Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?

from w,
Fiji should not have to import $42 million rice, as there's enough suitable land and labour surely for the Islanders to grow enough rice for their own needs. But who wants to be a farmer these days? Many of the children aspire to white collar jobs. Perhaps the education system and curriculum pushes them to think that occupations to do with the land are not the best. This is not just about rice farming but sugar cane as well. cane-cutters having breakfast

farmer with box of okraSigatoka market.I have been asking friends in Fiji just where are the successful intensive farming projects. It seems that intensive vegetable and fruit production pays very well so who has the contracts to supply large institutions in their food requirements? Chinese entrepreneurs perhaps? If so, what a lost opportunity this is for farmers who do not see the potential in their land. In the story below the visiting President talks about decentralization and the FIT campus in Labasa but does that have a significant agricultural science component? Surely there ought to be pride in occupations to do with growing crops and courses for youth and young adults available in the various localities throughout Fiji. Not near Suva!

From Fiji Times last Tuesday:
President hears plea by farmers
Theresa Ralogaivau
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ELDERLY rice farmers, weighed down by manual farming, pleaded with the President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, to help mechanise the industry. The farmers of the Muanidevo Irrigation Scheme said their farms were turning to ruins with their children pursuing white-collar jobs in towns and cities, leaving the old behind to tend to the rice farms.

Rice Farmers Cooperative president Raj Kumar said with the children gone, labour shortages had hit them. "Many of the farmers are elderly and cannot keep up with the hard work," he said. "Even if we were as strong as before, the amount of work involved in rice farming needs more than just one pair of hands. We are trying our best to improve production and help reduce the amount of imports but we are helpless without the necessary machines."

Fiji imports 42,000 tonnes of rice at $40m.

Mr Kumar later told the Fiji Times unless the industry was mechanised many farmers would abandon rice farming as advancing age would limit work capabilities further. Farmers need combined harvesters that can harvest the paddy, thresh (separating paddy from husk) and winnow (clean). They also need swamp dozers to prepare rice fields for planting but the prices of both are beyond their means. A swamp dozer costs $0.3million while combine harvesters cost $50,000.

Ratu Epeli said there was no escaping the reality that children would grow up and pursue further education and the State was addressing this by decentralising tertiary education outlets such as the Fiji Institute of Technology, which opened in Labasa in 2002.pic from Navua

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