THE Fiji Labour Party believes the neglecting of rural areas in the past decade has created serious social problems for the country.
Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said Fiji was once termed an agricultural country with 70 per cent of people residing in rural areas, engaged in agricultural activities.
"This demography has changed rapidly with more than 50 per cent of the population now living in towns and cities," Chaudhry claimed. He said the high influx into urban areas reflected rural neglect in the past eight years, coupled with the sharp decline in major agricultural commodities such as sugar cane and copra.
"Some 20 per cent of our population now live as squatters on the fringes of towns and cities, creating critical housing problems for municipal authorities.
"The last Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) in 2009 shows rural poverty at a record high with 70 per cent of the people in rural areas now classified as poor," he claimed.
He said the party believed rural enhancement must be the major focus of any national development policy.
"It has been a key factor in Labour's platform for social and economic development since 1985.
"We plan to combat rural stagnation, unemployment, the squatter problem and rural poverty through an integrated approach.
"This will involve giving priority to rehabilitating the sugar and copra industries, and actively promoting other agricultural activities to enhance incomes and create jobs."
He said central to Labour's package would be the creation of agricultural estates in various parts of the country.
"Labour will provide three to five-acre fully serviced lots with subsidised housing.
"Resettled families will engage in commercial agriculture or livestock farming suited to the region.
"The State will provide all necessary infrastructure and marketing assistance.
"We will revive rice farming where suitable and promote livestock husbandry with all necessary technical assistance provided. State will subsidise cost of initial farm inputs."