YAQONA farming is a lucrative business but it also needs a lot of hard work and patience.
Yaqona was the third highest non-sugar crop export last year. A total of 51.3 tonnes of yaqona was exported in 2007 to the value of $1.8million.
The lucrative picture painted by the million dollar plus revenue has been more than enough incentive for local growers to work closely with the Agriculture Department.
One of the innovative yaqona farmers is Livai Nabulu, 32, of Nautovatu Village on Cikobia Island. He believes farming is the best profession for man.
This has been his secret since starting his farm six years ago.
"My island is very far from the mainland and many from the island have moved to the mainland. I believe our ancestors settled here for a reason and that is to develop the God-given land we have," Livai said with a smile.
Livai admits that starting his farm was an uphill battle because he had to find the most suitable land for planting and clear it.
"Our island is rocky and that was another hurdle and I had to choose a suitable location for my garden," he said.
After preparing the land, Livai got down to serious business and started planting.
"I planted kumala, dalo, cassava, yaqona and bele in phases.
"Farming for us on the island is solely for food as we are far from the mainland and it costs too much to transporting our produce to the market.
"We give it our all because it is for our families and I know that with the difficult times ahead of us, we have an advantage because we are planting our own food."
Livai said farmers on Cikobia had to start from scratch after Cyclone Daman hit them last year.
"It was a trying time for us because there were no crops left but now we are grateful that the farms are starting to show healthy signs of life."
Yaqona farming is something Livai has gone into fulltime because he believes it will be a huge income earner for his family.
"Planting yaqona was practised by the village elders many years ago and I am trying to revive it on the island.
"Thankfully there were no serious damage to my yaqona plantation as they are situated on the other side of the island and it is something my family can bank on for our immediate needs in future."
Livai can be seen on his farm like the rest of the farmers on the island six days a week.
He believes the Agriculture Department played a big role in his yaqona plantation.
"They have been advising me on many aspects ranging from planting disease-free plants to drying the cut trees to get best quality."
He said the major yaqona disease in the country was the yaqona dieback disease and it affected about 30 per cent of production.
The only way farmers can fight the disease is to destroy the infected plants and rotate their plants.
"If a man lives in the village and cannot farm for his family, we consider that to be weak because living in rural areas and the outer islands has a lot of opportunities.
"We have farming and fishing and we are busy all day because as the man of the house, I have the responsibility to provide for my family."
With six children of school-going age, Livai is adamant he will do everything to send them to the best schools on Vanua Levu.
"That is why I make sure I plant a lot of healthy food so I can feed my children so they produce good results in school."
Livai is grateful to the interim Government for helping Cikobia islanders over the first few months after Cyclone Daman.
"The Ministry of Primary Industries stepped in right after the cyclone and handed planting materials to us."
Principal agriculture officer northern Ilaitia Naigani said it was important to supply the islanders with planting materials which would take quicker to mature.
"That is why we gave them kumala cuttings and after a survey, they were found to be growing well in the various plantations," said Mr Naigani.
"We did not stop there as we knew the islanders were going to need all the help they needed so we set up a Cikobia rehabilitation program where they were going to be helped with more farming implements."
A few weeks later, Agriculture officials visited the island with more farming implements such as knapsack sprays, drums for setting up copra sheds, vegetable seeds, fertiliser and farm tools.
"In the coming months, there will be another team visiting the island ad they will monitor the progress of the farms and help in whatever areas that need to be looked at in terms of agricultural production." Livai is hopeful for a fruitful harvest this year and says Cikobia Island will surely prosper with blessing from above.
"Through our unity and determination, we are hopeful we will rise from the difficulties we face and strive toward a better tomorrow.
"Farming is an activity that no man on the island can ignore because it is the only means of feeding the family and that is why the whole island is geared up for hard work and sacrifice so we can sustain our rootcrops and vegetables for the coming years."