Farmers in the Muanicevo Rice Irrigation Scheme at Dreketi in Vanua Levu are complaining that Rewa Rice is no longer buying paddy from them on a regular basis because of financial problems.
A number of farmers who supplied paddy to the company have still not been paid in full. Farmers are upset because they have their own costs to meet.
One of the farmers owed money said he was told that the company was facing financial problems and would pay them in installments as and when it received money from sales of rice.
“This is unfair. I have spent almost five months tending to the crop in the hope of receiving full payment on purchase by Rewa Rice.
“I have bills to pay and must meet my other financial commitments but I have been left stranded. I am seriously thinking of moving out to Viti Levu in search of wage employment,” said another farmer who is owed more than half the value of the crop he sold to Rewa Rice several months ago.
According to sources in Rewa Rice this problem started in 2009 on account of the company being cash strapped, and has worsened progressively to a point where it is now poses a serious threat to the future of the local rice industry.
Meanwhile, the company has about 400 tonnes of paddy stored in silos since last year at its Muanicevo depot but is unable to mill it because the paddy retrieval system is out of order. Farmers are concerned that the paddy will rot unless the retrieval machine is fixed soon.
Not only that, Dreketi rice farmers are forced to travel to Labasa to receive payments for their paddy. It is an hour’s drive, incurring extra costs to the farmer. While the mill, weighing stations and silos are in Dreketi, for some reason the Rewa Rice office is situated in Labasa.
Another problem confronting the farmers is the poor marketing arrangements for local rice resulting in reduced sales. Unfortunately, the government is not helping by promoting the consumption of local rice in its own institutions such as the army, prisons, hospitals and boarding schools.
“If these institutions bought rice from us then we would have no problems in increasing production and making full payment to farmers on delivery,” a Rewa Rice source said.
“It is one thing to talk of making Fiji self sufficient in rice, and another to actually adopt practical measures to assist the local rice industry grow,” the source said.