From Harvard to cattle ranch

Laise Bale, the Harvard graduate who became a cattle rancher. Picture: FNU

Harvard University graduate, Laisa Bale, took heed of her father’s advice to stay close to the land no matter how far across the oceans her white-collar job took her.

A third generation cattle rancher, she is now pursuing her Certificate in Commercial Agriculture (Level 3) at the Fiji National University’s Naduna campus in Labasa. FNU’s College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (CAFF) had extended its agriculture programs to students in Vanua Levu from Semester 2, 2023.

“Firstly, it curbs the urban drift of our students and later of their parents. Most students leave Vanua Levu for higher education in Viti Levu,” Ms Bale said.

“Often, their aged farming parents have no social support. This may lead students to drop out or parents having to move islands to be near their children.

“Secondly, it is cheaper for the students to study in their hometown. Students also do well academically if they have social support from their families. This course will enable students to live with family while pursuing an education instead of resettling in a new environment.”

“Thirdly, for farmers like me who cannot leave the island because of our vested interest in our farms, this course is a blessing. We can learn while we farm, and we don’t have to move to another island to upskill and gain knowledge.”

Ms Bale hails from the village of Navutua in the Province of Bua and grew up in a farming background.

Her late paternal grandfather was a well-known cattle rancher in the province of Bua supplying meat to Fiji Meats Ltd.

She calls herself a full-time farmer who decided to make a career change in her mid-forties.

A graduate from the University of Sussex in England, she holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of the South Pacific (USP), Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Development from USP.

“There were a lot of factors that played a role in this career switch. First, I was given land from my tribe. The second is that agricultural data seem to indicate that farming has good investment returns if you do it right. The third was based on a calling to pursue farming. She said she would like to pay tribute to her father, who encouraged her to stay close to the land no matter what.

“I vividly recall as a child the advice he gave us when we were considering career options is that the land would always be there for us.

“We could travel extensively and attain all the education that we could acquire but we had the option of returning to the land. I have come full circle with that advice.”

Ms Bale said that her motivation for undertaking the FNU course was to learn the basics of running a commercial farm.

“The Labasa facility has state-of-the-art equipment that enables us to learn online, supported by a course coordinator, providing a brilliant opportunity for students in the north of Fiji to learn without the need to travel to Viti Levu.”

“There is a lot of good advice from each of the lectures so far that I have attended at FNU that has refined my approach to farming or changed the direction in my farm management. I am very grateful that I was allowed to undertake this course.”

“The course is also structured in such a way that one can farm and study at the same time. This term, we are undertaking four units, but we still have time before class to attend to our farms and return to it after class.”

Ms Bale said now Vanua Levu farmers were able to gain new knowledge and skill sets that would help them run commercial enterprises.

“The course covers how to register your business, how to construct the master farm plan and operating budget, the uses of technology and machinery, and large-scale crop farming,” she said.

“The expansion of this course to Vanua Levu is a step in the right direction.”

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