Revitalising Fiji’s rural economy
is a critical challenge that Labour
intends to address as a matter of urgency.
Labour will reverse Fiji’s rural decline.
Rural neglect in the past 8 years, coupled with the sharp decline in major agricultural commodities such as sugar cane and copra, has resulted in a highly depressed rural sector and a high rate of rural-urban migration.
Rural Poverty is at a record high with 70% of people in rural areas now classified as “poor” according to the latest Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES). Depopulation of our rural sector is a major worry. In the North, in particular, whole settlements have been abandoned with people moving to Viti Levu in search of a better future. On the whole, the rural population has declined 20% in the past decade falling from 65% in 2003 to 50% (2009) or even less now. Add to this, the increasing number of people who travel to work in urban areas, going back to their villages only in the week-ends.
Rural enhancement has been a central focus of Labour’s platform for social and economic development since 1985. We plan to combat rural stagnation, unemployment, the squatter problem and rural poverty through an integrated approach.
Priority will go to rehabilitating the sugar industry, while actively promoting other agricultural activities to enhance incomes and create jobs
Central to Labour’s package is the creation of agricultural estates in various parts of thecountry. This will be
3-5 acre fully serviced lots with subsidized housing. Resettled families will engage in commercial agriculture or livestock farming suited to the region. The State will provide all necessary infrastructure and marketing assistance.
Focus will be on reviving rice farming where suitable and promoting livestock husbandry – cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry etc; with all necessary technical assistance provided. Cost of initial farm inputs, fertilisers etc will be State subsidized.
Labour will also assist in establishing commercial farms for our major fruits – mangoes, guava, mandarins, oranges, pawpaws, pineapples, breadfruit and jackfruit for export as well as agro-processing.
Labour will provide adequate funds for the proper maintenance and upgrading of all rural roads, bridges and crossings, including cane access roads. The existing practice requiring community contribution for so-called “non-government” roads will be abolished.
The sharp decline in the sugar industry in the past 7 years has contributed significantly to high levels of rural poverty. Under the Bainimarama administration, cane production has halved – down from 3.3 million tonnes in 2006 to 1.7 million tonnes last year. Likewise, sugar make is down from 330,000 to 180,000 tonnes last year.
More than 3000 growers have exited the sugar industry since 2006 (FSC stats). This exodus is due to non-renewal of leases and the fact that cane farming is no longer regarded as a lucrative livelihood by many farmers because of low or negative returns. Interference from the regime in industry matters has marginalized growers and given unilateral control to the Fiji Sugar Corporation, reversing growers’ rights gained through decades of struggle.
- Labour’s first priority will be to pay growers a fair price for their cane, based
on cost of production
- Growers will get a minimum guaranteed cane price of $85 per tonne.
This will be reviewed periodically to take account of cost escalations
- Labour will reform the harvesting and transport systems to make these
cost-effective to the farmers and the industry as a whole. This will done
through contract harvesting and transport arrangements which will be
jointly administered by the Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Sugar Cane Growers
Council. Growers who wish to harvest and transport their own cane independently
will be accommodated within the system.
- Labour will provide tangible assistance to growers to increase their crop size.
A comprehensive crop rehabilitation programme similar to that undertaken by
the Labour government in 1999 will be reintroduced to enhance production
- High cost of fertilizer and other farm inputs is prohibitive, forcing growers to
economize on the use of fertilizer to the detriment of the crop.
Labour will look at ways of reducing the price. One of which will be to increase
the existing subsidy on a bag of fertilizer.
- Labour will the system for making deductions. Deductions from cane proceeds for harvesting,
fertilizer etc will be spread evenly through the payment system. This will be a welcome departure
from the current practice of recovering the charges from one or two payments
- Labour will review the Lorry Transport Allowance. It will be adjusted periodically to
take account of rising costs
- Labour will upgrade and extend the rail infrastructure with emphasis on
increasing the ratio of cane transported by rail
- Labour will return to the Sugar Cane Growers Fund the $14.7 m of its
money which the Bainimarama administration had converted from loan to equity
in the South Pacific Fertilizer Ltd, a company that was insolvent at the time
- Labour will reinstate industry institutions (SCGC,SCOF,FSM) disbanded by the Bainimarama
administration to give a voice to the farmers in the management of the industry.
- Labour will approach the European Union render special assistance to the industry in light
of Fiji having forfeited its right to access some $430m in aid available under EU’s Alternative
Measures Programme, because of the Bainimarama regime’s failure to hold elections in 2009.
- Labour will ensure that Lease renewals for cane farms will be government’s responsibility
as will be the payment of renewal premiums
Fiji once produced over 40,000 tonnes of copra annually. Today we are down to a 6490 tonnes.
Virtually little has been done over the years to rejuvenate this industry. In the last 8 years, Agriculture Budgets have made little reference to it. There is no sustained replanting programme or even any serious effort to assist plantation owners to revive the industry.
Labour sees it as a challenge which must be tackled successfully for the benefit of our people in the outer islands. Labour will give it utmost priority and will seek assistance from the Asian Development Bank to design, fund and implement a rehabilitation programme for the industry’s revival.
Fiji once produced more than 70% of its rice consumption needs. But rice farming has been virtually abandoned and irrigation infrastructure neglected and in a state of disrepair. It is reported that production in the North is down virtually 70%.
- Labour will re-focus on reviving rice farming particularly to promote development in the North from Bua to Dreketi where once rice was a major crop. This will require a significant change in the attitude and focus of Agricultural officials as well as farmers.
- The canal system will be rehabilitated for irrigated rice farming – the irrigation system in areas such as Muanidevo and Nasarowaqa have been left abandoned.
- Labour will introduce mechanized harvesting to counter labour shortage and cut costs
- Labour will modernize the milling equipment. The existing mill machinery is outdated and badly maintained. This has contributed significantly to unacceptable levels of wastage in the milling process.
- Labour will undertake a comprehensive review of the operations of Rewa Rice
Labour has consistently fought for and promoted the welfare of our rural people.
Labour believes that people in rural areas have a right to decent incomes and the
basic amenities of modern living.
Rural development is an important part of Labour’s policy for national growth
and to ensure food security for our people.
Labour says Farmers are the back bone of the nation.
They deserve government’s full attention.