Island News

Repairing a broken salad bowl

Written By : JOE ULUILAKEBA MINISTRY OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES. The flood in January was one of the worst but not the biggest ever experienced by farmers in the Sigatoka Valley
16 May 2009 12:00

Written By : JOE ULUILAKEBA MINISTRY OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES. The flood in January was one of the worst but not the biggest ever experienced by farmers in the Sigatoka Valley and was a draw back to agricultural programmes set in place by the Agriculture Ministry.
The devastation was such that its impact was felt all over the country and in a way helped the exorbitant soar of vegetable prices in our local markets.
Not only that but the export market was affected as well and calls were made to pave a way for a quick recovery.
Primary Industries Minister Joketani Cokanasiga described it as a major set back and one that had a profound effect on the agriculture sector and the country’s economy.
It may seem ironic that a single valley’s ruin affected a whole country’s food chain and for what may have seem an insurmountable task, the path to recovery was quickly launched and achieved in a short period of time too.
The famous Sigatoka Valley otherwise known as the Salad Bowl of Fiji accounts for seventy of all vegetables that charmed our markets on any given day be it a week day or a weekend.
Such was the importance of this valley that past Government invested heavily on it with the dream of impacting the export and local markets.
It all started with the Sigatoka Valley Rural Development Programme [SVRDP], the programme that really saw the valley develop and became a ‘Salad Bowl’. Then along came the SVIP or the Sigatoka Valley Improvement Programme which was a sequel to SVRDP and with a more realistic apparition of a robust and reliable valley that can produce the goods with quality and quantity.
All went well and the markets were being filed with vegetables of all assortments from this famous valley in the South West of our main island.
In fact vegetables from the valley were in huge demands and truck loads of the commodities even board the ferry to the Northern Division to fulfill the market demand.
The valley is divided into three sectors by the Agriculture Department; the Lower Valley, the Mid Valley and the Upper Valley. The Sigatoka River dissects these three components of the valley and another division was borne out of it; the East Bank on the Suva side of the river and the West Bank on the Lautoka side.
Farmers on the East Bank were tasked to supply our local markets with vegetables and those on the West Bank the overseas or the export markets.
All has been going well until the fateful month of February this year. The rain that poured down all over the country was felt mostly in the Central Division and the Western Division. Damages were accounted in the millions and farms were washed away in a sea of debris, sand and stone.
Sigatoka was not spared and damages incurred on crops amounted to millions of dollars which included damages to infrastructure and left a wound on farmer’s lives that will take time to heal.
The Department of Agriculture knowing the importance of this fertile valley put in place plans to help with recovery and the valleys return to its former self.
Part of the plan was the introduction of a timeline to guide the stages of the rehabilitation process that took place after the flood.
As Mr Cokanasiga explains, ‘the plans by the Ministry were for the rehabilitation of farms in the valley and if possible began the exportation of some vegetables for our overseas markets by May of this year.’
Rehabilitation work began earnestly and with the help of originations like the Nacocolevu based Taiwan Technical Mission, AUSAID and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community the works took off and produced amazing results.
Mr Cokanasiga aptly described it when he met farmers in the Lokia and Nabitu area recently saying that the sight of farmers working their fields so early in the morning without a care to the passing government entourage is reward enough for the perseverance put up by officials and farmers alike in trying to get the valley back on its feet.
“I am quite proud of the farmers in the valley and to see them working on their farms while driving through was very encouraging and it shows their perseverance and resilience to get on with their lives and let the past be the past,” said Mr Cokanasiga.
“It has been a tough five months and all along I had this underlying feeling that come hell or high water we will return the valley to its former self, if not better,” he said.
Rehabilitation works carried out in the Sigatoka Valley covered an expanse that ranged from the de-silting of farm drains and debris, the maintenance of farm access road and repair of farm sheds and green houses or nursery.
A huge chunk of the budget went to the de-silting works and the maintenance of farm roads which cost $ 47,500.00 and $ 37, 500 respectively.
Perhaps the most painful part to government was the total destruction of eleven projects it funded which were completely annihilated by flood waters.
To an end, the total so far for the rehabilitation work being carried out at the ‘Salad Bowl’ has cost the Government $127,400.00.
Works is still continuing and a bulldozer has just set foot on farms in the Nabitu areas that became a dumping ground of debris from the Sigatoka River during the downpour.
“The debris deposited on farms along the banks of the river in Nabitu was massive and it will take some time for the bulldozers to clear but assurances have been given by the contractor to finish the work in six weeks time.”
“The Nabitu and Lokia farming community plays an important role in the vegetable supply chain and reviving it is of paramount importance to the Ministry,” Mr Cokanasiga said.
Mr Cokanasiga explained that eighty percent of the rehabilitation work in the valley have been completed so far and will continue for the betterment of the valley.
“The thing to do now is to be prepared for the next disaster and stockpile our seeds and planting material that will be readily available should we encounter another disaster.
“It’s sad really but then no one can really stood up against the forces of nature and the best we can do is to be prepared for the next disaster and have contingency plans in plans in case another flood comes along,” said Mr Cokanasiga.
The Ministry forecasts that by the end of June, 300 hectares of vegetables will be on the ground in various stages of growth.

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