Canefarmers return to idle land

Koronubu cane growers Maika Ranitu (left) Apolosi Digo and Aisake Ratu say they are glad to be back in the cane game. Picture FELIX CHAUDHARY

THE sugar industry at its peak in the ’90s used to boast about 24,500 farmers producing between 3 and 4 million tonnes of cane on about 70,000 hectares of land.

However, due to a variety of reasons, the number of growers and the amount of production has been in decline since then.

Today, the number of active growers is about 11,800, planting cane on 42,000 hectares of land and producing between 1.4 million and 1.7 million tonnes of cane.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the decline is yield per hectare with average yield at about 40 tonnes per hectare today compared with 65 tonnes per hectare in the past.

And Sugar Ministry permanent secretary Yogesh Karan said this was why there was a lot of focus on developing existing cane land and revitalising land that used to be under cane but had gone idle over the years.

Mr Karan said he was very pleased to hear of FarmWorld-Fiji and its efforts to reignite interest in farmers who had left cane farming for some time through its innovative program.

“It is good to see farmers who had abandoned farming making the decision to return because of the FarmWorld-Fiji initiative which was assisted through government incentives.

“Government has put in place a number of reforms — many unprecedented — to revitalise the industry and this includes the cane planting grant and cane development revolving fund (CDRF) which FarmWorld-Fiji has taken advantage of.”

FarmWorld-Fiji CEO Brendan Davies, a company that has brought more than 240 idle farmers back to growing cane, said that through government’s planting grant and CDRF, $3400 was used for land preparation costs and to provide financial security to farmers who were re-entering the cane industry.

Government has allocated $62.3 million in the 2018-2019 budget for the sugar industry.

Included in the allocation is a $15.4m cane planting grant, $15.4m fertiliser subsidy, $6m weedicide subsidy, mechanical harvester and tractor purchase assistance, drainage and subsidies for cane cartage.

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