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Picking up the pieces

Nacanieli Takele Ministry Of Agriculture
Saturday, January 19, 2013

WHILE some of us celebrated the ringing in of the New Year, vegetable farmer Atish Chand of Lautoka and his family were busy clearing debris from their farm and salvaging whatever they could to help them start over.

This is the third time in a year that the farm has been hit by natural disasters that wiped out crops they had on the farm.

To add to their anguish, Tropical Cyclone Evan also tore the roof off their four-bedroom house. Only one room survived and that is where Atish, his wife and their 14-year-old son now live.

For 38-year-old Atish, TC Evan was almost the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back as it brought their family farm and hope almost to its knees.

"We have been experiencing the wrath of nature since the flood of 2009 that destroyed all the crops we had on our farm," he said.

"We were just getting our farm back on its feet when we were hit again by the two floods in January and March last year that not only wiped out all our vegetables but also swept away our flock of ducks.

"Our farm is our life as it is our only source of money and food and every time we are hit by floods or cyclone, it drains us emotionally and physically.

"We were still trying to recover from those two disasters when Cyclone Evan hit us late last year and destroyed all our crops.

"Only eggplants that were provided by the Department of Agriculture under the Flood Rehabilitation program survived and they are just beginning to flower and fruit.

"Right now we do not have any source of income that we can depend on and it is a worry for my family because the beginning of a new school year is just around the corner.

"It is heart-breaking to work so hard and dedicate so much time and effort only to have the fruits of your labour destroyed before your eyes by strong winds."

Atish said that had they not been hit by the twin floods of January and March last year, they would not have any problems with starting all over again and repairing their damaged house.

"Three natural disasters in a year have really taken their toll on our farm finance and it is also affecting our ability to rebuild again."

Atish, who was Fiji's Vegetable Farmer in 2011, is determined to rebuild his farm. As he had done in the past, he is not waiting for government assistance because he is aware that to wait will only prolong his anguish.

"Our major focus now is to get the farm running again so that we can earn some money for our family use," he said.

"We are fortunate that the eggplants provided by the Agriculture Department late last year survived the cyclone and are now beginning to fruit, bele will be soon ready for the market and rourou is also coming up well.

"We also need money to repair the roof of our house but that will have to wait until we have enough money."

Department of Agriculture officer Sitiveni Ratila said Atish was a determined worker and a self-starter.

"We are confident of his ability to rebuild his farm and we will also assist him with seeds and provide technical support," he said.

Atish's farm is located beside Drasa Rd. Until recently, the area was flood-prone as two creeks meet a few metres behind their family house.

One of the creeks curved back into the other which forced flood waters to build up and flood his farm.

"I am grateful to government for draining and straightening that offending creek so that floodwaters do not build up and flow back into my farm.

"Water seems to be flowing well with no build up in the past few times it rained heavily so I am sure that the flooding of my farm is under control."

The draining of the creek was provided under the Department of Agriculture's flood rehabilitation assistance program last year.

Atish said one of the things that was slowing down the rebuilding of his farm was the lack of farming implement as most of his farm tools were swept away by the floods.

"I only have a small rotovator to do my land preparation and it is time-consuming compared to working with bullocks or tractors," he said.

Atish's frustration to fast-track his farm production is understandable as many farmers in flood-affected areas are trying their best to be the first to supply much-needed produce to consumers in the West and take advantage of the current lucrative prices.

With the dwindling supply of quality food crops in the division and the high cost of carting produce from the Central Division, the opportunities are there for farmers to make a "killing" provided they get their produce early to the market.

After a year of going through some lean times through the impact of the three natural disasters, those are the kind of opportunities that Atish would like to grab with both hands.

But it is going to be a huge challenge.

He also understands that it is a challenge that he has to take head on for the sake of his family.

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