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Fiji Time: 9:49 PM on Monday 21 April

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$20m boost

Timoci Vula
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

AN EXTRA $20million will be injected into the local economy with the government's effort to modernise the sugar industry.

Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said this would be achieved through investments in equipment to assist farmers cultivate and harvest their cane.

He said practical steps were taken to restore the country's sugar industry to what it was before.

Costs, he added, would be reduced and assured an increase in efficiency and sugar production.

Commodore Bainimarama said the government was determined to modernise the industry so that it would become viable and sustainable.

"The industry needs to be sustainable, well managed and properly equipped," Commodore Bainimarama said as he highlighted the outcome of a board meeting in a government statement issued last night.

The statement urged sugarcane farmers to play their part in this vital reform, which was why a cane quality payment system was introduced this year with an allocation of $4.4million.

Ministry of Sugar permanent secretary Lieutenant Colonel Manasa Vaniqi said in view of the restructure put in place by the government in the last two years, the cane payment to farmers had been significantly higher compared to recent past.

"We have managed to make a turnaround for the industry in two years when the Deloitte Report was predicting that it would take more than seven years for the industry to resurrect itself," Lt-Col Vaniqi said.

He said the industry's dependence on government through budgetary allocation to help it survive was slowly being phased out.

Mr Vaniqi said this was reflected through the declining allocation, which would eventually lead to the industry standing on its own two feet.

He said predictions had placed the recovery figure to be more than $170million but the government had helped the industry recover with only $142million.

Sugar Cane Growers Council chief executive Sundresh Chetty said all industry stakeholders supported the initiative to move to mechanisation.

"It is high time Fiji joined other sugar producing countries in the move towards mechanisation," Mr Chetty said in the same statement.

"It will ease the problems of labour and cane shortage in mills during the harvesting season."

Meanwhile, the statement revealed that the government had also allocated $600,000 for the acquisition of cultivators, ploughs and other farming implements for 2013.

Director Sugar Viliame Gucake said the concept of an equipment pool included the purchasing of tractors, trucks and mechanical harvesters in preparation for the harvesting season.

"One of the challenges faced during the last two seasons was that iTaukei farmers did not cut cane on Sunday and also Indian farmers did not cut cane during the soccer season," Mr Gucake said in the statement.

"It affects the supply of cane to the mill so this decision to come up with the strategy of an equipment pool was taken. The pool notion includes the training of canecutters because growers previously hired cutters from the maritime islands."

Mr Gucake also confirmed that a team recently visited Queensland to see how the equipment pool was used by farmers there.

The statement also noted the equipment pool strategy was part of the industry's Strategic Action Plan 2013-2022, which had been broken down to a five-year focus beginning this year until 2017.