 tonnes which would have exceeded the total demand of beef for 2011.
Reduction in beef production has been attributed to factors such as uncontrolled slaughtering of cattle in the country especially in villages; low number of cattle with respect to increasing demand; major cattle areas such as estates in Vanua Levu no longer into beef farming as cattle takes longer to rear so they have shifted to alternative livelihoods; and poor nutrition of cattles because pastures don't have all the required nutrients as soil has been heavily leached.
The export component of ISEFF is available to any locally-owned enterprise that is interested in exporting local commodities abroad. The ISEFF facility is available at 6 per cent per annum.
Looking back to when his uncle managed the farm, Sakiusa acknowledges the increase in the sale price of beef. Five years ago the Fiji Meat Industry Board (FMIB) bought beef for $3.60 per kilo (dressed) and today this has gone up to $4.60 per kilo.
"There is demand for beef so there is a market for me. At the moment I can sell each head of cattle for between $600 and $800 each live weight to a middleman. If I get the opportunity to sell straight to the FMIB I could get more. I have had talks with FMIB and they have assured me of their demand for the meat. So my focus is to improve my farm in terms of increasing my stock and farming infrastructure. Hopefully I can start selling early next year."
Besides his livestock venture, Sakiusa plants cash crops such as pineapple and cassava to supplement his income. The goats are sold at the farm gate from $150 to $400 depending on size.
"For the past two years, I have seen the change in the quality of life for my family. I am able to educate my children from the money the farm brings in, repay my loan and put food on the table. I'm aiming to pay off my loan the next five years and possibly take a further loan to continue developing my farm," Sakiusa said.
p Lote Raboila is the media and community relations officer of the FDB.