Thousands in their ‘bank’

THE deep lines on the face of Vatunisau Rokoduguvanua speak of the silent toil he puts into his yaqona plantation.

His shirt drenched with sweat as he walks up more than 1km from Nabalebale Village in Cakaudrove Province on Vanua Levu to his farm.

“I always say that your yaqona farm is like a bank. If you plant 10 plants one day, and with the current market prices at, say $100 for one kava plant, that’s like investing $1000 in your bank in one day. That is the advice I’m giving to the young people here and I am happy that many have heeded my advice while some don’t.”

The 55-year-old knows what he’s talking about. His farm has provided a home for him and his family, put his children through school, sent a son to New Zealand for further studies and recently paid for another son’s journey to England to join the British Army.

The Bagata villager from Cakaudrove Province settled with his wife, Elenoa Disusu, at her village of Nabalebale, a neighbouring village just 20 minutes’ drive from Savusavu. He has been farming for more than 24 years.

It’s a story that is synonymous with those hardworking farmers in rural areas. They don’t often have their stories told but it’s their hard work and its fruits that say a lot.

“Farming plays a key role in my life here in Nabalebale,” the farmer and father said.

“We had a tough childhood growing up. Every Friday we used to go up to our block of land called Basoganiwai near the border of the village planting areas.

“We weren’t enthusiastic about going up there…but our father wanted us to share a unique relationship with the soil. After he had passed away we realised the benefit of being brought up by him.

“I’ve been tilling the land since I was in Class Eight. As I didn’t do well in school. I went back to the village and started planting my yaqona. I had three big plots.

“When I harvested one I bought my first vehicle, a Nissan Vanette. I bought it from Carpenters Motors for $2900,” he said with a smile.

The family often stop off at a farming settlement called Nasiladamu for a brief respite before continuing on to their farm. This land belongs to his wife’s family and is situated about a kilometre walk west of Nabalebale along a creek in a ravine. This is where the family and extended members rest or cook their meals before heading out.

From the farming settlement, Vatunisau walks a further 1km to his yaqona farm.

At a time when kava prices are sky high after the Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston swept through the country in 2016, farmers like Vatunisau have benefitted a lot when supplies ran low. He said the price increase came just in time when his son, Losefati Ligairi’s application to join the British Army was accepted in 2016 and he had to attend an assessment in the United Kingdom.

The family uprooted about eight-10 plants which was about five years old. The income generated from this sale was nearly $6000. It was more than enough to take his son accross.

“These days there are faster, easier ways of selling the kava plant,” said Vatunisau.

“One such way is to sell the entire raw plant priced according to weight. Some plants are being sold at $14 or even $10 a kilo. I suggest patience when faced with such a decision.

“If you sell the plants whole like many are doing these days — a method that is taking Fiji farms by storm — it will quickly deplete the supply of kava plants. You sell the entire plant, only the leaves are left which leaves you with nothing to replant your stock. My advice is to have the patience to uproot, dry and sell your kava so you can enjoy the full fruits of your labour.”

He added kava farmers on Vanua Levu need to unite and form a co-operative and help lift their industry, especially when the kava market was opening up around the world.

“We need to have a unified vision and decide together to plant kava for five years with the aims of exporting kava to overseas markets because as an organisation, we can effectively satisfy the quota that is required by overseas markets.

“We still don’t have that here. The farmers here don’t have the collective vision to come up with methods to increase production and earn revenue.

“The price of yaqona overseas is very high. The exporter knows this while farmers like us are still stuck here selling in Labasa and Savusavu.

“We still haven’t combined our efforts and formed an organisation that aims to plant and tend to the plants for five years and then export the kava overseas.

“We need to build a warehouse or similar structure to cater for the kava export business; these farmers will then experience the high revenue they will gain when the sales start rolling.”

Vatunisau had just returned from selling some of his two-year-old kava dried plants at the Labasa market the previous week. He had pulled 14 plants earning him over $707.

“The price of kava is very high for those of you who want to invest your money in planting kava; this is one of the best and most rewarding investments you can make,” he said.

“My advice to you young people working in the urban areas is, if you want to invest your money, the way is to invest in the soil. Come over to the village and don’t be double minded about it.

“If you invest $1000 in one year to develop your yaqona farm. Just imagine the huge rewards you will gain.”

* NEXT WEEK — Read the inspirational story of Losefati Ligairi the son of Vatunisau Rokoduguvanua and his aspiration to join the British Army. All on the back of his family’s kava farm.

More Stories