Australian retiree helps farmers plough idle land

Ruca Rasili with FarmWorld- Fiji CEO Brendan Davies on the tractor that she drives. Picture: FELIX CHAUDHARY

MORE than 240 sugarcane farmers — many who had not produced cane for years — are now back in the business thanks to an Australian retiree with more than 40 years’ experience in the agriculture sector.

Brendan Davies set up a company called FarmWorld-Fiji and came up with the idea to engage iTaukei landowners and those who had abandoned cane farming by establishing cooperatives.

With support from the Sugar Cane Growers Fund, the Sugar Cane Growers Council and the Sugar Ministry, Mr Davies has set up two coops, engaged 35 employees and developed about 1000 hectares of land for cane.

“I first visited Fiji in 2011 and saw the potential in the agriculture sector here, and especially in sugar cane,” he said.

“But I could see that what was lacking in Fiji was the machinery needed to clear land quickly and efficiently.”

He began bringing in machinery — four tractors, slashers, seven-tine deep rippers, rotary tillers, boom sprayers and other implements.

“After that the hard work really began — I had to go out and convince the landowners and inactive growers that it was worth the effort for them to get into cane farming. What used to be the biggest hindrance for them was the cost of hiring equipment for land preparation.

“With FarmWorld-Fiji, what we have done is negotiate with the SCGF, SCGC and Sugar Ministry and managed to get $3400 per hectare for each grower through Government’s cane grant and the Cane Development Revolving Fund.

“This is used to get their land prepared and to plant their cane. And because we have very robust machinery, we are able to improve yield per hectare.

“Our farms produce between 80 to 100 tonnes per hectare, compared to the average 40 tonnes per hectare in most farms. When the cane is harvested we take 10 per cent and the farmer receives 90 per cent.”

Mr Davies said he was blessed with the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Fijian cane growers and their families.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone, idle land is being used, non-producing growers are back and cane production is increased — and this means more revenue for the economy and more dollars in farmers’ pockets.”

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