Island News

Rice all the way for Wainunu man

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. It’s not everyday that we get to send farmers to other countries to learn the fundamentals of farming. But for Ilisoni Draunitivi, this is
13 Sep 2008 12:00

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. It’s not everyday that we get to send farmers to other countries to learn the fundamentals of farming.
But for Ilisoni Draunitivi, this is what exactly happened when he was chosen with three other colleagues to travel to Indonesia and attend a two months long workshop on improved rice technology organized by the Indonesian government last year.
For Ilisoni things could not have come at a better time.
A novice at the time, Ilisoni found his affection for the crop amusing and was quite astonished at the amount of work required to cultivate the crop that the farmers of Dreketi and Nasarawaqa have come to adore.
Originally from Nadua Village in Wainunu, Ilisoni’s existence in Nasarawaqa was undeniably because of his feelings for someone special.
“I am married to a woman from here and when I came for a visit with her to Nasarawaqa I saw this strange crop in plots along the irrigation scheme and upon enquiring I found out that it was rice,” he explained.
Ilisoni ironically comes from an area famous for its rootcrops and the produce from its sea.
Being a farmer in Wainunu and realizing that the crops of Wainunu are all long term crops, the soft spoken but confident farmer decided to try out his skills on a land assigned to him by his new relatives in Nasarawaqa.
With some seeds and the help of his new neighbors Ilisoni embarked on a drive that was a stranger to him and probably to anyone in Wainunu for the matter.
The year was 2004; it was also the year that the Fiji Government with its Indonesian counterpart signed a Memorandum of Understanding for bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
Encompassed under the MoU was the Indonesian governments support for technical assistance to rice farmers and the introduction of new technologies.
Through this agreement the Indonesian Government sent some of its technical experts to train the local farmers new and modern techniques of rice cultivation.
They also brought with them new varieties of rice and equipments used in the cultivation of rice.
For Ilisoni, his fascination with rice grew daily and with unbounded eagerness, slowly gained the skills to cultivate his new found crop.
His determination did not go unnoticed and when the Indonesian government required four farmers to further their training in Indonesia, his was the fourth name; the only indigenous farmer selected to travel abroad.
“When I started cultivating rice I had no idea that this crop will take me overseas and since I spent most my life in Wainunu, being selected for the Indonesia training was a real feat,” he smiles.
“But I must confess that it was hardwork and the willingness to learn new things that took me to Indonesia,” he admits.
Bearing witness to the technological progress of the Indonesian farmers, Ilisoni said that quite a lot of things were learnt during their stay there and some of the methods used by the Indonesians were quite impressive.
“I noticed that while they have vast portion of land under rice, the interfacing of man and machinery on the paddies was an ever present feature on each farms we visited.”
Ilisoni explained that mechanization might be the way forward but it must be recognized that the farmer himself is a key player in all farming ventures especially for a demanding crops like rice.
“The one thing that really stood out was the collaboration of the farmers and strangely enough they were applying a system very similar to our own solesolevaki arrangements,” he said.
Solesolevaki is best described as the ingenious and traditional mode of cooperation between a group of people for the achievement of an allocated task.
Immensely impressed and with added knowledge on how to be a successful rice farmer, Ilisoni returned to Fiji with his three colleagues to spread the gospel.
“The knowledge that we gained was quite valuable and some of the technologies utilised in Indonesia were quite advance yet simple,” he said.
A technique imported from Indonesia was the ‘Lego’ system, a system designed to maiximise rice production from a piece of land.
‘Lego’, meaning line in the Indonesian lingo, is carried out in two patterns the ‘Lego One’ and ‘Lego Two’ or ‘Line one’ and ‘Line Two’.
The technique means that rice is planted in rows of two or four followed by a space of 50 centimeters to enable the proper management of weeds. Farmers use this space to navigate through their fields.
Enhancing the good management of water and fertiliser application the technique also brought along with it a method where seedlings are raised on seed beds before transplanting to the various plots.
Taking advantage of the new improved technology by the Indonesians, Agriculture Extension officers based in Dreketi worked fervently to establish working groups and to embrace the solesolevaki concept.
According to Jone Matawalu, farmers in Dreketi and Nasarawaqa have come to realise the importance of working together and cooperating between themselves instead of working individually.
“Farmers have realised that more can be done when they work together and through this their yield will increase enabling them to earn more money from their harvest,” he said.
Matawalu is the Agriculture Officer in charge of the Agriculture Station in Dreketi and the man tasked to look after the rice farmers in the Northern Division.
Ilisoni, on the other hand, admitted that his farming lapsed for a while after his return from Indonesia and early this year decided to start anew.
“I procrastinated and that turned out be a major problem,” says he, blaming the thief of time for his laziness.
“Time is neither mine nor yours so we must use it well and maximise it to achieve our goals in life.”
“But I’m thankful to people like Jone Matawalu and his officers who have been there for us, especially the new farmers, with their words of encouragement and technical support,” said Ilisoni.
Now the head of a group of rice farmers in Nasarawaqa, Ilisoni goes around with his fellow farmers working on selected farms for a day before returning to their own homes.
“We allocate certain days of the week where the task force work on selected farms and on our free days we carry out other chores or tend to our own farms but the heavy work are left for the group to carry out.”
“It is ironic that the system of solesolevaki has just been revived in the last few years by the Agriculture Ministry and reintroduced to farmers taking into account the fact that it is the system that guarantees productivity in our village systems for countless generations.”
The 37 year old has also devoted some of his time to teach the new techniques to fellow farmers who have shown interest in the ‘Lego’ system.
Explaining further Ilisoni said that hard work is the key to success and farmers must choose carefully between leisure and labor.
“I really enjoy teaching the Indonesian techniques to my fellow farmers and each time I stress the importance of group work and our overall aim to increase production and meet the local demands.”
“Production from the fields in these irrigation areas can increase but the onus is on us farmers to produce and this should be each and every farmer’s priority.”
Ilisoni plants the new rice variety called Star on his fields and with the help of his friends, hopes to become the first indigenous farmer to harvest 5 tonnes from a hectare of land.
“The new rice varieties are quite good and with their high yields I am hoping to achieve every rice farmers dream.”
“It is exciting and something that needs to be addressed by indigenous landowners in the irrigation areas who have land lying idle and overgrown with weed.”
A straight shooter, the man from Wainunu calls on his kinsmen in Nasarawaqa and the Korokadi area to grow rice for their sake and that of the country.
“The price of rice is quite good and tempting and if we take advantage of this a lot of things can happen and the country can be self sufficient in rice and proceeds can facilitate the improvement of our living conditions,” he pointed out.
“Rice is a 90 days crop so why wait four years to harvest your yaqona when you can grow rice and earn money in 90 days,” he adds.
Rewa Rice Limited buys all the local rice at $ 750 per tonne.
The Ministry of Agriculture through its ‘Rice Revitalisation’ and ‘Import Substitution Programme’ is persuading farmers to plant the high yielding varieties of rice such as Star, Nuinui and the Uttam which the capability of producing 5.5 tons per hectare.
While rice farming is carried out on a large scale at Dreketi and Nasarawaqa, the Ministry is also targeting pocket areas in the Northern Division that has the potential for the commodity.
But for Ilisoni the decision to be a rice farmer is God sent and without doubt the second most important decision he has ever made in his life.
“The only decision that surpasses my decision to plant rice is the decision to establish a bond with Nasarawaqa without which rice would not have become a part of my life,” he laughs.
Now at home in a place a long way from the coasts of Wainunu, Ilisoni believes that the country can be self sufficient in rice and rice farmers like him can help in achieving this.
Government, with its long term plans for the rice industry in the country, is placing its hopes on farmers like Ilisoni to increase in rice self-sufficiency level from the current 35% to 42% in 2009 and self-sufficiency of 54% by year 2012.
The country imports 32, 757 tonnes of rice annually to supplement the 14,869 produced locally and meet the country’s demand.

Joe Uluilakeba – Ministry of Primary Industries

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