About 400 cane farmers took to the streets in Labasa yesterday to push their demand for a minimum guaranteed cane price of $100 a tonne and a $10 top up from government for their 4th cane payment.
It ended with the National Farmers Union President, Surendra Lal, handing over a petition with six other demands to Provincial Administrator Macuata, Mr Semi Kuru.
NFU general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry said he was extremely pleased with the turnout and the resolve shown by the farmers to do something about getting their grievances addressed.
“It is good that the growers have finally found their voice which had been suppressed for 10 years under the Bainimarama administration.
“The government and FSC should take heed of their legitimate demands. The Union will now mobilise farmers nationwide to secure their rights,” he said.
Mr Chaudhry said it was very important that growers remained united: “It is only through the strength of their solidarity that they can get their voice heard and their demands addressed.”
Mr Lal was also pleased with the turnout yesterday. “Farmers are now raising their voice and we know that there are many more who are supporting us from behind the scenes.”
Mr Lal said farmers had only received $10.57 a tonne for their 4th cane payment. This was hardly sufficient to meet their preparation costs for harvest.
“This is why we are calling for a $10 a tonne top up from government. Besides, Labasa farmers are not benefiting from the $10m government grant recently announced for growers who had suffered losses from Cyclone Winston. It is only fair that growers in Labasa also receive government assistance,” Mr Lal said.
Farrmers are also calling on government to regulate harvesting and haulage charges to arrest escalating costs.
They want the withdrawal of the Sugar Industry Bills 19 and 20 which have been widely rejected by growers, the reinstatement of sugar industry institutions, the holding of Growers Council elections and recognition of growers unions, an independent inquiry into irregularities at FSC during the tenure of Abdul Khan as executive chairman and the merger of Cane Producers Associations with the Growers Council.
Meanwhile, in response to AG Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum’s statement in Parliament that growers’ organisations were off-shoots of political parties, Mr Chaudhry said the National Farmers Union was formed long before the Fiji Labour Party.
“I should tell the AG that the sugar industry was doing extremely well in the hey- day of these unions. Mr Khaiyum must admit that the major decline in the industry has taken place in the past 10 years under the stewardship of PM Bainimarama and Khaiyum.
“They have a habit of blaming everyone else except themselves,” Mr Chaudhry said.