Cane growers are desperately in need of cash assistance from government to begin preparations for the 2016 harvest, National Farmers Union general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry told the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs during consultations on the Sugar Reform Bills in Ba today.
Mr Chaudhry is calling for a $10 per tonne special assistance to enable farmers to begin preparations for harvest.
NFU wrote to the Prime Minister’s office on 13 June 2016 submitting a request from growers in Labasa for an additional $10 per tonne payment to assist with harvest preparations. He asked that the payment be extended to growers in the West as well.
Similar requests were made by Rakiraki farmers last week-end. Mr Chaudhry’s submission for $10 per tonne assistance at the Ba public hearing today was supported by a number of individual growers as well.
The plea follows a pathetically low 4th Cane Payment which left most growers with little cash in their pockets after several deductions made at source by FSC.
“Growers were already facing severe hardship following the devastation caused to their homes, farm equipment and machinery by Cyclone Winston. The very low 4th cane payment has worsened their financial plight,” Mr Chaudhry said.
He said the only cyclone assistance growers have received from government so far is through the Help for Homes scheme. There has been NO relief assistance for the substantial damage incurred to crops, farm equipment or machinery.
“Growers are simply not in a position to hire labour, make substantial provisions for their food and shelter or even hire transport to deliver cane to the mills,” Mr Chaudhry said.
So far, government has not replied to the NFU request. But it is clear that the Labasa Mill which began crushing two weeks ago is facing problems due to a notable shortage of cane. It is operating on a stop/start basis – not a single day has the mill run continuously for 24 hours.
Mills in the Western Division are scheduled to begin harvesting in two weeks’ time. Western growers are joining the cry for financial assistance.
Mr Chaudhry pointed out that despite these problems, no special provisions were made in Budget 2016/17, for special assistance to cane growers.
The sugar industry received a mere $23m allocation of which $11m is the EU assistance for cane development etc.
The rest is the usual $9m subsidy for fertilisers and $3m for cane access roads, providing a direct government input of just $12m.
In comparison, Tourism received a whopping $64.2m grant. A breakdown shows $37.2m for marketing, $9m for the Natadola International golf tournament and $18m for Fiji Airways.
The latter two are highly questionable. Real benefits to the country from the Natadola International golf is minimal while one wonders why a company that registered a $70m profit for its last financial year, should be needing government assistance to the tune of $18m?
“Why are cane growers getting a step-brotherly treatment?” Mr Chaudhry asked.