The National Farmers Union has called on the government to provide a cash grant of $8 per tonne to cane farmers who have had their crop substantially reduced as a result of the prolonged drought.
NFU general secretary, Mahendra Chaudhry has written to the Chairman of the Sugar Commission, Mr Gerald Barrack and the Minister for Agriculture, Sugar and Land Resettlement, Jonetani Galuinadi, to take urgent action in the matter.
Apart from the cash grant, the NFU has also urged that a crop rehabilitation programme be put in place to ensure a viable crop size next year to meet Fiji’s sugar export commitments.
“The prolonged drought has reduced this years crop to around 2.7 million tonnes, compared with a pre-crush estimate of 3.23 million tonnes. It is a shortfall of .53 million tonnes which is quite substantial and it will result in a severe reduction in the incomes of farmers, cane-cutters and agricultural workers,” said NFU general secretary, Mahendra Chaudhry.
The crop this year will be some .7 million tonnes less than the 3.4 million tonnes harvested last year. It now seems that sugar production for the year will be down by some 40,000 tonnes compared to last year.
Mr Chaudhry, who is also a member of the parliamentary sugar select committee, has asked the Minister for Agriculture, Sugar and Land Resettlement for an urgent meeting of the select committee to discuss the cash assistance package to farmers and the crop rehabilitation programme.
“The situation of farmers in Vanua Levu is quite desperate. They suffered heavy losses in Cyclone Ami early in the year. So far the only relief they have received is by way of some food items supplied as ration packs.
No assistance has been given to rehabilitate their damaged homes, farms and equipment.
As it is, incomes in the rural areas are severely depressed. The proposed cash grant should also be extended to farmers who plant crops other than sugar cane. They must also be assisted so that they are able to provide for their families,” said Mr Chaudhry.