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$59m sugar plan

Shayal Devi
Friday, August 01, 2014

OUTGOING Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki says he hopes to regain the $59million in lost revenue annually from the sugar industry in the Western Division should he be given the sugar portfolio after the September poll.

He said this could be done by ensuring all farmers who were given leases planted cane and that all cane was planted in a manner which produced a higher yield per hectare.

In an interview yesterday, Cdr Cawaki said his office conducted a survey of canefarmers as part of the Western Division's Committee for the Better Utilisation of Land, better known as CBUL, in July this year.

According to the report, the Western CBUL committee had conducted two meetings on June 24 and July 10 and discussions were focussed on important issues affecting the sugar industry.

Studies found about 1220 farmers produced low to nil amounts of cane. This incurred an expected total cane production loss of 574,485 tonnes and an expected total sugar production loss of 57,448.5tonnes, which translated to a total loss of $59m annually.

"What we found was that although the land was leased to canefarmers, 1220 of them were not planting," Cdr Cawaki said.

"They are either low or nil production. We want to tell farmers that if they are given a piece of land, they need to start planting."

He said some of the reasons production was extremely low were; the absent growers; ageing farmers; little interest in farming; a lack of capital; no farm implements; lack of infrastructure; high cost of production; harvesting; and transport.

On average, the sugar industry rakes in about $200m per year in foreign exchange earnings but Cdr Cawaki said there was potential for this figure to increase by $59m if farmers used their land efficiently.

He said they were concerned with the amount of cane crushed at the four mills in the country.

"At the moment, the four mills can crush four million tonnes and could do even more than that. Last year, it was only 1.8 million tonnes of cane.

"The projection for this year is 2.2 million tonnes of cane so we are not reaching the mark. There is still that potential there."

He said people in the Western Division could not afford to lose sugar as an industry.

"There are more than 50 per cent of our people who rely on sugar. Either they are canecutters, landowners, truck, tractor machinery operators or road contractors. They all benefit from sugar.

"Our biggest task is to maximise what we have. We have the land, in accordance with the amount of land leased, we have the potential to yield four million tonnes.

"Unfortunately, the farmers are not producing or having low production."

He said the Western CBUL committee had been meeting farmers and stakeholders to discuss key issues with them.

"The Fiji sugar industry does not need more land to bring about increased cane production but rather requires from farmers an increase in productivity for elevating yield per hectare.

"The record shows that 71,929 hectares have been given out in cane leases and out of these, only 47,587 hectares have been noted to be under cane."





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