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Man on a mission

Serenia Vilele
Thursday, February 08, 2018

The pinnacles of life begin when you put an effort into what interests you and that is exactly what 46-year-old Mohammed Saheem of Waiwai settlement in Nailaga, Ba did.

Where once stood swaying wild reeds and shrubs against the hot breezy winds of Ba is now a pleasing site of contour lines of pineapples giving the hilly settlement a sweet aroma. He started his quest at the tender age of 20 in 1992 when he planted pineapples on 15 acres land in Waiwai.

"Back then, I was a sugarcane farmer and since it was seasonal, I had to think of something to supplement it and pineapple came up," he said.

From his own initiative, he planted 5000 pineapple suckers seeking directions and assistance from neighbouring farmers on its maintenance.

"There was not enough money then to cater for my beginning, added to that was the problem of mechanisation, I had to plough and farm with bullocks," he said.

He slowly moved up the farming ladder having purchased 172 acres in Waiwai until the turn of the century he became a commercial farmer.

Having envisioned what stands today, Poly, as he was known as, kept thriving despite the obstacles he endured which also included the uncertainty of land.

"In 2000 came the land issue, and it affected my progress and that was when I moved to Karavi in 2003 and purchased a six acres of land there," he said.

With the uncertainty of land, he never lost sight of his mission and was challenged to do more. In 2006, he purchased another 30 acres of land again in Waiwai and continued planting pineapple. Being the family man he is, Mohammed purchased a 24 acres land in 2013 and another 10 acres land three years later for his wife.

These land he purchased was for the expansion of the passion he has developed — farming of pineapples.

"I chose pineapple because it is an all-weather crop and the soil type is suitable for planting this commodity. For sugar cane, after 2-3 years it will stop but not pineapples," said Mohammed.

"Pineapple harvest keeps going and it can withstand any disaster. It is also in demand in the tourism industry."

The commercial farmer plants pineapples in both off and on season.

"It is my future plan to set up a pineapple factory and supply internationally and locally where pineapple is needed as the demand is high and I have experienced this over the years."

With the current labourers, the numerous leased lands, hills after hills of pokey pineapples and his future plan of setting up a pineapple factory, Mohammed aims to also expand his workforce to 30-50 labourers.

From the small-scale he started with, Mohammed planted a total of 60,000 suckers last year and at the beginning of this year, he managed to plant 300,000 suckers.

"We are trying our best each year to excel and despite having water problems on the farm, the boys cart water from the nearby river and because trips take time and energy, we are thinking of having a borehole. If assisted, we would be really grateful," he said.

Harvest is always the end result of the hard work of the farmers and labourers and for the pineapple farmer and his workers, receiving customers at their farm gate is market for them.

"We have buyers coming to our place to buy. We used to supply to the middlemen at the markets but decided otherwise when people started coming home to buy. It is also where we run our business. We sell pineapples for $7-$8 per dozen and in a week, the sale of pineapples could be around 300-500 dozen — that's about $200,000 yearly depending on the weather," he said.

Pineapple farming has proven to be a lucrative business for Mohammed and his family. He was able to build a house for his family, purchase vehicles including a tractor worth $40,000, a Hilux worth $75,000 and paid for his daughter's tuition of $15,000 per year to study in South Africa. Not only is he employing the neighbourhood boys but he is also helping the community by supplying suckers to beginners.

"The more you plant, the more money you will get. When you plant on a small-scale, you will harvest a small amount. Get out of the comfort of receiving little cash and explore on larger scales so you can gain more. Pineapple farming is good because there is no loss in the commodity."

* Serenia Vilele works for the Ministry of Agriculture. Views expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.

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