- pic: Davidwall.
The Fiji Times editorial (okay, I'm copying and pasting a few Fiji Times articles as usual - but only if I think they are relevant) today tells it straight. Use the land, grow more vegetables, develop dairy farms. It is not necessary to import so much food to Fiji with fertile land and labour available locally. Jo Cokanisiga speals out and so does the newspaper editorial. It ain't all about sugar!
A welcome honesty
Saturday, July 05, 2008
INTERIM Agriculture Minister Joketani Cokanasiga made a critical but honest and welcome analysis of his ministry yesterday. In a departure from the usual polite platitudes, Mr Cokanasiga pointed out to ministry staff how this integral cog in the machinery of national development had failed dismally in its duties. Instead of commending agriculture officers for a job well done, the interim minister has highlighted the fact that they must do much more to earn their salaries.
This newspaper has consistently raised the issue of the failure of the agriculture sector to meet the demands of the tourism industry for fresh vegetables, fruit, beef, mutton and dairy products. Close to four decades after independence, the nation continues to rely on New Zealand for milk, butter and cheese. That reliance has forced dairy prices up and put a huge burden on families across the country.
Little has been done to ensure that landowners or investors have the proper training or incentive to move into dairy and livestock farming. Yet vast tracts of land in Tailevu and Naitasiri remain idle as we continue to import dairy products. Our farmers have the capacity to provide quality fruit and vegetables for the hotel industry.
This can be done through traditional — or the new hydroponic method — yet not enough has been done to ensure that this sector is fully utilised.
And vast tracts of land remain idle in the Western Division, the North and in the Navua area. It appears that there is a reluctance to shift the focus of the Agriculture Ministry from its current stand.
Agriculture is not all about sugar cane. Indeed, the continued focus on this industry has contributed to the ministry's myopic view on development of other sectors.
Officers must get out of the office and into the fields where they can encourage landowners to use their birthright — the land. These officers must provide options — in line with national productivity goals and in consultation with the tourism industry — for farmers to produce quality fruit and vegetables.
Native landowners should be told that they need not fear migration from the typical dalo, yaqona and tavioka farms to vegetable and fruit production. At the same time, however, traditional leaders must take a pro-active role and lead their people into the fields.
For the Fijians the time has come to break out of the mould of receiving land leases and planting for subsistence needs. A market exists for quality dairy, livestock, fruit, vegetable and fisheries products. Land and marine resources are abundant.
It is for the Agriculture Ministry to help the people harness these resources and convert them to cash. This could be a new beginning for the indigenous people. The question is, are they ready to take on the challenge and remove the yoke of dependence and poverty?