Editorial Comment: The new normal

Fiji Airways aircraft at Nadi International Airport. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

So Fiji has the potential to become an agriculture-based economy?

At least that’s the word from Daljit Singh Grewal, the managing director of G Group Fiji Ltd.

It’s important to consider his view in the face of scenarios we are now facing in Fiji.

Limited now to biding our time as the COVID-19 pandemic grips the world, we are left to ponder on the importance of agriculture to our economy.

Especially in the wake of the beating tourism has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the backbone of our economy, sugar has taken a back seat for starters.

The tourism industry has been a critical element in churning our economy in the mean time.

With airports now in lockdown around the world, airlines limiting flights to cargo ‘runs’, and nations restricting travel, tourism figures worldwide have taken a beating.

This, understandably, was to be expected in our context given our dependence on the industry.

The negative impact has been felt in our hotels and resorts around the country as staff were sent home either on leave without pay, made redundant, or forced to work reduced hours.

Workers in other sectors closely linked to the industry have also been affected, with many receiving termination letters.

Obviously we would need to consider the roll-on effects of boosting agriculture, and the positive impact it could have on our economy.

There is the bit about the essential role it can play in offering employment opportunities as well, and we could extend that to providing the impetus for associated arms feeding off it, subsequently boosting the industry.

There would have to be consideration for policy matters and assistance for farmers to thrive, and boost the industry when one considers the big picture.

“If we consider Fiji as a human body, then one leg is the sugarcane industry, the other leg is the agricultural sector, the backbone is the tourism industry, both our arms make up the contributions from Fiji Water, the export industry and all the other relevant revenue earners,” said Mr Grewal.

The agriculture sector, he said, could only grow if there was enough support.

“Some people are still using bullocks and horses to plough the land, it is fine for small-scale farming, but for commercial farming, we need machines,” he said.

Mr Grewal said he has set his sights on commercial agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture, he said, needed “the right people for the right job”.

Sadly though, people like Mr Grewal have not been able to export their produce overseas these days. Locked down by COVID-19 restrictions, they have been forced to sit out the pandemic.

The longer this drags on means trouble for them. The key though lies in the lifting of global restrictions and that’s not going to happen any time soon by the looks of things.

It is important to consider the fact though that there is an option. Perhaps it is time for us to be a bit more versatile, and extend our arms past tourism.

We learn and appreciate the new normal.

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