Labasa farmers have called on the Fiji First government to reinstate the democratically elected Sugar Cane Growers Council and to hold fresh Council elections before the start of the 2015 harvesting season.
This is part of a 10-point resolution adopted by more than 100 Labasa growers who attended the annual general meeting of the National Farmers Union at St. Mary’s School in Nasea this morning. Other resolutions call for the planned review of the Sugar Master Award to be conducted in an independent and impartial manner, free of interference from the regime.
Speaking at the meeting, NFU general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry told growers they h ad been completely marginalised by the regime in an industry in which they hold 70% stake. They needed to unite and maintain their solidarity if they wanted to have rights taken away from them since 2009, restored.
The following is the full list of growers’ demands unanimously approved by the AGM:
- Minimum Guaranteed Cane Price of $85 per tonne – The price of cane must take account of the escalating costs of land rents, cultivation, harvesting and delivery of cane to the mills. This can best be done by providing for a minimum guaranteed price which at current levels should be set at no less than $85 per tonne
2. Review of Sugar Industry Master Award – The review process is well defined in the Master Award and the Sugar industry Act and these should be followed without exception.It must be independent and free of interference by the Sugar Ministry. It should be conducted by the Sugar Industry Tribunal; and be based on the submissions made by the growers’ organisations and the millers. The Tribunal must be assisted by an independent accountant.
3. Reinstatement of Growers Council and Sugar Industry Institutions – Growers councilors unlawfully removed by the regime in 2010 must be reinstated to their positions and fresh elections called without delay to have a newly elected Council in place before the next harvesting season and the commencement of the review of the industry master award. The Council must be allowed to function with the authority vested in it under the Sugar Industry Act 1984 and the Master Award.
4. Reinstatement of other Industry Institutions unlawfully removed- Sugar Commission of Fiji, Mill Area Committees and the Fiji Sugar Marketing Limited must be reinstated and allowed to operate fully as provided for in the Sugar Industry Act and the Master Award, without government interference as has been the case since 2010 .
5. Crop Rehabilitation Progamme (CRP) – A crop replanting programme similar to that introduced following the 1998 drought should be introduced to increase the size of the cane crop. The current replanting programme is not being fairly implemented and is not appropriately designed to attain the intended outcome.
6. Quality Cane Payment System – This must be deferred pending elections of the Sugar Cane Growers Council. It is a sensitive issue and its implementation and modality must be agreed with the growers’ representatives. Any system agreed to must provide for growers to be compensated for milling inefficiencies.
7. Payment of Premiums on Lease Renewals/ New Leases – Government must implement the Cabinet decision of 2008 to pay full premium on all land lease renewals and new leases to the landowners. Growers who were urged to pay on the promise of being reimbursed must be repaid without delay.
8. Payment of Farming Assistance Scheme (FAS) Grants- Government to pay all outstanding Farming Assistance Scheme grants of $10,000 to incoming farmers who have not been paid since 2008.
9. Land Rent Assessment-This must be made transparent with growers provided full details of the basis on which rent has been calculated.
10. FSC Annual Financial Reports – Fiji Sugar Corporation’s financial reports have not been published since 2011. All outstanding annual reports must now be published and tabled in parliament in the interest of accountability and transparency.