Maika adds potatoes to his list

POTATOES have become a staple food in Fiji and the demand is consistent throughout the year. While Fiji continues to import potatoes, every effort is made by the Ministry of Agriculture to assist farmers with growing this commodity locally.

Farmers on trial in Fiji planting potatoes include those from the Nadarivatu area with those from the Ra and Nadroga/Navosa provinces.

For 39-year-old potato farmer Maika Matakaca of Mataso, Nakorotubu, Ra, the climate in some parts of the Western Division is best suited for potato farming which is why he was eager to plant.

Maika’s story started way back in 1993 when he completed his studies at Form Six level. He felt it was much better to till the land and sell his produce from his hard-earned work rather than continuing with tertiary education.

He started planting dalo, cassava and vegetables in consultation with the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture.

In 2011, after much sought advice and discussions, Maika ventured into potato farming in addition to what he was already planting.

“The agricultural officers advised me to practise intercropping, that is to plant dalo, cassava and vegetables together with potato on the same piece of land,” he said.

Maika took heed of the advice and started intercropping where he planted together the root crops, vegetables and potatoes on his two acres of land.

The Ministry of Agriculture assisted him with land preparation, fertiliser and also supplied potato seeds, and a water pump with 20 litres of diesel for his generator.

He said the timely assistance by the ministry was of great help as he managed to start well with potato farming. The pump was used to pump water from the nearby creek to irrigate the farm.

“Nothing goes wrong if we take work in line with the technical advice from the ministry staff and I have thrived, have done very well, in the last three years.”

Maika grows Red Pontiac potatoes because it is the variety best suited for Fiji’s climate.

Come harvesting time, Maika sells his vegetables to the middleman while his dalo and cassava is bought by a company, Ben’s Trading, for the export market. He sells potatoes to the Agriculture Marketing Authority (AMA) at $1/kg.

“I sell one bundle of long bean for $2 at the local market while a dozen (bundles) is $20. Tausala variety dalo is sold at $1.80/kg and other varieties for $0.87/kg while cassava is sold at $0.25/kg.”

Married with six children, Maika believes good things are achieved through hard work and perseverance. His earnings from the farm have been increasing every year and he uses the money for his children’s education and also to buy farm implements.

“I have my family and relatives who help out on the farm during planting, weeding and harvesting time,” Maika said

He has faced problems on his farm but the major one was the flash floods experienced earlier this year. These destroyed his farm but he never looked back and began to plant his vegetables and crops again.

“Problems come and go but that doesn’t stop me from continuing in what I love the most — that is farming.”

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s senior officer for potato management, Mohammed Kadir Khan, the Red Pontiac has been proven to be the best variety of potatoes for Fiji’s climate. And this was emphasised to growers in the Western Division during the Potato Day event that was held at Sigatoka Agriculture Station.

Mr Khan said that according to the Koronivia Research Station, it has been proven this variety grew well in the country and was a high yielding variety which produces around 10 to 12 tonnes per hectare.

* Maria Laqeta is a staff member at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Information and Communication section.

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